One of my favorite things about the holiday season is the annual return of the John Lennon classic “Happy XMas (War is Over)”. For a couple of months at the end of each year, we are reminded of the following:
“War is over.
If you want it.
War is over now.”
After a year full of bloodshed in Ukraine, Yemen, Sudan, Ethiopia, Israel, Palestine, and around the world, we deeply need this reminder that war is a man-made invention and it is entirely within our power to permanently end it.
It is physically easier to not fight than fight. Peace is less exhausting and less expensive than war. Peace is better for the environment. And, of course, peace is better for the flourishing of human life than war. So why don’t we simply choose to lay down our weapons and find a way forward in which everyone involved gets what they need to survive and thrive?
Well, money, for one thing. War is the biggest business. Governments collectively spend trillions of dollars each year on war and the weapons of mass destruction that are literally tearing humanity apart. War budgets go largely unchecked as “defense” spending and the sky is the limit when it comes to throwing money at new ways to kill people. The United States’ 2024 Defense Authorization Act allocates over $844 billion to defense spending. That includes pay for nearly 1.4 million members of our armed forces and the maintenance of over 750 military bases in over 80 countries of the world. During the first half of 2023, defense contractors spent $66.6 billion lobbying Congress (wining, dining, and donating to campaigns) to include them in the annual defense budget.
As is often the case during Democratic presidencies, the anti-war left is largely MIA during the Biden administration.
Politics and Power
World politics plays a role in feeding the war machine. Right now, the USA and Russia are engaged in a proxy war in Ukraine. Russian authoritarian Vladimir Putin is hungry for expansion and the US is doing their best to prevent him from growing beyond his current boundaries. Millions of innocent people in Ukraine are paying the price. So far, the US has avoided sending uniformed troops into the conflict but is instead pumping billions of dollars into Ukraine’s defense. Many Republicans in Congress seem to be siding with Putin this time around which would have been unheard in the cold war era.
Politics is driving the American response to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well. Since the appalling October 7th Hamas attack on Israel, the US has pumped millions into Israel’s defense and retribution campaign. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee spent $2.2 million lobbying Congress to support Israel in the first 9 months of 2023. Politicians on both sides of the partisan aisle continue to show unflinching support for the State of Israel. Defending Israel seems to be the one thing that most Republicans and Democrats in Government can agree on. Five million Palestinians are caught in the crossfire and paying with life and limb.
Ending the Conflict
With all of the money constantly injected into world conflict, it’s safe to say it would take an overwhelming popular movement to challenge the status quo. There is some good news in that regard. Polling indicates that 68% of the American people support a ceasefire in Gaza. Sadly, the American public is largely checked out when it comes to other world conflicts where American media have failed to cover the bloodshed.
If those who want peace can get organized and focus their efforts on building bigger tables, rather than walls, between parties in conflict, we may someday live in a world at peace.
In the Gospels, Jesus shows us the way:
“Love your enemies.
Turn the other cheek.
Lay down your weapons.
Never return evil for evil.”
So what will it take for the 2 billion people on the planet who call themselves Christians to follow the lead of the Prince of Peace on this issue? First, we’ll have to loosen ourselves from the grip of fear. Fear keeps us in defense mode and makes it easy to kindle the flames of violence. Second, we must become intentional about knowing and loving our neighbors who are nothing like us.
The Heartbreaking Reality
During my days as a pastor in Alabama, I was preaching one Sunday about loving our enemies. I mentioned loving Muslims. A normally sweet older woman in the congregation interjected, “It’s hard to love someone who is trying to slit your throat.” This broke my heart. Our view of humanity is more informed by fear and Fox News than it is by Jesus. Rather than seeing our Muslim neighbors as human beings created in the image of God worthy of dignity and love, we view them as a threat. The same principle has played out in inner cities all over America as white churches flee to the suburbs in fear of the myth of the violent black man.
So we remain in our white, Christian silos and watch the world burn rather than actively working for peace.
War is over if we want it. Sadly, right now, it seems we don’t.
And Jesus weeps.