Lesson 1: Is Peace Possible?

military men in prayerWhen I was growing up, my assumption was that history involved periods of warfare followed by periods of peace. I believed that one of the goals of Christianity was to lengthen the peaceful times. Although I was not certain any of the conflicts after the Second World War were warranted, I swallowed hard and chalked it up to the sinful side of human nature. However, I was apprehensive, as I observed the peaceful periods were growing shorter and shorter.

When Dwight Eisenhower in his farewell address warned us to beware of the military-industrial complex fabricating situations in order to continue making large profits, I grew even more skeptical of governmental motives as it kept us on a perpetual war footing. After 9-11 raised fears of battle within our own borders, it seemed that hopes for an eventual everlasting peace were naive. The government used the threat of terrorism resulting from the increased power of technology in our pluralistic global society to maintain raised surveillance, control, and suppression.

The thought of living under constant war conditions is frightening, because civilizations pretty much lay aside their ethics in those times. Just as we ignore truth in election campaigning, so we put morality out of the way in wartime. All is focused on the most efficient way to overcome the perceived enemy.

This constant war mentality is evident when many offer up racial and religious scapegoats to justify our aggression. Others advocate using torture, indiscriminate weapons, and prison without trial, arguing there is no just way to wage a war. I think those carrying concealed weapons and speaking like vigilantes reflect how this leads to a lost of trust in the justice system altogether.

Where does that leave the Christian message? Roland Bainton wrote that the Church has historically talked about war and peace in three ways: pacifism, just war, and crusade. Lately, popular Christianity seems to have rejected the first two. It sees our wars as crusades in which the good guys take on the evil ones. The Church is confined to being a cheerleader for the nation’s policies. If pastors are not willing to go that far, they stick to preaching feel-good messages about God being with us.

I suspect most of our readers belong to other schools of thought that believe the Church has to work harder than ever to achieve an everlasting peace and believe that this is done by remaining faithful to Jesus’ message. Throughout most of biblical and Christian history, believers found themselves in war, under siege, or occupied by foreign troops. Always they worked for peace, sometimes by taking up arms and sometimes by refusing to participate in bloodshed. Jesus clearly taught the latter for his time when he counseled love for our enemies.

The question becomes what this means for our time. The message of love was clearly designed to overcome the violence of society. It was reinforced by visions of the future, such as Isaiah’s Peaceable Kingdom (Isaiah 65: 20-24, 11: 6-10), Revelation’s Ecological City (Revelation 20, 21), and the Gospel’s Beloved Community (Galatians 3: 26-28) that promise God will bring everlasting peace in the future. Jesus followers are to witness to that promise and work toward that goal no matter how hopeless their efforts seem. Do we do that by evaluating every call to arms by applying Christian standards? Do these include some form of just war theory? If just war no longer works in our time, does this mean refusing to participate in war at all?

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