When Christ entered Jerusalem, he rode in upon a donkey. He came as a king, but he came as a king of peace. Of course, as soon as Jesus entered into Jerusalem, what is often ignored by many people is that fact that Jesus chases evil doers and thieves out of the temple (Matthew 21:12) , calls the Pharisees a brood of vipers (Matthew 23:33), and is quoted as saying that the temple in Jerusalem will one day be destroyed (Luke 19:43-44). It should also be mentioned that, even as Jesus encountered Roman soldiers on numerous occasions, nowhere can it be found that he preached that either they or the Temple guards should not be doing what they do. Yes, Jesus believed in peace, but as far as we know, he also believed that armed forces were needed, that stepping up against wrong-doing sometimes required confrontations, and that all people are equally accountable. There are many times, it seems, that those who speak up for peace in speaking up against America’s actions seem to have forgotten that aspect of Jesus’ character. John the Baptist would tell soldiers in Luke 3 not to take money by force or accuse people falsely. He did not say that there were not times to fight. Indeed, even as I have heard much about Guantanamo Bay and Abu-Ghraib (and rightly so), I have heard far less condemnation from church leaders concerning the beheadings of American citizens, the bombings and killings of our soldiers using illegal I.E.D’s, (mines) and the fact that Al Queada terrorists (alongside Iranian and Syrian insurgents) are killing many more innocent Iraqis and other people than they are foreign soldiers. It is my feeling that many Peace Fellowships would hold a great deal more credibility and would represent a true Christ-like spirit if they would treat all as equally accountable to God’s call in loving one another as Jesus loves us. “Turn the other cheek” has been twisted to mean that one should never respond when I believe its original intent was to say only that one should not respond to every insult with violence and hatred (Note especially that one is hit on the right cheek in Matthew 5:39. This would make it a back-handed slap, which is more of an insult than inflicted physical harm).
The sad truth about war is that for war to occur, someone has to have broken God’s will for us. In a perfect world, war would not exist. In a fallen world, however, we must do things that we otherwise wouldn’t. What is not so black and white as some would make it is what a true godly response actually is given this set of circumstances. A case in point is the recent thwarted attempt by Al-Queada members to blow up ten airliners traveling from London to the United States, a plot that could have killed over 4000 people. What is not widely reported, however, is that the intelligence which allowed that plot to be stopped came from Pakistan, a country which frequently uses tactics that go far beyond the water-boarding used at times by our forces. Given this scenario, we as believers are confronted with the question: Should we celebrate the fact that those planes were not blown up, or would we rather that those planes had blown up because of the tactics undoubtedly used against the people who gave up the information? In the end, one has to lean one way or the other. In a fallen world, the line between what is and is not a Christ-like response becomes blurry at best.
In Judges Chapter 7, God calls upon a man we call Gideon to fight the Midianites. Thousands would be killed, but God did it nonetheless. God wanted David to be king even though it only happened after a protracted civil war in which hundreds or thousands died (2 Samuel 1-4), and Elijah was involved in the killing of over 500 Baal priests in 1 Kings 18. If Christ was pre-existent, let us not fool ourselves into thinking that he was not a part of those decisions. “Turn the other cheek” does not mean that wars are not sometimes justified and that all people- Muslims, Christians, Atheists, Iranians, Rwandans, and Americans alike- are all held to the same standard of accountability, and they should be treated as such..
Two years ago, the Presbytery of Charlotte voted to send an apology to Iraqi Christians for the conduct of our soldiers over there. In doing so, we intentionally refused to either state that many soldier have handled themselves admirably or say a prayer that their fellow citizens would treat each other better as well. It is not consistent with the gospel to continually put down one person/group’s actions while not taking into account the roles of others.
To the north of Bagdad lie the regions inhabited by the Kurds. Up to now, very little of that region has made the news. Why? Because though the situation is not ideal, in many respects the Kurds have seized their opportunity for peace and run with it. In many respects, God’s Will was done there. And it was the result of an invasion. I only grieve for the thousands of Kurds who were killed because our forces back off “in the interests of peace” after the first Persian Gulf War. Yes, I am saddened by the losses of life which have occurred overseas. I am not a fan of war. At the same time, I am heartened by the thousands who have not died because of what we have done. Yes, as Rick Ufford-Chase says, we Christians are being held accountable by other faith traditions. I just find interesting that nowhere does he state that these other faith traditions should be held accountable by us as well.
“Why aren’t Christians in the United States demanding an end to the war?” It’s because at times, though I too state that we must keep watch to ensure that we do not become what we despise, war is the lesser of two evil options. Indeed, our own Revolutionary War was known overseas as the “Presbyterian Rebellion.” The Synod of Philadelphia was the first organized religious body to officially endorse a separation from England and the fight for independence, despite the lives that would be lost and atrocities that would be committed. According to historian J.R. Sizoo, more than one-half of all soldiers and officers in the colonial army were Presbyterian. Were it not for members of our own denomination, July 4th would be just another day. So was the Revolution wrong, or wasn’t it?
Let me be clear. I am not equating America’s actions in this recent war with the Hand of God…that would be both foolhardy and irresponsible. What I am saying is a message from the Lord that rarely gets heard. Yes, tread carefully, but one can faithfully be a Christian and support the war on terror at the exact same time. One can have concerns and even strongly question some of what has occurred while at the same time point out the hypocrisy of continually pointing the finger at America while apparently not being troubled by the incredible atrocities being committed by the forces we are at war against. Christians who support the overall goals and reaches of what we are doing do not need to apologize for it– those in peace movements do not have a monopoly on the Savior, and believers who support the war want peace in the end just as much as others. Christ is with us, too
(Addendum 4/18/07: ‘In the interest of full disclosure, I think it only proper to state that since writing this letter, I have talked with one of the writers of the Presbytery of Charlotte’s apology to Iraqi Christians, who stated that they intended it solely as a response to Abu Graib situation, and that it was not meant to disparage or characterize our troops as whole. While she and I disagree on many things and I continue to believe in what we are doing in Iraq and elsewhere in the war on terror on the whole, I do accept what she has told me as sincere and would ask you to do the same. We can have convictions and be willing to listen at the same time–MDF’)
Mark Fisher is the pastor of Macedonia Presbyterian Church in Candor, NC