Jesus, War, and WikiLeaks

As I read some of the coverage of the Wikileaks documents, “a trove of secret field reports from the battlegrounds of Iraq” released widely this weekend, the sentence that stood out to me the most was that, “Civilians have borne the brunt of modern warfare, with 10 civilians dying for every soldier in wars fought since the mid-20th century, compared with 9 soldiers killed for every civilian in World War I, according to a 2001 study by the International Committee of the Red Cross.” As a Christian, who seeks to follow the way of Jesus, this statistic helps illuminate a troubling side effect of war that is sometimes politely called “collateral damage.”

The way of Jesus looks different than our customary way of waging war. Jesus risked his life to demonstrate God’s way of love for all people, even one’s alleged enemies. And the religious and political leaders of Jesus’ day, who falsely perceived themselves to be Jesus’ enemies, executed Jesus rather than allow him to continue to expose their selfishness, greed, and corruption. In contrast, Jesus taught his followers to “love your enemies.” But our typical way of war seeks only a single victory (our own), leaving dead “enemies” — soliders and civilians — on both sides. But Jesus sought what Martin Luther King, Jr. would call 2,000 years later a “double victory” in which alleged enemies come to see their common humanity.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi helped demonstrate in the 20th century that Jesus’ way of nonviolent activism can be effective on a large scale. To name only one example, the PBS documentary A Force More Powerful shows multiple more historical examples in recent decades of successful nonviolent activism.

Too often support for nonviolent activism is seen as a criticism of the troops on the ground or of veterans who have served our country honorably. I have no doubt that the freedoms I enjoy today have been secured through the brave sacrifices of generations before me. However, we can be grateful to the sacrifices of the past while still hearing the call of Jesus to seek a better, more life-giving way in the present and future for ourselves, our children, and our world.

The 20th-century Catholic activist Ammon Hennacy wrote the following challenge with searing insightfulness: “Love without courage and wisdom is sentimentality, as with the ordinary church member. Courage without love and wisdom is foolhardiness, as with the ordinary soldier. Wisdom without love and courage is cowardice, as with the ordinary intellectual. But the one who has love, courage, and wisdom moves the world.” The love of the ordinary church member, the courage of the ordinary solider, and the wisdom of the ordinary intellectual are all to be highly commended. And I write, at best, as the ordinary intellectual, who has some wisdom, but is in need of more love and courage. But the life and teachings of Jesus call all of us to an abundant way of living that is more loving, courageous, and wise than any of these three in isolation — a way that can and has moved the world.

For the past 25 years, the Christian Peacemaker Teams have been one of the best examples of groups seeking to live out Jesus’ call to “love your enemies.” CPT member risk their lives everyday to answer the question, “What would happen if Christians devoted the same discipline and self-sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking that armies devote to war?”

The WikiLeaks document help show us the tangible results of our oversized military budget. May the way of Jesus continue to trouble us when we fail to love our enemies. And may Jesus’ way of love continue to call us to acts of compassion in a world in which we are all more interconnected and interdependent everyday.

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