Muddled Thinking on War, Peace and Justice
The broad topic of war and peace is a complex, multifaceted one which requires careful, prayerful and mature reflection. There are many considerations that need to be taken into account when seeking to properly discuss this issue: biblical, theological, ethical, historical, philosophical, geopolitical, and so on.
It requires more than bumper sticker moralising, in other words. Yet that is often what we find in this debate. Complex topics are often reduced to a glib protest banner. The left – both secular and religious – can often be monotonously guilty of this.
I have just come across yet another prime example of this, this time involving people who call themselves evangelical Christians. To be honest, it greatly saddens me to see Christians taking such perplexing and difficult issues and reducing them to mindless slogans. They undoubtedly think they are serving the cause of Christ in what they are doing, but in my eyes they are simply being an embarrassment, discrediting the complexity and nuance of Christian social thinking.
The story involves a Melbourne Baptist Pastor and three colleagues who have gone up to Queensland to protest joint American-Australian war games. The four are evangelicals who happen to be pacifists. Now I have written elsewhere about how Christians can agree to disagree on these issues. While pacifists have always been in a minority throughout church history, they have been a part of the Christian tradition nonetheless.
Needless to say, I strongly disagree with them at just about every turn. Those disagreements have been written up in other articles on this site. Here I simply wish to comment on two banners that were held by the protestors. They so very much reflect the muddled moralising and twisted thinking of the left.
The first says this: “War is terror is war”. As an example of mindless rhetoric, superficial jingoism, and distorted morality, this is of course a winner. Sure, it has been around for ages, and our four religious friends have simply latched on to it, evidently believing it nicely encapsulates their thinking on this topic.
It might be good for a media photo opportunity, but as a contribution to a very complex and difficult topic, it adds absolutely nothing. Indeed, all it does is show that these people do not seem to be very serious about what they are making such a stink about.
But like the left as a whole, they think a photo op and a media controversy are the preferred means of arguing a case. Never mind at least two and a half millennia of sustained, rigorous and careful thinking and reflection on these issues. Never mind that Christian social ethics can never be slimmed down to a protest banner. Never mind that vitally important topics like this require hard thinking and moral clarity.
Thus they short-circuit a very important ethical debate, and turn a very complex issue into another sound bite for the six o’clock news. But it is not just this devaluation of reasoning and moral reflection that worries me. The phrase itself is complete bunk. It is simply a vacuous and ludicrous statement, which adds nothing whatsoever of value to the debate.
Let’s consider what it says for a moment. In the eyes of these four, terrorism is the moral equivalent of warfare. So in their jaundiced and anaemic system of ethics, there is absolutely no difference between a jihadist who deliberately seeks to kill as many innocent women and children as possible, in order to terrorise them into embracing his agenda, and a man who seeks to defend a nation against the unjust aggression of a tyrant.
Thus a soldier trying to protect, say, children in a French village from the murderous butchery of the Nazis was just as evil as those who flew planes into the Twin Towers. Thus Bonhoeffer – whom they ironically name themselves after: “The Bonhoeffer Four” – was just as morally grotesque in his attempt to assassinate Hitler, as Hitler was himself. No difference: war equals terror.
There is so much more to say about this. What these four are really doing is impugning the very nature of God. In their radical pacifism they have to totally renounce much of the Old Testament. To turn Jesus into some peace-loving hippy who wouldn’t harm a fly, they not only have to ignore altogether the fact that Yahweh is a “god of war”, but they also have to take a scissors to the Book of Revelation.
There we discover this meek and mild Jesus turns out to be a returning conquering hero, riding a war steed with a sword of judgment in his hand. It is hard to remain a pacifist and claim to be fully biblical, especially after reading a passage like Rev. 19 for example.
Of course as anyone with a smattering of theological nous knows, there is both continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments. Some things, such as the Israelite sacrifices and temple activities do not carry over. But the character and nature of God remains the same.
Jesus of the Gospels is the same God who is a warrior in the OT, and is the same God who comes in fierce judgment in the last book of the Bible. It does no good whatsoever to try to separate who Jesus is in his fullness from who God is, as revealed throughout all of Scripture.
Much more can be said, but let me briefly turn to the second protest banner they proudly held up: “Resist the war on Afghanistan.” So what exactly does that mean? The religious left prides itself in how much they are into social justice. Were they concerned about justice for the Afghanis who suffered horribly under the murderous Taliban dictatorship? Did they go to Afghanistan when the Taliban were in control, holding up their silly banners, seeking to be peacemakers?
Or is injustice only something which America and its allies are capable of committing? Are protests only to be aimed at Uncle Sam and his cronies? One so often sees this blatant hypocrisy and double standards of the religious left. They are always happy to condemn the West, but where are they when real acts of injustice are taking place?
Where were they when Saddam was murdering and gassing his own citizens? Where were they when Stalin was killing his millions? Where were they when Mao massacred countless Chinese? Will they now go to the Sudan with their little placards, and demand that the Muslim rulers there stop killing Christians, including those who are being crucified?
And closer to home, do these same people sit outside of abortion clinics, protesting what is arguably the worst case of genocide the world has ever known? Do they try to blockade the abortion mills, in an effort to stop the war on the unborn?
Do they wave banners around – when the TV crews are present, of course – with words like these: “Abortion is terror is abortion”? Or what about, “Resist the war on the unborn”? For some reason I have not noticed too many of these lefties involved in these sorts of protests. I did not spot them doing this on the evening news of late.
As I said, believers are free to think differently about these matters. Pacifism has been a Christian option for some, and we can respect that fact. But what we do not have to respect is the bumper sticker morality and fuzzy thinking that so often goes along with their cause.
This does not do much good to the importance of sober reflection on complex social issues, and it does not do much good to the richness, diversity and complexity of the Biblical texts. What is required here is genuine moral clarity, not pretentious clichés.