The following is an open letter to Mark Tooley and others who have criticized my Sojourners Article about the 4th of July. Mark is the president of the “Institute on Religion and Democracy” (where his reflection on my article is posted) and also writes for “The American Spectator.” See either link for the relevant article.
Dear Mark Tooley,
Let me start out by saying that I do not fully disagree with your concern about my view of America. My Sojo post comes across as a bit more frustrated at the US than I actually am. Sometimes abridging something leaves out some valuable details, and for this I am sorry (I will strive to become better at this in future posts). My belief is that everyone has to live somewhere, and I am privileged that I happen to reside in the US. This is a nation that is unlike any in the world, and I have had amazing opportunities having lived here. I say the following in my unabridged version of this article that appears here on my personal blog:
“…I have a great deal of respect for those who are Christians and who ‘support’ military and our troops. Those who serve our country (although I may disagree with it from my standpoint theologically) deserve respect for their sacrifices and I am glad to have some friends who have served or are serving in the armed forces…Let me add that I love fireworks, BBQ’s, and any good excuse to hang out with friends. I do not think that by simply attending a July 4th gathering that you are sinning. In fact, I often make the trek to the beach to watch the fireworks over the Pacific… while not choosing to actually ‘celebrate’ the holiday. I also love that I have had the privilege to grow up in this country. So, I am not “anti-America” by any stretch; I am happy that I live here. What I think is that as Christians we need to recalculate our past and allow the Gospel to be critical of certain things we now celebrate.” (see: Original version from blog here )
Second, I think you are correct to point out that taxation was not the only cause of this war, however this is what we teach in our schools and what the common person thinks of regarding the Revolutionary War. The motto we hear: “no taxation without representation.” But, with that said, I am with Mark Noll who points out in his article that “Just War” criteria were not followed in churches that supported the revolt. There were conspiracy theories that would have mostly been proven false had the colonies not rebelled. He stated:
“To the extent that colonists really thought that Britain intended systematic despotism, their going to war could perhaps be justified in classical Christian terms. Armed action to preempt an enemy’s destructive intentions had long been considered moral. But if the problem in Britain was not primarily a malicious conspiracy but insensitive bungling, war would not have been justified.”
Third, I would not call myself part of the “evangelical left” if you mean by this label, leftist theology. I am conservative in that I believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus, personal salvation, the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, the reality of judgment, etc. Politically, I am not a liberal on all issues, and I am not a conservative on all issues. I am an Anabaptist/evangelical, which means I value pro-life politics “from the womb to the tomb.” (against abortion, war, death penalty, social Darwinism, etc.).
Fourth, allow me to make a few comments on your quotes:
“Mennonites, like most in the Anabaptist tradition, are historically pacifist. But their pacifism historically was primarily binding on themselves and not wielded as a sanctimonious and accusatory sword against the vast majority of Christians, and even against the state itself, for not equally bending to pacifism.”
This is true in the sense that Mennonites are pacifists/non-violent (there is a difference there). But, I by no means have judgment toward those who differ with me and consider them my sisters and brothers in Christ. Hopefully that comes through in my above quotation. I do however disagree with you here:
“But absolute pacifism insists that even in the face of a genocidal holocaust, the faithful may only give non-violent witness. In contrast, nearly all of Christianity has always insisted on the state’s divine vocation to wield the sword against evil.”
I want to respond by saying that I myself am not an “absolute pacifist.” I hold to nonviolence, which is a bit different. (read here ) Also, I believe that the state does indeed have the right to bear the sword, but this is distinct from anything “Christian.” If a Christian wants to be in military that is fine and I do not judge her or him, but as I read the New Testament it seems that the state and the community of Jesus followers are two different categories (with some nuances I am sure). And as far as historical studies go for the issue of violence, may I add that it was not until Constantine and then Augustine that the church EVER believed it was right to take up arms or fight for the state. The New Testament reminds us of this over and over again. Peter states for instance:
19 For it is commendable if you bear up under the pain of unjust suffering because you are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
22 “He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2.19-24
Also, I choose to align myself with the earliest church witness on this issue during the post-biblical period. Here are some examples:
“The professions and trades of those who are going to be accepted into the community must be examined. The nature and type of each must be established… brothel, sculptors of idols, charioteer, athlete, gladiator… give it up or be rejected. A military constable must be forbidden to kill, neither may he swear; if he is not willing to follow these instructions, he must be rejected. A proconsul or magistrate who wears the purple and governs by the sword shall give it up or be rejected. Anyone taking or already baptized who wants to become a soldier shall be sent away, for he ha despised God.” — Hippolytus, 218 AD
“We ourselves were well conversant with war, murder, and everything evil, but all of us throughout the whole wide earth have traded in our weapons of war. We have exchanged our swords for plowshares, our spears for farm tools… now we cultivate the fear of God, justice, kindness, faith, and the expectation of the future given us through the crucified one… the more we are persecuted and martyred, the more do others in ever increasing numbers become believers.” – Justin, martyred in 165 AD
“I recognize no empire of this present age.” — Speratus, Acts of the Martyrs
Fifth, a short word about Sojourners. They have a diversity of perspectives represented in regards to this issue. I wouldn’t pin my article on Jim Wallis or Sojo in the sense that they also had a rebuttal posted as well. Sojourners Blog is a place for dialogue, and in any dialogue there is a diversity of opinions. I am thankful for this organization, although I am certain you would beg to differ.
Finally, my concern about the Fourth of July is that it is rooted in the “rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air” etc. I have no problem acknowledging the good that this nation has accomplished, but think that an uncritical engagement between the church and the Fourth is dangerously unbiblical. Thanks for engaging this topic with me and have a wonderful rest of the week!