Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The way of the cross is not the American way

This past weekend was a constant stream of pictures of soldiers, flags and military graveyards with references to John 15:13 and the "ultimate sacrifice". One after another on Facebook, blogs, twitter, Google+. More troubling was that many of those postings came from the same people who post verses of Scripture and talk about Jesus. I wanted to ask them, do you think Jesus wants you to honor the system that leads to the deaths of so many people? I tried to be restrained through Memorial Day out of respect for those who have served, serve currently or have loved those who serve or have died but I can be silent no longer.

How can any follower of Jesus speak of dying in battle while trying to kill others as the "ultimate sacrifice"? The ultimate sacrifice came when God became man, lived a perfect life and gave His life on a cross to redeem those who were His enemies.  I don't expect unbelievers to get that but I would hope that those who claim to be believers would understand this. Based on what I saw I am not so sure that many of us do. The way of the cross at its core is loving enemies, Jesus loving even unto death those who were His enemies and His followers loving their enemies as shown to us by our Lord. We cannot love our enemies while killing them or just as bad encouraging others to kill them on our behalf. More and more I see that the atoning sacrifice of Christ has as a central motivation love of enemy. Yet we have perverted the notion of enemy love, self-sacrifice, humble submission on the pagan altar of individual liberty, economic and political freedom and jingoistic nationalism. Why are we surprised that the church is so astray and powerless in America when it has by and large ceased to be anything resembling the church that Jesus established and when we have abandoned so many of the core teachings of Christ? Recovering the Gospel of justification by faith alone and defending the doctrines of grace is great and all but if we fail to follow Christ all of our high highfalutin' theology is nothing more than an empty intellectual exercise.

Soldiers, whether American or Iranian or Chinese or Canadian, are paid to kill those who threaten the interests of that particular nation. Dressing up that reality in flowery language and cloaking it in nobility doesn't change that reality. That is not intended as a statement to disparage those who sign up for that task, many of whom think they are doing the right thing and quite a few that believe that what they do is compatible with their faith. My beef is not with the individual young men and women who serve in the military. They are doing what our society tells them is a noble task and often they pay for that with their lives while most of the society that tells them how noble they are sits back and enjoys the "freedom" they kill and die to maintain. No, my issue is not with soldiers and sailors and airmen but with those who callously send them off to kill in our "national interest" and even more so with those in the church that glorify and encourage the senseless bloodshed.

Look back at the wars this country has engaged in: an armed rebellion against the authority of the king placed in a position of authority over the colonies in violation of Romans 13: 1-7, creating what many people call a "Christian nation". A silly and pointless rematch war with the English over borders between the U.S. and Canada. Several other wars of territorial expansion. A vicious war between Americans over the right to enslave other human beings that still scars our national conscience today. A war in Europe that was none of our business that took human slaughter to unthinkable new levels. A rematch in Europe to put down a mad dog who rose as a result of our intervention in the prior war and left hundreds of millions of people under the iron fist of Communist dictators who were our "allies", with a second front in Asia where human depravity was on display in a new and previously unthinkable way, a war ended when the "good guys" bombed a civilian population into submission with the one and only use of nuclear weapons. A war in Korea that ended in a stalemate that lasts to this day. A half-hearted war in Vietnam where civilian casualties were horrific and the damage to our national identity we have never recovered from. A couple of wars in Iraq that, let's be honest, were mostly about American economic interests. Tons of little engagements around the world. Finally the longest lasting war in American history in Afghanistan where our "allies" are a greater threat to our troops than the enemy, where we are negotiating with the Taliban terrorists while they are attacking us and murdering civilians and on a regular basis we accidentally bomb masses of civilians. Not quite as noble as the shots of the flag waving in the breeze with patriotic music playing softly in the background make it seem.

We are supposed to be grateful for the freedoms won and defended by those in the military. It is part of our religious culture that we exalt those who died, often in terror and in the earliest years of their life, after having been trained and deployed by the men who run things in this country to kill others. We memorialize them, lay wreaths at the monument to soldiers too badly mangled to identify and sing songs in praise of America in gatherings of the church.

To those who served and are serving, I appreciate and understand your zeal and your commitment but I do not wish you to kill to preserve my "right" to vote for the same people who send you to kill and be killed, to accumulate wealth, to have a Starbucks and McDonalds on every corner so I don't have to put forth any effort to feed myself, to send my kids to $35,000/year universities while the children of other Christians around the world cannot even read, to throw away cheap mass produced food after gorging myself while orphans starve, to have endless entertainment to stupefy the mind, to put on a religious show on Sunday and to live my life however I see fit regardless of how that impacts others. Those "rights" have no real value and are actual in direct opposition to the values of the Kingdom of God. Too many of us, myself included, see the values of the Kingdom as something for the eschaton, something to be enjoyed in eternity. Those values will certainly see their fulfillment and culmination after the Judgment but as followers of Christ we are to model those values here and now as a witness to the world. Instead we often live like the world with a religious veneer of cultural piety and cheer on those who kill on our behalf so we can keep playing church while pursuing those things that are in direct opposition to what Jesus taught.

To those who feel compelled to serve in the military: Please do not kill even one more person so that I can live my life in direct opposition to what my Lord modeled and commanded. I would rather live under persecution and in poverty than to enjoy what the world has to offer that has been secured by the blood of another.

I don't hate America, although a few years ago I would have made that charge to anyone who wrote something like what I wrote above. I do hate what America often stands for and I am grieved that the church in America embraces it so wholeheartedly. If American Christians had half as much zeal for evangelism and serving others that we do for living and pursuing the American Dream we would have a far different church and we would likely see real persecution from the world. God has placed me here in this country and here I will stay until He sends me somewhere else but being born within the artificial boundaries that define one country as opposed to another does not and cannot define who I am in Christ. Nor do I see any of the "liberty", "freedom" or "rights" of America having anything to do with the way of the cross.

We should not hate anyone, not the soldier who fights for America nor for those they are sent to kill. Following Jesus is about denying self and loving others, even and especially our enemies. The world will never have its fill of wealth, of sin, of bloodshed so we must demonstrate a different way. It will never be popular and no one will wave a flag in our honor but it is the life we are called to.


Anonymous said...

While I agree with your sentiment that protecting America is not necessarily in keeping with the Kingdom, especially when it means killing others, I cannot agree with the implied sentiment of disdain and disrespect towards those who do not share that conviction. I may disagree with them, but I must honor them in two ways.

First, they do feel that they are acting in love, many of them, for the weak and powerless. When faced with people who wish to kill those who do not wish to pick up a weapon, there are young men and women who would rather risk death than see innocent people, either Americans or other innocents, suffer. While I disagree with their means and wish it to be otherwise, I must honor their selfless acts. Many of them see it, not as killing the enemy, but as standing in the way of the bullets that may kill me.

Secondly, there are men and women in the service that frquently step in front of bullets, jump on grenades, and run into fire in order to save their friend in uniform. Again, I may disagree with their purpose for being there in the first place, but this is still a selfless love.

One thing I feel that those of us of the Anabaptist tradition have unjustly done is that, in the process of praising and emphasizing the love of enemy, we have forgotten that we are also supposed to love each other. Laying down your life for an enemy is an excellent thing...but so is giving your life for a friend, sacrificially.

I do not celebrate Memorial Day to glorify my country or to glorify the wars, but simply to remember those men and women who died out of love for those whom they consider friends. This is also praiseworthy, as Christ himself pointed out. Love goes beyonjd the friends, true, but we cannot reduce that love because of love for enemy. How about we concentrate on the love for humanity, regardless of who they are?

I wonder, sometimes...since we disagree with the military so vehemently, aren't they the "enemy"? What does it look like for an Anabaptist to love a soldier?

Arthur Sido said...

The problem is that we frame the conversation in terms of "us" versus "them". If we went to war with China it is likely that there would be more Christians on the Chinese sides than the American side. Where I feel the church has erred, and this is an occasion where it has erred grievously by becoming entangled with the violence of the world, I don't think we have a choice but to call it to repent.

I do have a serious problem with linking heroic acts in warfare with laying down of your life for your friend. Jesus was talking about love leading up to His meek death on the cross, not a heroic act of bravery while engaged in trying to kill someone else. Jesus didn't go out in a blaze of glory, He went meekly and mutely to His death like a lamb to the slaughter.

How should we love soldiers as the church, and specifically as Anabaptists with a long heritage in this issue? First and foremost by withdrawing support for war by so much of the church. There are many Christians that have figurative blood on their hands by offering support and theological cover for warfare. We should care for the injured, help war widows, seek to promote peace and model the way of the Lamb as an example of a different way to approach the world. The choice is not between hating solders as the "enemy" and honoring them as heroes but loving them and loving those they fight one and the same.