Sunday, January 03, 2010

Christians who refused to engage in warfare

God of War?

Jacksonville, Alabama --  Just as professing Christians cannot follow Christ while serving Mammon, they are not being faithful to the Prince of Peace while glorifying Mars.  It’s nothing new.  The worldly principles of violence and war entered the church within its first three centuries of existence.

The invasion was largely triggered by Constantine’s supposed vision of a Chi-Rho cross in the sky encouraging him, in Greek, with the words “In this Sign, Conquer.”  (ἐν τούτῳ νίκα or, translated into Latin, In hoc signo vinces.)  He then proceeded to win the Battle of Milvian Bridge (312).  Emperor Constantine may have been a sincere believer, but the vision sounds apocryphal.  The accounts of the vision or dream by church fathers Lactantius and Eusebius are contradictory.  In addition to being church leaders, the two were court historians who had a tendency to flatter Constantine.

If the story is not apocryphal, it was either wishful thinking or satanic deception.  To borrow an analogy from an earlier Greek tale, Constantine went on to serve as a Trojan Horse inside Christianity.  The linking of Christ and Caesar brought some short-term benefits but the long-term harm has been immense.  The facilitation of war by the chaplains of power has been one sad effect.

Turning to the U.S.A.: With all of the clerical and pewful cheering on behalf of recent wars, the intertwining of cross and flag, and the blessings bestowed on every Commander in Chief by the leading evangelists of the day, it can be difficult to discern the testimony for peace by theologically conservative Christianity.

This testimony can be found primarily, but not only, among the historic peace churches: the Amish, Mennonites, Hutterites, Schwenkfelders, Quakers, Moravians, and German Baptist Brethren.  Roman Catholicism places some limits on the martial spirit with its doctrine of just war, derived from Augustine and Aquinas.  Dispensationalism—one of two main sources for fundamentalism—was traditionally apolitical and encouraged neutrality in fallen, worldly activities such as warfare.  This influence can be seen in figures from A.C. Gaebelein to Watchman Nee.

As a young man, evangelist D.L. Moody refused to enlist in the Civil War because he was a conscientious objector.  He recalled, “There has never been a time in my life when I felt I could take a gun and shoot down a fellow human being.  In this respect I am a Quaker.”

Faced with the prospect of war between England and Russia, in 1885, William Booth publicly declared that every true soldier of The Salvation Army should “shut his ears to all the worldly, unscriptural, unchristian talk about war being a necessity.”  He warned, “Oh, what vice, what blasphemies, what cursing, what devilries of every kind accompany and follow in the train of war.”  In a subsequent War Cry editorial, Booth looked forward to the day when the Prince of Peace would abolish “this inhuman and fiendish system of wholesale murder.”  The focus of the conflict between the English and Russian empires?  Afghanistan.  Some things never change.

The Christian statesman William Jennings Bryan was directly influenced by the great writer Leo Tolstoy.  The two talked for twelve straight hours at Tolstoy’s home during Bryan’s international trip in 1903.  As a result of this visit, and earlier writings, Tolstoy’s nonviolent views were spread to American Christians who were far more culturally provincial, theologically conservative, and politically mainstream than the Russian anarcho-pacifist himself.  A decade later, when Secretary of State Bryan broke with Woodrow Wilson because the president was pushing the nation into World War I, he became the first holder of that high position to resign over a matter of political principle.  He was also the last.

In accepting the Democratic presidential nomination in 1900, Bryan said, “If true Christianity consists in carrying out in our daily lives the teachings of Christ, who will say that we are commanded to civilize with dynamite and proselyte with the sword?  Imperialism finds no warrant in the Bible.  The command, ‘Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature,’ has no Gatling gun attachment. . . . Compare, if you will, the swaggering, bullying, brutal doctrine of imperialism with the golden rule and the commandment, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’”

On the eve of U.S. entry into World War II, in 1940, the Southern Baptist Convention issued a resolution expressing its “utter abhorrence of war as an instrument of International policy.”  The nine-point statement concluded, “Because war is contrary to the mind and spirit of Christ, we believe that no war should be identified with the will of Christ.  Our churches should not be made agents of war propaganda or recruiting stations.  War thrives on and is perpetuated by hysteria, falsehood, and hate and the church has a solemn responsibility to make sure there is no black out of love in time of war.”

There was not a single resolution issued by the Southern Baptists during World War II or Vietnam expressing support for the president or the troops, but there were resolutions in support of conscientious objectors.  The bold 1940 resolution can be found even today on the SBC website but the Southern Baptists have changed their tune . . . and their lyrics . . . perhaps even their hymnal.

As late as 1970, Francis Schaeffer, an orthodox Presbyterian, was warning, “In the United States many churches display the American flag.  The Christian flag is usually put on one side and the American flag on the other.  Does having two flags in your church mean that Christianity and the American Establishment are equal?  If it does, you are really in trouble. . . . Equating of any other loyalty with our loyalty to God is sin.”  Ironically, Schaeffer’s later writings helped give rise to the Moral Majority, with its endorsement of Constantinianism and the Mush God of American civil religion.

To their credit, Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict XVI) condemned the Iraq War as unjust in 2002-03.  Unfortunately, there was no teeth to their pronouncements.  I am not a Roman Catholic, but if I were, I would want my pope armed with anathemas and bulls of excommunication.  What is the point of having an episcopal form of government headed by the vicar of Christ if he does not wield at least one of the two swords of Gelasius?
The supreme pontiff ought to have disciplined disobedient children like Senators Tom Daschle, Joe Biden, John Kerry, Pete Dominici, Susan Collins, and Sam Brownback.

When it comes to peace, the Catholic hierarchy if often politely correct, but it is no Erasmus of Rotterdam, Dorothy Day, or Thomas Merton in denouncing militarism and the perfidy of its practitioners.  Too much diffidence and compromise.  That’s one of the fruit of the spirit of Constantine and a corollary of cultural synthesis.  A huge bureaucracy enmeshed with worldly wealth and power is not in a position to be too radical in its opposition to the world, even when the opposition is sincere.

Without jargon or hedging, the French Catholic mathematician-scientist-philosopher-mystic Blaise Pascal put it simply centuries ago: “[Q:] Why do you kill me?  [A:] What!  Do you not live on the other side of the water?  If you lived on this side, my friend, I should be an assassin, and it would be unjust to slay you in this manner.  But since you live on the other side, I am a hero, and it is just. . . . Can anything be more ridiculous than that a man should have the right to kill me because he lives on the other side of the water, and because his ruler has a quarrel with mine, though I have none with him?” (Pensées, V: 293-94)

Still, the peace rhetoric of the papacy is much to be preferred to the refined war mongering of Richard Land, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.  As Congress was preparing to give President Bush a blank check to wage war against Iraq, in October 2002, Land organized an open letter to Bush, signed by prominent evangelical Protestants, that began, “In this decisive hour of our nation’s history we are writing to express our deep appreciation for your bold, courageous, and visionary leadership. Americans everywhere have been inspired by your eloquent and clear articulation of our nation’s highest ideals of freedom and of our resolve to defend that freedom both here and across the globe.  We believe that your policies concerning the ongoing international terrorist campaign against America are both right and just.”

Specifically, the planned attack on Iraq was sanctified as a just war.  After the bombing and invasion, Land remained confident of God’s blessing on the undertaking, writing, “I believe we are seeing in Iraq an illustration of waging a war of defense and liberation according to the criteria of just war.”

Recently, I wrote about Christmas presents for children.  The fine book by Laurence M. Vance entitled Christianity and War, and Other Essays Against the Warfare State (Vance Publications, 2nd ed., 2008) would be a good Christmas present for adults.  Vance writes regularly for

You may be a Christian—or non-Christian—who does not embrace pacifism.  That’s okay.  The perfect need not be the enemy of the good.  Most of us can agree that most of the wars in which we have been involved during the past century have been unjustified wars of aggression and greed, having more to do with empire and monopoly than with national defense or humanitarian crusades.

In 1761, William Law, the Anglican divine who helped lead John Wesley to evangelicalism and eventually flowered as a Christian mystic, wrote about war in his final book, An Address to the Clergy.  He did so with truth and eloquence.  Sadly, but predictably, his condemnation of Christian war was deleted when the book was reprinted by evangelical publishers in the 1890s and 1970s.  Not uplifting, too discomforting, I suppose.

 Law wrote, “Look now at warring Christendom, what smallest drop of pity towards sinners is to be found in it?  Or how could a spirit all hellish more fully contrive and hasten their destruction?  It stirs up and kindles every passion of fallen nature that is contrary to the all-humble, all-meek, all-loving, all-forgiving, all-saving Spirit of Christ.  It unites, it drives and compels nameless numbers of unconverted sinners to fall, murdering and murdered among flashes of fire with the wrath and swiftness of lightning, into a fire infinitely worse than that in which they died. . . . Here, my pen trembles in my hand.  But when, O when, will one single Christian Church, people, or language, tremble at the share they have in this death of sinners?”

“. . . Again, would you further see the fall of the universal Church, from being led by the Spirit of Christ to be guided by the inspiration of the great fiery Dragon, look at all European Christendom sailing round the globe with fire and sword and every murdering art of war, to seize the possessions and kill the inhabitants of both the Indies. . . . To this day what wars of Christians against Christians, blended with scalping heathens, still keep staining the earth and the seas with human blood, for a miserable share in the spoils of a plundered heathen world! — a world, which should have heard or seen or felt nothing from the followers of Christ, but a divine love, that had forced them from distant lands and through the perils of long seas to visit strangers with those glad tidings of peace and salvation to all the world, which angels from heaven and shepherds on earth proclaimed at the birth of Christ.”



Anonymous said...

Brilliant! Thanks for sharing this!

Anonymous said...

Well, yes, in principle I agree. However, had it not been for the Serbs brandishing the sword against the Turks, who knows how long Catholic Europe would have remained Catholic. Had it not been for St. Alexander Nevsky, how well would the Orthodox have faired in Russia? I think there is a tradition within the Church -- certainly within the Orthodox Church -- that says arms are okay to take up when the Faith is threatened from an external enemy of the Church. When Christian monarchies have vanished from the face of the earth only to be replaced by a Masonic, Kabbalistic imperium, then yes, Christians should oppose wars fought for no other reason than chess moves in the Great Game. In this regard, it's interesting to note that in his treatise on the anti-Christ, St. Hippolytus refers to "ten democracies" and not ten kings or kingdoms.

Anonymous said...

These are comments I made while engaging in another forum when the topic of the military came up.

Please consider these verses . . .

Have peace one with another. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another.

Avenge not yourselves. - If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink. - Recompense to no man evil for evil. - Overcome evil with good.

Walk with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love.

Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another; love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous, not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing.

Be at peace among yourselves. See that none render evil for evil to any man. - God hath called us to peace.

Follow after love, patience, meekness. - Be gentle, showing all meekness unto all men. - Live in peace.

Lay aside all malice. - Put off anger, wrath, malice. - Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.

It is impossible for a believer to repeat these verses, say that he believes them with all of his heart, and then joins the military, trains to kill and fight for the goals and purposes of his country, which for the most part are always at odds with the goals and aims of the kingdom of God? How does one "Be gentle, showing all meekness unto all men with an M16?" If we believe that we can say, I believe this, yet now go to battle, then the verses mean nothing. If the Lord says don't do it, but I continually do, what does that make me? According to 1John 2:4, He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.


Rusty Mason said...

What about self-defense? Am I in sin when using violence to protect myself and my family from violence? Isn't it my duty as head of household to provide such protection to my innocent wife and children? And if a hostile tribe attack me, should I not defend myself against them just as I would against a lone attacker?

And if the attacker(s) be not Christian, am I to give him the same pacifist treatment as I would my own brother in Christ?

Michael Hoffman said...

Dear Mr. Mason

You are confusing war with police action. In the context of domestic law and order, St. Paul said "the ruler bears not the sword in vain" (Romans 13:4) and this would apply to your right to defend your own life and that of your family.

One could extend this principle to defending the borders of a nation, so that for example, if the Chinese Red Army were to invade Seattle, I might be justified as a Christian in joining a local militia to defend Spokane and northern Idaho.

What I personally believe is a mockery of the Gospel is to volunteer or be conscripted into the army of the American empire, for combat in foreign wars such as Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The American War Between the States and World War I were purely fratricide, but priests and ministers on both sides were urging their flocks to go and kill the Christians on the other side because "God wills it!" Jesus gave us a better Way. The world is always trying to make an end run around His Way through loopholes and casuistry.

Anonymous said...

My borther in law stood guard in Korea - with no bullets in his gun. It was not a declared war - if memory serves. Some of those other "wars" mentioned are being exposed even as I write as drug running schemes - illegal attacks of agression etc, etc. Yet,lest we forget, the bible records that war took place in heaven, and that Satan and his angels were cast out. It was a war of defense, at least that is how I think it may have transpired. War is needed to defend. The bible also states that God is a God of War - check it out.

Anonymous said...

These wars of Empire have affected me in a most personal way, my father in WWII, three years, 6 amphibious assaults and 5 bronze stars, as a paralegic DAV he gave more than most. My cousin was a CO, after 2 weeks in Nam as a medic, the red cross made a superb target. I now have learned of the true nature of the 20th century wars. This is not America. I am angered and appalled.

Anonymous said...

Is it not true that Christian was spread throughout the world because Europe was the dominant military power ?
Would Christianity have been just one of many forgotten cults if say the witch doctors of Africa had been able to sail and colonize and conquer the world ?

However , there certainly is a fifth column to all of this ....

I do think that deception is the true enemy , since Christians have been deceieved into many fratricidal wars , and also , Christians have been deceived into suicidal pacifism in terms of defending the culture that enabled the spread of Christianity in the first place .

WLindsayWheeler said...

The Old Testament teaches that "The Lord God is a man of war". The title, "Lord of hosts" which is used many times in the OT is in reference to the Creator God as the God of war for the Hebrews. If you notice---it is the "spirit of the Lord" that descends upon Sampson in order to bring enmity between the Hebrews and the Philistines.

The New Testament teaches the other face of God. God is both the God of war and peace. God is the wearer of many hats and certainly Christianity fails when it fails to understand that "Life is War". Pacifism kills.

There were 500 bishoprics in North Africa---only a few survived in Egypt with the coming of the Muslim. Whole provinces of Christians have been wiped out and once Christian territories have disappeared. Why? Because Christians have grown to be weenies.

Ever looked at an iconostasis in an Orthodox Church? What are the angels dressed as????

In military garb.

There were over 250 Christian monasteries in Jerusalem before the Islamic invasion.

They'd still be there if Christians realized that "Life is War".

The Church is NOT above the Natural Law. The Church can not dissovle the Natural Law. The Gospel and the Natural Law have the same logos. Both have to be obeyed; neither to the exclusion of the other.

Michael Hoffman said...

To WLindsayWheeler

You are arguing for a carnal Christianity, which is an oxymoron. The faith of Jesus Christ cannot survive as anything other than that which is based on the spirit of its founder, who said, "If my kingdom were of this world, then my followers would fight."

He did not fight with carnal weapons. He lived under harsh Roman occupation and never took up arms or led a liberation movement.

You mention fighting Muslims but over the centuries many Muslim civilians were butchered by "Christian" soldiers. Moreover, Christian armies have slaughtered opposing Christian armies far more often than they have fought Islam. This is a mockery of what Christ taught. What sort of example is this to non-Christians?

We are to do good to our enemies and love them. You are advocating a Christianity that is really just a front for an ante-Christian European cultural imperative, dressed up with the Cross and mouthing rhetoric about Christian values but pursuing the militarism and warfare of this world.

You do not understand the words of Jesus, "He who seeks to save his life shall lose it." You should stop using Jesus as a figurehead for your imperium. You cannot reconcile Christ with the fratricide of a debacle like World War I in which each enemy army claimed to have Jesus on their side. The hour is far too late for any more slaughterhouse charades in His name.

Anonymous said...

Dear Lord God in heaven !
I would not recommend that Christians be more passive .
If Christians were any more passive , I'm sure they might start to ferment .

I mean , there is :
" turn the other cheek "

and then there is :

" kick me and genocide me and my culture and laugh at me and my religion and my God while you do it "

Angel said...

rotten things are happening all over this world. it has nothing to do with any devil. it is because the power is ego crased and not loving, that creates all the pain and devistation in this world