Thursday, March 30, 2006


What's so funny about peace, love and understanding?

I've been thinking a lot about peace recently, what it really means in its most concrete, what-would-Jesus-do form and not as just some abstract concept deserving of lip service and immediate dismissal.

Who doesn't want peace? In the midst of this seemingly endless war, wouldn't we all like a planet in which everybody gets along and acts nice? Of course. And we certainly all know that peace was central to the very essence of Christ's example.

Yet, when it comes time to stand up for peace, we Christians all fall apart. We look for excuses. I know you've heard them all: Well, what Christ said was nice, but we can't just open ourselves up to terrorists. What are we going to do, lay our arms down, join hands with al-Qaeda and sing "Kum-ba-ya?" If we turn the other cheek, then America will surely die. Neville Chamberlain stood up for peace, and look what happened.

I can't argue with any of these declarations. They make perfect sense, I agree completely, and yet in the end, the Sermon on the Mount is transformed into a quaint homily. Do unto others pre-emptively before the smoking gun becomes a mushroom cloud. The Beattitudes are words that sound nice but completely lack power or meaning in modern society. Cursed be the meek, for their naivete entitles them to death by terrorist's bomb. In essence, Christ is dead, impotent, a nice guy who really didn't have much to say to us, after all. He can save our souls from damnation but is powerless to bring on the earth he preached about. The Old Testament is where it's at. Walls of Jericho. A plague of locusts. A pillar of salt. Bring on the angry God of vengeance. He'll show those wicked infidels.

Nothing new here. Look at the polling data. Most Christians support the war in Iraq, as they unflaggingly support the presidential agenda that has brought on this war. In fact, Christ's followers have supported just about every major conflict in modern U.S. history. Christians historically tend to support war in far greater numbers than non-Christians, leaving the secular and atheists to stand up for the words of Jesus. Peace is for sissies and fools, according to our modern church.

I've thought a lot about the Christian Peacemaker Teams that have worked in Iraq. Their reputation comes mainly after four of their members were kidnapped with one of those captives later found shot dead. These Christians hold a different view from the mainstream of Christ's following. They oppose the war and have worked to highlight the abuse of detainees and help Iraqi families gain access and information about their loved-ones in detention. This view has not endeared them to many of their Christian brothers and sisters who believe that their work endangers U.S. troops and aids and comforts the enemy. Some say these guys were foolishly naive and grossly misunderstood the danger. Some were downright gleeful of the detainees' predicament.

(By the way, the CPT vehemently denies that they showed any ingratitude to their rescuers. This appears to be more right-wing spin perversely accepted as conventional wisdom. Click here to read more.)

And yet, knowing full-well the danger (Who wouldn't?), these guys stood up for principles they believed mirrored the truest, most profound teachings of Christ. That peace is not just a nice sentiment that always crumbles in the face of reality. That injustice and abuse are always immoral and un-Christian, even to the most unsympathetic of vicitms. That principle always trumps loyalty to country. That loving one's neighbor is truly the highest calling of a Christian. That violence is never justified.

"If I am ever called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice in love of enemy, I trust that God will give me the grace to do so," Fox once wrote.

I also think of the Mennonites, Quakers and other Christians who have stood up as conscientious objectors, some of whom have faced prison, all of whom have faced derision, scorn and sometimes hatred for their view that all war is evil, and to participate means to participate in evil. And yet they have stood up anyway, out of firm belief that Christ's teachings of peace and love are literal, real and relevant. That following them to the letter is the ultimate outward show of Christian faith.

And alas, I find myself unable to make the same leap of faith. Am I earthbound by man's perversion of truth or am I just realistic in my view of the world? Try as I might to reconcile an unyielding belief in peace and an unflagging opposition to all wars, I just can't do it. I do believe we need armies to keep us safeand I respect the courage of the men and women who serve in them. I also believe war is sometimes necessary, although very rarely and certainly not this one we're fighting in Iraq. And I can't help but wonder what would happen if nobody had stood up to Hitler, had we not fought a war on terrorism.

Yet I also see what the Christian Right's complete and total faith in war and the power of the bomb has wrought: another intractable mess from which resolution seems unattainable, tens of thousands of soliders and civilians dead, a country laid to ruin with the looming prospect of devastating civil war, the escalation of worldwide hatred. And I ask myself, isn't it equally naive to believe that true peace can ever be obtained at the point of a gun?

I then realize that maybe Jesus had a point, after all.

Quotes of the day

"I'm kind of happy about it, because I'm eager for people to see reality, change their minds if necessary, and have things sized up...I like any time a bunch of leftist feel-good hand-wringers are shown reality."
- Rush Limbaugh on the kidnapping of the four Christian Peacemaker Team activists.

"Everything is about them. They want to be the focus of attention, and they don't mind taking the military off path and out of its mission, and they have no appreciation for it in the first place. I mean, just, totally ungrateful. It -- it's offensive. "
- Limbaugh on their rescue.

"Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God."
Matthew 5:9

"You have heard it said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven."
Matthew 5:43-44

"Love your neighbor as yourself."
Matthew 22:39, Mark 12:31

"Love your enemies. Do good to those that hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic."
Luke 6:27-29

"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that... But love your enemies, do good to them.
Luke 6:32-34

"A new command I give you: Love one another. AsI have loved you, so you must love one another. All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another."
John 13:34,35

Wonderful piece. You really have hit the essence of this struggle on the head. And the outright nerve of that blowheart Limbaugh to criticize these wonderful Christian missionaries. It shows what he's made of....priorities of political ideology come before christian principles.
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