I have a very good friend, a writer and all-around good-guy who is studying for the diaconate in the Roman Catholic church, and he is struggling with his vote. He’s a Democrat, but he doesn’t much find anything in John Kerry that seems worth voting for. There are aspects of President Bush he admires, but other things which trouble him. The war makes him uneasy, particularly in terms of his Christianity. Is war compatible with Christianity, he wonders? Is this war? Is any war?
He spent some time with Trappist monks recently and came away more troubled about the issue of war, how it fits or does not fit within the life of a Christian. After all, he reasons, Jesus said, “Blessed are the Peacemakers…”
I think it’s very good to wonder about these things, and I applaud his soul-searching – I think all people who worship God – no matter what their persuasion – should be thinking about these things.
I can’t speak to all religious beliefs, and I claim no wisdom – I know only what I can glean from my own reason and whatever the Holy Spirit lays upon my conscience. But I think “Blessed are the Peacemakers” cannot be the whole story, and indeed, Christ said much more than that, but he didn’t really address war with any specificity. I do believe though, that we can extrapolate those things we know about His teachings and come to one (or several) conclusions. As with everything, each person will embrace unto himself/herself that which speaks to the heart.
When I think of war – and all war is terrible, no matter how just – I think of the warrior – the soldier, the one doing the “warring”, so let’s start there. What did Jesus teach us about soldiers, and people in positions of authority? When a Centurion, a warrior who had been given authority over other warriors and servants, approached Jesus for a favor (the healing of a servant) Jesus did not spit at him, thrust him away or lecture him about how awful war is. He didn’t do anything like that. There is nothing indicating that Jesus did not see the need for soldiers, and being a scripturally educated Jew, he’d know that “to everything there is a season…a time for war, a time for peace.”
Jesus did not really talk to us about these “big questions”. People will say, “Jesus never talked about abortion!” “Jesus never talked about homosexuality!” “Jesus never talked about…(insert your single-issue obsession here)…”
What Jesus talked to us about was not the question of whether there should or should not be war, or abortion, or homosexuality, or for that matter slavery. He simply didn’t address them; he approached the world, and humanity as it was. As we ARE. He didn’t urge the release of slaves, or the end of war. He left that for us to deal with after giving us the basic outline.
Part of that outline was to tell both servant and master to be honorable, in their spheres, to God and to His Creation. He said that we must all, according to our place, love God and serve Him, to be Godly and honorable no matter what our rank, our station, our wealth, our poverty. We all have a role to fulfill. He understood (and indeed taught) that there would always be the poor among us, there would always be the sick, there would always be the rich, there would always be the lawyers, the pharisees, the whores. There would always be war. It’s not a perfect world. We have to live in it, in all its broken-ness, and strive to move forward from wherever we began. Let the slave serve the master with such honor and goodness that he is much-rewarded. Let the master see the value of the slave and be generous in his promotions.
“Blessed are the peacemakers…” In our relativistic world, who decides what a peacemaker is? In some instances, the peacemakers can very well be the soldiers. The UN has “soldiers” they call “peacekeepers”. If “to everything there is a season…” it’s possible that our warriors, and our war, are ‘peacekeepering’ trying to prevent something far, far worse – and far reaching – by attempting to contain terrorism in one place, and eliminate the terrorists.
I said earlier that all war is terrible – no one would argue differently. But not all war is dishonorable. Jesus DID say blessed are the peacemakers. He also said, “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”
Is it righteous to make war if you are liberating the oppressed, freeing those who had no voice, rounding up hundreds of thousands of tons of weapons, deposing tyrants? Is it righteous to make war if you are doing so in the hopes that your actions may prevent the slaughter of millions in a single city, on a single day?
If the answer is yes, then one could argue that our men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan, and our president, are therefore among the blessed as they work, from their perspective, for “righteousness.” Obviously, one’s individual perspective will shade ones response. A leftist may say, “war is never acceptable, therefore these people are NOT peacemakers; they are murderers.” A rightist may say, “war is always to be a ready tool, and these people are saviors!”
Most, I suspect, fall somewhere in the middle. Most people understand that in World War II there were events like the bombings of Dresden and of London, and hideous loss of innocent lives on every side. But they also understand that when an enemy will stop at nothing, then something must be done, ugly as the task might be.
It’s always dangerous to become to narrow in one’s views on these “big questions”, especially if one is trying to form those views from a Christian perspective that leans heavily to the right or the left. To my mind, a rightwing Christian who wants to bomb the world, bomb Mecca and “kill all the Muslims” isn’t helpful. But a leftwing Christian who doesn’t want to recognize the need to fight a resolved and ruthless enemy is not helpful, either. Balance. St. Benedict taught us to seek balance.
So, what did Christ really tell us about war, since he did NOT really address the subject directly? We can take a guess. If both the slave and the master are to be honorable and Godly, we can interpret that broadly to mean, “let each in his or her role do their jobs in honorable, Godly fashion.” So we can presume then, that he is also telling soldiers to be honorable soldiers – not to NOT be soldiers - but to be honorable good ones. Everyone honorable within their station.
Perhaps my pal’s Trappist friends are TOO vehemently against the war, and my Christian friends are TOO vehemently for it. But to everything there is a season, and we’re taught to do our best within the events unfolding around us.
Balance. We need it badly.