upper room daily devotions

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

give peace a chance - the church and war

"And the leaders of the world today talk eloquently about peace. Every time we drop our bombs in North Vietnam, President Johnson talks eloquently about peace. What is the problem? They are talking about peace as a distant goal, as an end we seek, but one day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means. All of this is saying that, in the final analysis, means and ends must cohere because the end is preexistent in the means, and ultimately destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends."
--Martin Luther King, Jr., "A CHRISTMAS SERMON" 24 December 1967 from Standford University

Church and peace. One would think that these go together. After all, we call Jesus the Prince of Peace. However, preaching peace is a dicey deal for many pastors, especially when people in our pews have family members serving in the line of fire. Yet I would suggest that this is exactly the time to witness to peace. When our nation sends young and old, men and women, girls and boys across the ocean to take the lives of others and to risk their own lives, the church has a moral obligation to question the reasons why. It is our job to advocate for peaceful solutions to difficult problems and to stand in the public sphere as a relentless voice of shalom.

Recently I had a discussion with a United Methodist lay person about Army Lt. Ehren Watada who is undergoing a court-martial for refusing to deploy to Iraq. Not a coward, but an objector, Lt. Watada requested to be sent to Afghanistan instead of Iraq. Lt. Watada sought and received sanctuary in a United Methodist Church, and United Methodists have become especially involved in this struggle. The person I was in dialogue with was upset about an invitation that I extended to members of the church to support Lt. Watada and the church that offered him sanctuary. The invitation was perceived as overly and overtly political and, thus, inappropriate. This has been on my heart for a while, and it seems that I need to say without apology that the Jesus that I follow and the Christianity to which I have dedicated my life is entirely political...and it follows the politics of peace.

Churches shouldn't be Republican or Democrat. Nor should they be American (that's why I dislike the tradition of many churches of putting an American flag in their sanctuary). We belong to God - first and before all things. Peace does not belong to a political party; it is not partisan. Peace is a fundamental concept of the Christian identity, and it startles me when I see churches advocate war. Supporting those who have committed themselves to protect our nation is not the same as supporting policies that wage and sustain war. I, too, have members of my family who are serving in the military and who have served in Iraq. I pray for their safety and the safety of all with whom they come in contact. I pray that the experiences that they undergo and acts which they must perform will not scar their souls beyond repair. I pray for the wholeness of the world. And, I am not a pure pacifist; I understand that times arise when tyranny must be confronted with armed conflict. There are also times when our nation or our allies may be attacked and cannot resist the assault in any way other than by pressing down with great force. I am not anti-troop; I am pro-peace.

Peace is not easy. Coercion is always an easier road to take. Throughout the ages prophets have protested and railed against the powers and principalities of their times, especially their own governments, when they have chosen coercion and hard heartedness over peace and mutual care and respect. As we read through the lectionary during Ordinary Time, we find the call stories of some of our greatest prophets. They reluctantly answered their calls and went into the world to proclaim a difficult message of repentance and peace. Peace requires repentance. Peace brings us into conflict with those who would deny peace a chance. Peace. It is a short word. It is a hard word. It is a word at the foundation of our identity as the living body of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

Recent article about Lt. Watada: Seattle Times - Feb 6, 2007

War and Just War from Stanford Ecyclopedia of Philosophy


Mystical Seeker said...

There is an interview with Ehren Watada at this location that you might find interesting.

I think some people may confuse the issue when it comes to religion and politics. Religion should be about politics, but it should not be about partisanship, though some people don't quite get that distinction. That gets back to what you said about it not being about Republican or Democrat or American, but about God. Caesar and God conflict all the time, and religion should be on the side of God in those conflicts. That means supporting the cause of justice and fighting against injustice. Religion can't help but be political given that basic fact.

But that doesn't mean allying yourself with a political party per se. I don't think identifying ones self with a given political party should be the goal of organized religion. Personally, I think both political parties have a lot to answer for morally. To me, followers of Jesus should be standing outside of the corruption of our political system looking inward, supporting its victims, opposing injustice, and resisting the Empire when it pursues injustice, as it is doing today in Iraq--just as Jesus resisted the Empire of his day.

This confusion between politics and partisanship came up when the IRS started investigating the church in Santa Barbara over an antiwar sermon prior to the 2004 election. The idea was apparently that someone this sermon was "political, but in fact it was not partisan. Opposing the war did not have anything to do with supporting Kerry. Kerry himself was not running an antiwar campaign that year and had distanced himself from the antiwar movement (he had antiwar banners torn down during his party's convention, for example.)

I think people need to step outside of the box a bit and realize that it isn't always about being a Republican or Democrat. Sometimes it is about taking the high road on issues of moral importance, regardless of what the politicians have to say.

rev katie m ladd said...

thanks. exactly! i'll check out the link. oh...we plan on using the brueggemann series in living the questions. hopefully this will spur some further conversation in church.

Songbird said...

This is beautifully said, thank you.

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