Duncan posed a good question on his blog about the role of Christians living in a nation at war. Great question. Over the past few year I have heard many different people wrestle with this topic. Here is my response to Duncan’s questions.
A week ago I read a passage in Jim Wallis’s new book on Romans Chapter 13. Christ obviously calls us to nonviolence, but in Romans 13:4 Paul says, “… But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing.” Paul is telling us to be in good favor with the law and the nation-state will basically leave us alone. The question that comes to me from all of this is – Should the nation-state be an extension of us and operate by the ethic put forth in the Sermon on the Mount? Which brings up the next question – What is the point of a nation-state? The existence of man-made borders, laws and rulers is accepted by Christ and Paul, so they must not be bad. There is an obvious tension between nation-state laws and God’s laws. Wallis explains that the use of force in Romans 13 is more about a “policing” function as opposed to preemptive wars of a superpower. It is unrealistic to expect nation states to not use force in protecting citizens from internal and external sources and upholding the law. What we can expect is for our governments to take the most just and non-violent action possible. Again, there is a tension in this explanation between the nonviolence message of Christ and the use of force of nation-states to protect its citizens. Would you feel comfortable if the police in your country could use no force at all in upholding the law?
I was thinking about your post during church today. Our service opened with a retired serviceman singing “God Bless America”. I know many of the listeners of Rob Bell and internationals probably just rolled their eyes at this church opening – but it was powerful. This particular church member participated in Vietnam and his father participated in WWII. He has seen the positive outcome of the lay-down-your-life for a cause course of action.
WWII is a case that I would like to explore. There is a fine line between being an active participant in the world – actually caring about the fundamental freedom of our compatriots in other countries and being a superpower – using your power to further your own agenda and build your empire. In WWII, I believe that the US was acting in a policing function. Bad things were going down in Europe, and without the intervention of the US, life would probably be a little different right now. The actions in Iraq are a little different. The reason for war was not as clear cut and the agenda was a little questionable. We talked about it in our Sunday school class this morning. There are a few that hold the belief that in 50 years we may look back and really see a positive impact for helping set up a democratic Iraq – very similar to a democratic Germany and a democratic South Korea. Who knows – it might be possible. I still think the actions of war should be an absolute last resort. Violence is an uncreative, lazy and unchristian course of action.
Wallis has one more quote that I want your opinion on – “The Pentagon cannot be expected to be faithful to the teachings of Jesus, but the church should be”
Agree or disagree? Should nation-states be expected to follow Jesus’ nonviolence ethic?
One more passage – “Augustine said that Christians should go to war only as the very last resort and only with great reluctance and many tears. That reluctance stands as a critique of the attitudes of many contemporary American churches who, despite being followers of the Prince of Peace, are often the easiest to convince that our country should go to war.”
No one said democracy was easy. We still struggle to get it right today. I’m glad I live in a country that allows this struggle to exist – even when we screw things up in the process. I am also glad that this conversation is starting to take place in the church. The church collective needs to understand its relationship with the nation-state and understand its stance on war.
How do you feel about this topic?