Monday, July 30, 2007

Jim Wallis: Benedict on War

While Pope Benedict XVI has been criticized for some of his recent statements, here's a short speech he delivered on Sunday before the midday Angelus that is well worth reading. Noting that he is on vacation, he said, "I feel all the more intensely the impact of the sorrow of the news that comes to me about bloody altercations and episodes of violence that are occurring in so many parts of the world." The Pope went on:

War, with the mourning and destruction it brings, has always been rightly considered a calamity that contrasts with God's plan. He created everything for existence and, in particular, wants to make a family of the human race. In this moment it is not possible for me to not return to a significant date in history: August 1, 1917—almost exactly 90 years ago—my venerable predecessor, Benedict XV, published his celebrated "Nota Alle Potenze Belligeranti" (Note to the Warring Powers), asking them to put an end to the First World War (cf. ASS 9 [1917], 417-420).

As that huge conflict raged, the Pope had the courage to affirm that it was a "useless bloodbath." This expression of his left a mark on history. It was a justified remark given the concrete situation in that summer of 1917, especially on the front here in this part of northern Italy. But those words, "useless bloodbath," have a larger, prophetic application to other conflicts that have destroyed countless human lives.

He concluded his remarks:
From this place of peace here in the north of Italy, where one feels even more vitally how unacceptable the "useless bloodbaths" are, I renew the call to follow with tenacity the way of law, to firmly renounce the arms race, to reject in general the temptation to face new situations with old systems.


Jacynta said...

"to reject in general the temptation to face new situations with old systems."

I like it.

Aaron said...

The question lingers...

Is there ever such a thing as a "useful" bloodbath? The wording here seems intentional, leaving room for certain justified uses of warfare. So he is saying we should reject it in general, but perhaps not in specific cases.

I personally am inclined to disagree. I don't think Just War is at all supportable any more, if it ever was.

Still, this may be a step forward...



armybarmy said...

there may be some Jews in germany who thought war was justified...

Anonymous said...

There may be some women in Afghanistan very glad that some countries felt justified to come in and remove a regime that treated them like animals.

There may also be some Iraqis who feel the toppling of Saddam was justified. They may also wonder what would happen if the coalition forces were to leave.

We all want peace, sometimes we have to fight for it. And sometimes we have to fight on somebody else's behalf. It is not enough to do the hokey pokey when our fellow human beings are being oppressed by dictators and terrorists. Our armies are not invading countries and waging wars, they are trying to provide peace, rebuild, protect people who are in no position to protect themselves.

How do we all feel about Mugabe treating Zimbabweans as he does? Should we send in an army to help those people? Would that be war? Maybe we should do the hokey pokey and lecture our soldiers on the virtues of peace...

Aaron said...

It is better to fight than do nothing. But is there not anything better than fighting? A third way where you still engage but don't kill? Are there never any other options?

When Gandhi was asked about World War Two, and whether his soul force non-violence would have worked there, he basically said he didn't know. But he also said that nobody knew if violence was going to work either, but the whole world put it's resoures and muscle behind it. So he suggested that if non-violent actions were to be used against Nazi Germany, the same amount of resolve, resources, money and dedication would have been required.

People often don't think this out. The alternative to killing in the name of justice and peace isn't sitting on our butts and lecturing our soldiers about peace. That is a straw man. Gandhi showed an alternative that actually worked. People died, to be sure, but one can assume the deaths were way less than if a violent revolution had occurred. The Solidarity movement in Poland showed an alternative. South Africa demonstrated something radically different. There are options, many hige changes have happened, especially recently, throuh non-violent means, but violent force always seems to be the default.

But with violent force good is always destroyed with the bad (seems like something I read from the Bible). It is a very good thing that Hitler was defeated. It is a very bad thing that this war sparked the Cold War and the age of nuclear holocaust. Violence begets violence. Again, better to have fought him than to do nothing, but what may have resulted from world-wide non-violent action? We'll never know now, but the only way off the treadmill of violence is to try. Remember that WW2 was a direct result of WW1 and the inhumane treatment of the Germans afterwards.

When we use violent means to achieve even noble ends, we reinforce the dictum that might = right. And so we lose any moral authority to say stop fighting. The Romans were able to enforce Pax Romana because they were strong enough to kill anyone or any group that started wars. God is stronger than the Roman army, but he sent Jesus, not to kill, but to die. I think there may be something instructive there.

It is interesting how Jesus' teaching on non-violence is considered adequate for personal use, but as soon as you try to apply it to world situations the teaching is considered naive, or even traitorous.



Anonymous said...

I wonder how Israel could respond in Ghandi like peaceful non cooperation when their neighbour, Iran is ruled by a man who has publicly declared he wants to see Israel wiped off the map, and is working fervently towards aquiring nuclear power.

The situation in Iraq is terrible, but there are still less deaths now than under Saddam, and those caused not by soldiers in a war, but by foreign terrorists intent on destruction. Shocking.

Waging war is plainly wrong, just for the sake of it, invading another country, but what happens if our neighbour asks for help? Who would not go to the aid of a victim?

Perhaps the only reason Ghandi lived long enough to have an impact is because he was up against the British. I wonder how he would have faired against al qaida, and whether his name would have even made it into history, and how many other unsung Ghandis never live to see another day due to lack of protection.

If I saw a child being harmed, I would try to beat off the attacker and save the child. If a weakling was being bullied, likewise, I would do what I could. I don't know whether this is sinful or not, but I wonder what Jesus would do. Maybe we should all turn the other cheek and mind our own business. We can always console ourselves by participating in a public anti war march or something.

Aaron said...

"Maybe we should all turn the other cheek and mind our own business. We can always console ourselves by participating in a public anti war march or something."

Or maybe we should read what other people are saying instead of continuing to create straw men arguments to defeat.

At no point do I suggest minding our own business, nor is that what turning the cheek means. This is exactly the problem. You have actually dismissed the words of Jesus here, I believe through lack of understanding. It is this kind of lazy thinking that leads us to simply accept violence as the only possible response to evil, even when we have a Saviour who not only spoke against violence but lived against it as well.

Jesus resisted evil. Do you doubt it? But he didn't go out and slaughter the people who were committing evil acts, even though he could have and would have had every right to do so. He displayed a different kind of power, what some scholars refer to as "left-handed" power, and he taught his followers to do the same. Turning the cheek is actually a very powerful act. It takes control of the violent situation out of the hands of the aggressor and into the hands of the victim. The cowardly thing to do would be to run away or not respond. The second most cowardly thing to do would be to strike back. The truly brave thing is to turn your cheek, force the person to recognise you as a human (the striker would have had to hit you the second time with a closed fist, rather than a backhand slap, which was reserved for servants), and not allow the aggressor to have all the say in what happens in the situation.

Jesus was speaking to people who were being oppressed, not by the "civilised" British Empire, but by the ruthless Roman Empire and it's local cronies. The non-violent tactics he teaches in the Sermon on the Mount would probably get people in a lot of trouble, but they would also probably be effective. He also warned them against violent revolt, knowing full well what would (and did) happen to them if they took up arms. (See 70 AD).

As to Gandhi and the Brits, I have heard many times just how civilised they were and how lucky Gandhi was. But many of his followers were beaten to death, and the British Empire was advanced on the back of slaughter just as every other Empire has been.

But yes, there are many would-be Gandhi's whose names do not make the light of day. Does that make their efforts fruitless? Hardly.

Israel is a handy test case of how violence begets violence. There hadn't been a great deal of historic animosity between Arabs and Jews prior to the nation of Israel being created and Arabs being kicked out (with the help of guess who? the Brits, who hardly considered the Arabs as worthy of homes or honest dealing, but hey, at least they're civilised, right?). How the Palestians have been treated is shameful. It certainly does not excuse violent terrorism, but it does help explain why more and more violence is fostered in that region.

If I saw a child being beaten, I would certainly intervene as well. I would, and have, stood between a victim and a bully. And I would physically restrain someone or remove someone who was hurting someone else rather than do nothing. But it would be better to train ourselves to act in effective, non-violent ways. And it does require training, because it does go against our sinful nature. Any fool can throw a punch in anger. It takes discipine and commitment to take a punch in love, and to find other ways to defend the helpless. Generally speaking violence is not just sinful, it's lazy. Not to mention self-defeating, as violence tends to beget further violence down the road.

Will non-violent resistance always work? Of course not. Does violence always work? Of course not, it has a huge failure rate. And non-violent, grace -based engagement has some stunning victories to it's credit. Take a look at South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission for an example of non-violence in action.

But I suppose we can all just console ourselves by imagining anyone who advocates non-violence to be a wooly-thinking hippy who doesn't understand the real world in which we live.

Anonymous said...

Hello Aaron,
I dont think I have misunderstood the words of Jesus in turning the other cheek. I understand and agree with your explanation. I don't however, agree that it is easier to throw a punch, or that retaliation is lazy. I have never thrown a punch in my life. I find it easier to turn the other cheek. In honesty I must admit that the Holy Spirit revealed to me some time ago that I am a bit of a coward, and therefore avoid confrontation. From that time onwards I have tried to rely on His power to help me overcome this. So part of my personal turning of the cheek has to do with cowardice, and the other part has to do with the working of the Holy Spirit in me, and the strength and Grace He provides. I also believe that Jesus was referring to personal and individual situations when he told us to turn the other cheek, and he is my Lord and Savior and I love him.

Jesus was speaking to people who were oppressed by the Romans, but his problem seemed always to be with the sanctimonious hypocrites from within his own people and religion. The Romans were openly aggressive, but the Pharisees were subtle and devious in their actions.

I observe from your comments above that you do not hold the British Empire in very high regard. As far as India, I know there were wrongs committed by both sides, however, I do not believe it was a policy of the British Government to instigate violence, there were mavericks that behaved appallingly, and were dealt with by the British authorities, and rightly so.

The Middle East situation, again, we have very different views. I have tried to look it at from both sides, and have read a lot over the years, from both perspectives in an attempt at balance. It is another can of worms, and rather than open it, I will suggest that we turn our cheeks and give each other a hug, allowing each our own opinions.

I am glad that you would step in to defend the defenceless, with God's help so would I. I hope that South Africa and other African nations step in to help the people of Zimbabwe. The world shamed appartheid out of South Africa, but I don't know that this would work with Mugabe.

I do believe that war should not be a kneejerk reaction. I think our democratic governments agree. Generally there are talks, sanctions, diplomatic efforts. When troops are called into a situation, it is usually in a protective capacity, not as aggressors going in to invade and slaughter. Our armies, and even Israel's, take great care to target military installations, and to avoid killing people. Sadly there are some, too many, even 1 is too many, casualties.

The original issue was whether war is just, and the answer must be no. War is not just. Certainly for the people being fired upon. Is it necessary? Yes. When others attack our us, our families, our friends, our homes, we must stand between the bully and the victim and defend and protect. Would it be just not to?

By the way, don't you just love those wooly-thinking hippies, my brother was one, and he was a very peaceful man. The aggressive, professional activist who marches in "peace" protests, sometimes turning violent, throwing missiles, insulting police, disrupting people going about their business - these remind me of the sanctimonious hypocrites mentioned above.


Aaron said...


Part of what I was getting at above is that people mistake turning the cheek for cowardice, or for non-engagement. That frustrates me (obviously! And sorry if any of my words have sounded harsh). Jesus' teaching here has nothing to do with cowardice, and if we are just turning the cheek to avoid confrontation, we aren't actually following the intent of Jesus's instructions. Turning the cheek was a confrontational act, and I believe takes a lot more guts and discipline than just throwing a punch, as scary as that may be (and I do find it scary.)

I do not believe at all that Jesus was just talking about personal and individual situations in his Sermon on the Mount. His teaching applies individually, but is given to the Body, and should be lived out corporately. This was the world he wanted us to live out, and I think we undermine it by resorting to killing.

Jesus' problems were with hypocrites, yes, and primarily to do with their treatment of the poor and oppressed. He also very much set his Kingdom against that of Caesar's though.

As for the British Empire, it is not just isolated instances I am thinking of. I am talking about systemic oppression, brutal treatment of natives, and a doctrine of racial superiority that fuelled their Empire building. All this just to say that Gandhi didn't just have an easy time of it. Non-violence did work there, and can work elsewhere. But it will take sacrifice, to be sure. The difference is you are prepared to sacrifice yourself rather than your enemy, so that your enemy might be saved as well, rather than demonised and killed.

I don't know if shaming would work with Mugabe either, but nobody really thought apartheid would end. It took awhile though. I agree absolutely that non-involvement is not the answer, but I am suggesting we have to be a little more creative and even loving towards the "bad guys" if we really want to try and end cycles of violence. What if we put the same kind of effort and money into developing "weapons" of non-violence - that is strategies etc... that we put into funding the arms industry? That is what most of those protesters are asking for, and I think it is reasonable. But it is not very politically viable, because the military answer is the quickest and easiest (and yes, laziest) answer. This way we don't have to think all that much and certain people continue to get very wealthy and other people continue to get very dead, but most of them are overseas, so it's ok. (Again, not labeling you here.)

1 casulaty is too many. I'm not saying you are doing this, but there is a huge tendency to devalue, say, Iraqi lives.

So I would say war is not just, and I would question whether or not it is necessary, or even if that "necessity" legitimizes it's use if it is considered unjust. And again, I ask, was Jesus naive in promoting non-violence? Or was there something to it that we should really be paying more attention to?

Sometimes justice requires confrontation (actually, pretty much always). Committing to being peaceful yourself is very, very noble, but it also puts us in a situation where other people have to do the killing. So we really aren't changing much. If I decide to march (and I have) it is because I don't want anyone to have to do the killing, and I want us to find more creative, loving, and gracious solutions. Justice does actually demand some disruption. MLK Jr. did it, people were disrupted, some of his followers got violent on occasion, but most were just beaten or jailed or killed. They took the brunt on themselves, and I wouldn't call them sanctimonious hypocrites.

As for "professional activists", that is a common label. But is an officer a professional Christian? They can be, but it is not automatic. It is more likely (I hope) that this is what they are dedicating their lives to, just like activists. And the vast majority of activists get paid way less (if at all) and can suffer way more persecution that the average western officer.



Anonymous said...

Hello Aaron,
I do understand what you are talking about. I have had experience from both positions, that of cowardice, ie. frozen in fear, and that of Grace, deliberately taking control by offering the other cheek to an aggressor. Both positions are easier for me than retaliation. The former from natural instincts, the latter from strength provided by the Holy Spirit. Retaliation would require something from me which I am not equipped with, and could not depend on the Holy Spirit to provide. To go against my nature without divine Grace would be close to impossible.

I do believe God sends people to care for, defend, protect, etc. each other. I would have more courage standing up for somebody else, than for myself, in whatever form that took, for the same reason, divine Grace would drive me.

The British Empire was spread largely for evangelical reasons. It started badly, with buccanners and slave traders, but just as the British wished to "civilise" (and Christianise) people of other lands, the British themselves raised the bar for their own civilisation. For example, it was the British led the way in the worldwide abolition of slavery. In India, the British felt they had a duty to elevate the Indian people, and they did provide access to education, railways, industry, Jesus. They didnt always get it right, and there were some individuals who got it very wrong, but just as India progressed socially and morally, so did Britain. If you read some of the correspondence of the time, the British government, in Britain, had this mindset that morality was all important. This was Victorian England, and Christianity was linked with morality. The idea of going into a place and "civilising the savages" sounds terrible now in our politically correct environment, but in Victorian England, this was seen as a duty. England had something that must be shared with the rest of the world, everyone must become Christian. There were some pretty good revivals in Britain, too. If we must disparage, we should also look at the good, and the times that God was clearly at work, and the honorable motives of men that were truly God inspired.

Aaron, you and I clearly come from different political positions, and I don't think this an appropriate place or time for dialogue into the left/right virtues. We both know where we can find good literature from various persuasions, and we are each entitled to our views.

As Christians, we have picked up on a topic that is interpreted differently to each of us. Both agree that intercession and intervention is sometimes required to overcome oppression. Both positions prefer peace. Neither wants violence as a first option.

Our differences lie in your belief that violence is never permitted, whereas, I believe that it is more effective to send armed troops into some places as peacekeepers, than to send non armed troops. I look at the Old Testament and see God accepting, if not at times condoning, violence. Then Jesus came and showed us all a better way. No more eye for eye, tooth for tooth. We have progressed. Hallelujah! But there is still this problem of allowing aggressors and oppressors to walk all over vulnerable people. I can't believe that our Lord wants us just to sit back and allow this. You don't believe this either, I understand, but it is a gradual process, and it is linked with the spread of the Gospel. If we are all on the same page, then we all play by the same rules, Jesus is Lord. Hallelujah! Globally we are not quite there yet, but as our civilisation progresses, and we continue to offer the benefits of this to the world, change will happen, violence will diminish. In the meantime, we continue to offer aid, education, health care, and the like to every far flung corner of the world, and all in the name of Jesus. Our governemnts, prefer diplomacy and non violent measures. If there is a chance that an army can prevent another Rwanda, a show of strength is required. This may be enough to prevent it, but if not, shots may have to be fired. This horrifies me, but genocide horrifies me even more. The lesser of 2 evils. I dont know whether I am right or wrong, but will continue to trust the Lord. He will show me. I am glad that I am not the president, I would make such a mess I'm sure.

Something I must say, Aaron, I have not met you, but I feel I have made a friend, and I thank you for that. Friends don't always agree, that's OK, but you are a Christian brother, and I am grateful for the chat.

By the way, Danielle, thanks for the use of your blog, and sorry if it has been an intrusion.


Aaron said...


Thanks for your comments. I'm glad we can discuss things in a spirit of grace and friendship, which still allows for significant disagreement. We do disagree, and I don't think it just comes down to left / right (I do not identify myself as either).

I want to be careful not to appoint myself a judge over history. I cannot judge the totality of the British Empire's activities from any objective standpoint. I just always try to point out that the image of it's squeaky cleanness, mostly forwarded in white Christian circles, is not accurate. And that they could be just as barbarous and manipulative as any other Empire. So Gandhi's road was not an easy one.

Rwanda is an interesting case. Bishop Tutu went there after the genocide, and saw the aggressors imprisoned in horrific circumstances. He told the government that if they continued to act this way, in a few decades (if not earlier), there would be "grounds" for another genocide. Many of the aggressors fled to the jungle in fear of their lives. Now they are starting to come back, and the Rwandan government has taken an interesting strategy. They are providing re-education centres where the killers can come to confess their sins and be forgiven, then be reintegrated back into Rwandan society, next door to their former victims' families. I don't imagine this is remotely easy, and there could be some bad fall out. But does it not seem more Christ-like? I think this approach, which intervenes before an armed response is required, is more likely to make it unneccessary to think about violence as a "solution". It is a break in the cycle.

This is, I believe, what we need to be looking for, spending our efforts and resources on. Massive spending and energy on military solutions leads us to use those solutions, even when other solutions may be available. We haven't done the work on those other solutions, because the military is always there as a default. It is a cycle that will require a huge cost to be broken. I suggest it might be up to Christians to pay that cost.

I'm not sure about the gradual process. It has been VERY gradual, and it has not always been linked with the spread of the gospel. I think the violence exhibited by "Christian" nations has had a lot more to do with an allegiance to the Kingdom of the world than the Kingdom of God. (Rwanda, incidentally, saw massive revivals prior to the genocide. But I have to think this was conversion without a deep discipleship in what it means to follow Christ. This is my great worry as well for the N.A. Church). And I'm not convinced that our governments prefer non-violent means, not really, not in the end. And I'm not convinced by the myth of progress either. It always looks good from the perspective of those who have benefited from the "progress", not from those who are paying the cost for the progress.

Is it ok for us to continue to commit sins, to engage in injustices, because our world seems to make it necessary? Israel fought in the OT because she was being radically obedient to God (when she wasn't, she lost bad). Israel won against incredible odds because of that obedience. What if we chose not to fight using violent means because we wanted to be radically obedient to our Lord? It doesn't always makes sense, but neither did invading the Promised Land, or using jars and torches to attack an army. It was trust in the Lord that won the battles for Israel. I think Jesus' message is pretty clear. What if we trusted?

It doesn't mean we won't be killed. I rather think we would be killed, because we would still have to engage with the evil, still confront, still put ourselves in the way of harm. But this is our model, is it not?



Anonymous said...

I don't hear much about the squeaky clean image of the British Empire, in fact the self loathing in British and American societies, even, and in some cases especially, Christian circles, seems rife. I don't want to judge history either, but cannot believe that people who loved the Lord and wanted to evangelise the world were nothing but barbarous manipulators. Just as today, I don't believe our leaders are all opportunists. They have hard decisions to make, and those professing to love the Lord, take those decisions prayerfully. Tony Blair recently said that he did what he thought was right. That is the best any of us can do.

The way forward in Rwanda sounds good, but even better if the genocide had been prevented. If the world had sent in troops to prevent the slaughter of people sheltering in a church, secured the situation, then applied forgiveness to the would be aggressors, evangelisation and change could still take place, and may be even more effective.

Another case is Iraq. The people in Iraq hate the chaos in their country right now, but they want democracy, as proved by the huge numbers turning out to vote at great risk to life and limb. They may not like troops everywhere, but feel safer because of it. They are aware of their need to be protected against terrorist insurgents entering their country, and they also remember the fear they lived with under Saddam. There is still fear in the air, but they want to move forward. There are record numbers of Iraqis turning to Christianity, some are publicly thanking America for what they are doing for the Iraqi people. Perhaps God expected a Christian nation to intercede on behalf of these people, and when that happened, He appeared to the people in dreams, knowing there were Christian soldiers on the ground to evangelise. These soldiers are not waging war against the Iraqi people, they are there as protectors, they are approachable.

If our western nations were spending vast sums of money on weapons to be used for genocide of course it would be wrong, but the money is spent on defence. There is also spending on alternatives such as foreign aid programs, health, education and of course the diplomatic efforts and talkfests. These are a much better use of resources, but defence must be in place as a last resort. Ghandi, MLK, Old Testament jars and torches methods need to be upgraded in the climate we are in. This is not to exlude the will of God, He provides for his people now as He did in the past, and He is not a wimp. If Israel's enemies had access to nuclear warfare in the days of the OT, God would have done something about it, we don't know what, but maybe he would have provided Israel with the weapons to destroy the reactor. I don't believe He would let them be wiped off the map. If He told them to march around the reactor and blow trumpets, then that is what they should do. If He told them to rise up and fight, then that is what they should do. If He told them to sit and pray and do nothing and wait for Him, then that is what they should do. We have Christian leaders who believe they have made the right decisions. Some disagree, and some, (if not most), of the disagreement is to reduce spending and reduce American casualities. Good reasons, but what about the Iraqi people, their safety, their rebuilding, their protection, their discipleship, their evangelisation? What is God saying? I wonder if He is telling us that time is running out and we need to get out amongst it and spread the Word everywhere and urgently and use whatever means we can. The enemy is on the attack, people are going to hell because they are living under oppressive regimes that forbid Christianity, and yes, even in suburban enclaves in the west. Our mission field is the whole world. We pray people into the Kingdom, love people into the Kingdom, be Jesus to all we meet, but we need them to be in possession of their lives for this to occur. We must defend and protect, this is an important part of love and sacrifice. We are eternally grateful that we have a Savior who was prepared to die for us, but He was the only One worthy of this sacrifice, and it is clear we are needed on the mission field to sacrifice in other ways, it may cost our lives, but hopefully not, the objective is the great commission.


aaron said...


The Brits frequently get the "well at least they were civilised" treatment. Evangelism at the point of a gun, or at the risk of economic mistreatment, and with the added benefit of conquest, is not really good news in my estimation. The saying in South Africa is that when the white man came, he had the Bible, and we had the land. We turned around, and we had the Bible, but they had the land. It took centuries to redress that, and the fall out is still around. The WAY we evangelise matters, and will have long reaching consequences, just as will the way we enact justice.

Rwanda happened because of long-standing injustices, many of them brought to Rwanda by European powers. The West certainly could have intervened there, could even have done it non-violently, (though I said earlier to act violently in protection is preferable to refusing to act at all. Gandhi believed this as well.) But this is a case where action really was required long in advance. But no one paid attention, really, because they were "just Africans." And we eschew long term peaceable solutions, again, because most of our attention and money goes towards weapons of war.

I'm not positive how great the good news is for Iraqis when their hospitals and schools are bombed along with military installations. One of the oldest Christian communities in the world was in Iraq prior to the invasion, but it is now dispersed, replaced with American evangelism, again backed up by guns and bombs. Again, the WAY we do things matters, not just the immediate "results". Long-term I suspect this will be disastrous, will lead to more Islamic extremism and more anti-Christian feeling in the Arab world as well as in the West. Plus, the terrorists see all to clearly that the US and Britain affirm that might = right, and that if they only had enough might, they could do and say as they please. (And this is all leaving out the historic destabilizing of the whole Middle East by both the Brits and the US, but that is a whole other story.)

Nuclear weapons, developed by the West, thus far only used by the West, can only properly be conceived as weapons of mass destruction, as weapons of genocide, as weapons that make no distinction between combatant and non-combatant, as weapons that do not allow for measured response, and thus as weapons that destroy forever the notion of "just war".

"Ghandi, MLK, Old Testament jars and torches methods need to be upgraded in the climate we are in."

I'm surprised at this. Developing nuclear weapons or other effective ways to kill people is not an upgrade on Gandhi's methods. It is not a continuation at all, it is the complete opposite. The strategy is entirely different. It is not as if the Israelites thought that jars were really an effective weapon, or as if MLK Jr. thought marching could really physically overpower the dogs, the water hoses, the beatings or the bullets. they knew it was an issue of trusting not i chariots or in horses, but in the LORD their God. The same cannot be said about our current "Christian" nations and their military activities.

Christ was the only one who could die for our sins, true, but he then calls us to die for one another. Greater love has no one than this. But we have chosen not to love the enemy, but to kill him. Not to pray for those who persecute us, but to hunt them down.

I acknowledge that leaders face an enormously difficult task, and that I would not want to be in their shoes. Part of the difficulty surely is the linking of the Church to political power, first seen with Constantine (which is also, not coincidentally, when Christians first decided it was ok to join the military.)

I just want to mobilise the Church more towards non-violence and creativity in desperate situations. I want the Church to stand prophetically against the use of violence, and to offer itself sacrificially in standing between aggressors. I think this would be entirely evangelical and evangelistic, and would open up scores of opportunities to share the good news of Christ from a place of sacrifice rather than a place of conquest. Benedict seems to be leaning that way, though I think he could go further. I think he's much further along than TSA here.



Anonymous said...

Hello Aaron,
"Well at least they were civilised". I don't hear much of that. It has become fashionable to criticize Britain, America, the west in general. Evangelism at the point of a gun or economic mistreatment - I hope you do not think I would condone this. To force people to believe would be to betray Christ. When I mentioned British evangelism, I was thinking more along the lines of the London Missionary Society, The Clapham Sect, Livingstone, The Salvation Army. Zachary Macaulay worked for a time as plantation manager in Jamaica. He was sickened at the way the slaves were treated. He returned to England because his Christian faith would not allow him to continue to witness this. He eventually became governor of Sierra Leone, he fraternized with local chiefs, who incidentally supplied the slaves, he travelled on board a slave ship, immersed himself in learning about the slave trade, deliberately. After 5 years he returned to Britain with this information, and along with Wilberforce, Newton & co. petitioned the government to stop this practice. Britain did not invent the slave trade, yet it led the world in the abolition of it. This idea that the wicked Brits invaded, with guns blazing, the peace loving and defenseless natives of various countries is quite wrong. The natives were violent within their own tribes, and warfare was common. The British did not open fire, when they arrived, they wanted peace, they wanted trade. Yes, errors were made, and there were tragedies, nobody is excusing it, but recognise the good, the right motives of many, the truth that they did not approve of the morals of the natives, the violence included, and they genuinely believed they could offer a better way. I realise we need to repent of our sins, but we can't move forward if we are locked in a cycle of self loathing, never recognising that the west has provided so much that is good, and for those victories we can thank our Lord.

What you say about Rwanda is true, somebody should have intervened a long time before. We agree war is not just. Is it necessary? I think it is. "To act violently in protection is preferable to refusing to act at all". This debate no longer exists between us, Aaron, this has been my position all along.

I disagree re Iraq. The Iraqi people are important, and they deserve the democracy they want. They have a shambles of a government right now, but they have hope, and America and Britain are helping them rebuild and stablize their country. This is not an easy task with foreign insurgents committing terrorist acts everywhere, but new strategies are slowly working. I hope and pray along with the Iraqi people that they can soon enjoy the peace they deserve, a peace they probably have never had in their lifetime.

Nuclear weapons are evil. Those that have them currently are not threatening anyone with them, those developing them are. The west developed and have used them. This is a disgrace to our civilisation. Could it be that those in power in the west are all too conscious of this, and that is why they have not used them, or threatened anyone with them since. There is no place for these vile things in our civilisations, there is a need for developing something to get rid of or neutralising them, so they become ineffective even as deterrents. I think perhaps I wasn't clear in my comment about upgrading our methods. I certainly don't want to upgrade or further develop nuclear weapons, the upgrade I had in mind was more along the lines of a peacekeeping force. To go into a Rwanda situation and drop a nuclear bomb to prevent genocide? No.

Loving our enemies, forgiving, praying for them, is vital, yes. Retaliation is not what we were talking about. Intervention on behalf of others was the issue for me, and I believe we have agreed on that. ie. War is not just, but sometimes necessary. We don't like this, but honesty compels us to admit that sometimes we must protect, and sometimes, violent intervention is preferable to non engagement.

I want the church to move forward too, and take a stand against injustice. The church is starting to do this, and I am also encouraged that a few political leaders in the west have openly confessed their Christianity. I am not willing to judge them, for I refuse to believe that my own journey is superior to yours or theirs, however, if they have Christ in their lives, He can work with that, and who is to say that they are not listening to Him?

Peace has been a desire since the beginning of time, nobody wants war. We hate violence. If we truly want just societies we have to do more than speak out against injustice, we have to encourage our leaders. We can't say on the one hand that the world did not intervene in Rwanda because they were "only Africans" if we are not prepared to encourage our governments to take on these situations. We need to let our leaders know that we do in fact care about Africans, Iraqis, Zimbabweans, everyone. To continually complain, to constantly disparage the west as wicked without acknowledging its enormous contribution is not conducive to spurring us on. Why would anyone want to follow Christ, when his people do not even celebrate the victories he gives them? The west needs to repent, along with Africa, India, and everywhere else. We also need to stop this self loathing and negativity.


Aaron said...


What you call self-loathing others call humility and honesty. I am grateful for all the advances of the West, but we are not talking about that right now. We are talking about the proclivity of Western, would-be Christian nations and leaders seemingly ignoring Christ's words on non-violence. As a westerner, and a Christian, this is partly my responsibility, partly my burden to shout out that this is wrong. I am not by nature a negative person at all, but I think we can do so much better, and I think to do so is not just our Christian duty but also an opportunity to spread the good news.

We are agreed that violent intervention is preferable to doing nothing, to ignoring the problem or being too afraid to engage. We are not agreed that war is sometimes necessary. If we are committed to working as hard at discovering and implementing non-violent solutions as we have been (throughout human history and across all civilisations) at developing and instituting violent solutions, perhaps war would not be necessary. But we don't do that, because in the end we still believe deep down that killing the enemy IS an acceptable solution. I simply don't trust the use of violence to actually bring about the results we desire without also destroying some of the things we are hoping to protect. And so I push for another solution, one in which perhaps we are not so cavalier in accepting the sacrifices of others and take on the sacrifice ourselves.

I am not in agreement with the suggestion that everyone hates war. There are many, many people who profit from the waging of war, and it is seen as a legitimate political tool. War is celebrated.

Of course I want to encourage my government to take on these situations. This is what I have been saying all along. I think it is abysmal that Western nations did not step in to Rwanda quicker, and I do believe it had a lot to do with the fact that they were Africans. We allow millions of Africans die because they are too poor to live every year. And when the desperation breaks through and the killings start happening in various places in Africa, it is not actually sufficient to send in some soldiers with guns. We have already lost that battle. We need to do our best now to prevent the desperation. That is the start of no-violent action, preventing the conditions that lead to violence in the first place.

Gandhi and MLK Jr did not start out fighting soldiers with non-violent tactics. They started by fighting injustice, thereby creating the conditions in which people had the "option" to engage in non-violent justice acts. But the means matter. If MLK Jr. had started by saying they were going to start killing people so that they could bring about peace, he would have no authority to even talk about peace.



Anonymous said...

No, Aaron, what I call self loathing is precisely that. It is the constant putting down, complaining, criticizing of the west and the romaticizing of the "noble savage". This is false humility, it attempts to create the illusion that we are somehow better than others because we are able to hate our own culture so much that we praise only that which is not our own. We imagine this somehow elevates us to a place where we are above and set apart from everyone who disagrees with us. I don't refer here to being set apart for Christ, I mean our personal apotheosizing of ourselves. I am not judging anyone here, and do not put you in this category, Aaron, but this position is a common one, especially for intellectuals whether they are Christian or not. This position comes not from an attitude of humility, but one of arrogance and pride. As Christians, we are required to speak out and act against injustice, and we do, but if we are honest, we will see the good and the bad. We will praise the good, encourage what is right, and fight that which is wrong. We will recognise, admit, repent of our failings but we will also rejoice in our successes.

Developing non violent solutions to war is something to praise the west for. Peace talks, rebuilding, education and aid are all initiatives of the west. Violence is not, and should not be the default position. Do you really think "we still believe that deep down killing the enemy IS an acceptable solution"? I have a higher opinion of my fellow human beings. There are exceptions, but I don't know anybody who thinks like this, and I don't believe our western leaders are so "cavalier".

I believe most, in the west at least, hate war.

"The start of no-violent action, preventing the conditions that lead to violence in the first place". You are right, but this is one area that the west might be contributing to the problem. Most of us believe poverty is to blame for these conditions. We send money, plenty of it, to Africa. It is never enough, it gets worse, we send more. We feel helpless, what can we do? We can pray and send money. This may be doing more harm than good. We must give, but maybe we need to link aid to reforms. Who wants to see aid money going to corrupt leaders, or to buy weapons, leading to violence, requiring intervention by the west? We can continue to take this moral high ground approach and send aid, wash our hands of it, refuse to intervene, or we can start to get back to reforming societies. There are much better things to be done with aid money, such as micro investment loans, helping Africans trade out of their poverty. Sure we should still send money, but make sure that Africans benefit from it. James Shikwati, a Kenyan economist, has spoken out against the harm the aid agencies are doing, unintentionally at times. We don't hear much about his ideas, and I wonder if the hypocrisy element comes into play again. It makes us feel good to send money to Africa, sit back and blame our own governments, not me of course, I am a good person, against violence, donating to charity, speaking out against injustice, condemning my own government for every error - but what am I actually doing to reform societies? We have a real chance to make a difference. We genuinely hunger and thirst after righteousness, yet we grumble all the time about our own culture, without which we would have no means to implement the changes we seek, with or without the use of violence.

You have such a heart for victims of injustice, Aaron, so do I, and so do millions of others. Let's celebrate this in each other as the Lord's working in so many of us, (even in the west). Let's also encourage our governments and recognise when things work. I would encourage you to also have a look at the opinions of James Shikwati, they are different, but maybe his ideas are just the sort of alternatives to prevent the problems that eventually result in violent conflict.

By the way, Aaron, though I still believe war is unjust but at times, necessary, I do agree with you that we should be looking at other options.


Aaron said...


I'll leave out self-loathing. You say I'm not doing it, and I agree. There's clearly a difference between being critical and being self-loathing. I would call my position "holy discontent", and I think when a nation or leader identifies itself or him or herself as Christian, then they are held to a higher standard (or at least should be, by Christians), as they are using the name of Christ. Yes, we have huge advantages and opportunities to help from the position of the West, which gives us all the greater responsibility to help and share. (Though I deny that it is only from the position of western affluence that change can be affected). And the history of the prophetic voice throughout Scripture and history leads me to think that at times sharp criticism is required. We do not want to be "court prophets".

Yes, I very much do think we believe, deep down, that killing the enemy is an acceptable solution. How can anyone not believe that? I say we believe it, because we continue to do it. If we truly didn't believe that, we wouldn't continue to do it. That's kind of the crux of my argument here. My opinion of human beings is very much linked into the concept of sin, and human history informs us that violence has nearly always been thought of as an acceptable solution, at the end of the day. It remains so even now, the worse so because we do possess the weapons to kill without even seeing the enemy, and to wipe out all of humanity in one go. My only hope is the redemptive power of Christ, and part of that will mean actually following the example and teachings of Christ. Therein lies the only hope for the world.

Understand I am not merely advocating for sending huge lumps of money to Africa either. I have read up on micro-enterprise, and TSA is actually doing some interesting things along these lines. This is a very big piece of the puzzle. I agree that a lot of charity and aid funding is about relieving our consciences, and this is not necessarily helpful either. Throwing money at a solution can be almost as harmful as throwing a bomb at it. But again, these are not the only alternatives. I don't suggest "war or non-involvement or non-thinking financial aid". I have been saying all along that we need to be more creative, not less so.

I agree that we need to seek reformation in the societies we are in, and actually first in our own hearts. This is part of what we are trying to do here in Vancouver. It is no good hefting money oversees if you couldn't care in the slightest for your neighbour who is desperately poor.

Tracking back to the words of Jesus: is there any other way we can interpret his words on non-violence to leave room for killing the enemy? I just can't see it, but many Christians for the last 2000 years have worked very hard to explain why violence is still acceptable. Do we believe that they don't apply, or that they won't work?

I'm suggesting that we haven't tried nearly hard enough to come up with alternative solutions, in part because our present comfort depends on rather quick and painless (for us) solutions to world problems. Warfare is undeniably a political tool, a profit-maker, and still a very big part of our culture. Until we make a conscious decision as a culture to reject these means, we won't commit ourselves fully to the development of non-violent solutions.



Anonymous said...

Aaron, I also deny that affluence is the only position from which we can implement change. The west has progressed in many scientific and technological ways, and we are in a position to share this expertise. The most important thing we can do is to share Christ. We do need to keep each other accountable, and distance ourselves from what is evil. We expect Christians to hold to the teachings of Christ. Whilst we all need to self examine, prayerfully, we must be careful not to judge each other. The Pharisees stuck to the letter of the law, so much so that they were unable to keep it. Jesus healed on the Sabbath. He was not breaking OT law, but reinterpreting it, and applying it as God intended, not as the religious leaders interpreted, and he helped many people in the process. Our leaders have access to intelligence and global information that most of us don't, and we need to trust God to provide our leaders, and to equip them with the right decision making powers. If He calls them to use their defence systems to help their neighbours, what should they do? They could take the easy option, refuse and have the deaths and suffering of millions on their consciences, or they could work on a strategy to destroy military installations, avoid human casualty, defend, protect, rebuild. Sometimes people are killed in the crossfire, this is heartbreaking, but not deliberate.

The reason I don't think we believe deep down that killing the enemy is acceptable, is due to the difference we see in the way different countries engage in wars. The west usually takes a more protective role, and this only after dialogue and diplomatic efforts have failed. Care is taken to avoid civilian and military personnel casualties. Enemies are imprisoned and cared for. When Saddam was captured, they didn't shoot him on site, they fed him, medically examined him, then handed him over to his own people. I did not want to see him hanged, but I would not have let him loose on innocent people either, perhaps prison and rehabilitation, but it was not my decision, and I must say I am glad that I don't have decisions like that to make. There are, at times, mavericks who will disgrace themselves and their countries by treating others badly, and I believe these individuals are held to account for their actions.

The good Samaritan came along and found the victim already alone and suffering. I wonder what the good Samaritan would have done had he arrived on the scene as the man was being beaten. We have established that violent intervention is sometimes required. If we are to protect others from violence and death, we need to pray and to be obedient to what we are called to do. I hope I am never called to make a decision like that, but if so, I will trust the Lord to guide me in all things. I do not believe the west will use weapons to wipe out humanity, but I am not so sure about some other nations driven by evil ideologies. Should we allow this to occur, if the only way to prevent this was to attack and risk casualties? I don't know the answer, but God has not appointed me to make decisions like that, and I am not ready condemn our leaders for either decision. I believe respecting our leaders is also scriptural. Our leaders are responsible for the lives of millions, their own people, and their neighbours.

To get creative and come up with other solutions, I agree, and I think you and I are not the first to hope for this. Other options have been sought over the years, as we said, dialogue, sanctions, preventative measures - financial assistance to reduce poverty, and probably many others. These are all good incentives, and they sometimes work, but not always. Peace marches really don't work either, this is symbolism. It makes people feel they are doing something, having a voice, but it achieves nothing. It is also hypocrisy at times, as these rallies frequently turn violent. I know you will hark back to Gandhi and MLK, and if we were trying to prevent Britain or USA from wiping another country off the map, then I'm sure these methods would be worth a try. I fear that the leaders of Iran or Zimbabwe would deal rather swiftly with Gandhi and MLK and their followers, so that their efforts would not even be reported, and we would still be seeking solutions to the violence and suffering of our neighbours.

Yes, let's get creative, come up with other solutions, but also acknowledge that our elected leaders are trying to do this. For us to make a conscious decision to reject war or violence in any form, would be to turn our backs on our neighbours, and our Lord expects us to love our neighbours too, not just our enemies. Politics and profit margins work in both directions. Leaders are voted in and out, war also costs a lot of money. War is unjust but sometimes, sadly, necessary. Rebuilding and prevention are very positive elements, and vital.