And here we are. Possibly on the brink of yet another unjust, futile, and destructive war. Those who learn from history are not calling the shots right now, because to anyone paying attention it is blindingly obvious that our militaristic involvement in the middle east, far from bringing peace and democracy, has caused radical destabilization. The violence and upheaval in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria are our fault.
Yet instead of owning our failures, we continue to envision ourselves as the good guys ready to march in bearing freedom to the oppressed.
We also seem to have forgotten that, for all our excessive military spending, we are not very good at winning wars.
People who just a few days ago had never heard of Qasem Soleimani are applauding his (illegal) assassination, clamoring about what a bad person he was.
A complex situation – but not a difficult moral answer
In reality, understanding the complex and delicate situation in the Middle East requires advanced and detailed historical knowledge that the average U.S. citizen – even those of us with advanced degrees and our noses glued to the news – simply does not possess. But it does not take an insider or expert perspective to understand certain basic realities:
- Our government has a record of lying in order to get us involved in wars in oil-rich countries.
- These wars have been unsuccessful, doing more harm than good.
- The strike that killed Soleimani was illegal, unauthorized by congress – a war crime.
- For Catholics, or any moralists who care about just war doctrine, the strike failed to meet any of the requirements for a just war.
Getting into a war right now will benefit no one but a few super-rich war profiteers. Even from the standpoint of base self-interest, support for such a war makes no sense. It makes less sense if one has any pretenses at being an ethical person who believes in minimizing damage and that “all lives matter.” And from the standpoint of Christian morals? Such a war would be gravely, intrinsically evil.
The people who told us we must vote for Donald Trump because he is “pro-life,” and who assured us that he would avoid entanglement in unecessary foreign conflicts, are now praising him for having authorized a war crime, and for promising to follow it with further war crimes. There is no logic here, no consistency. When Trump said he could shoot a man on Fifth Avenue and get away with it, he was, for once, not lying.
Our religious leaders have failed.
Yet where are our religious leaders? Our churches are plastered with posters warning about the evils of abortion, adjuring us to pray for and respect life. Priests and pastors violate the churches’ tax-exempt policies regularly, in telling us we must vote for the Republicans to save the babies; but when it comes to anything else suddenly we mustn’t “get political.” The bishops are quick to rush in and silence a theologian who questions the ban on women’s ordination; why are they saying nothing to the Christians who scorn the Gospel teachings in their lust for violence? Why are they not standing up against the powers of greed and hatred?
I have complicated feelings about anti-violence, myself. I do think modern warfare cannot ever truly be just. But I can not say that no, World War II should not have been fought. I think fascism should be stopped before it takes over governments and starts annexing nations and committing genocide, but if people are foolish enough to let it go unchecked up until that point, I believe – possibly in violation of strict pacifist tenets – that it must be stopped. I have a preferential option for those who fight for the rights of the downtrodden, even when the fight turns physical. And I disagree vehemently with the idea that one can reach and convert an aggressor simply with kindness and friendship.
So perhaps I am a little too militantly anti-fascist to be a pure pacifist?
However I will say this: war is always horrible. It always involves evil. It leaves terrible scars.
And anti-violence is not passivity. It is not a refusal to take a stand. It requires passionate and determined involvement, often heroic courage.
What does it mean to be a Christian?
And in this case, taking a stand also means taking a stand about the nature and meaning of our Christian faith. We have a choice about what our faith tradition is going to become, how future generations will look back on this time, and how those who preach Jesus chose to act.
Is Christianity a religion of empire and nationalism, of “might makes right,” of walls and guns and flags and bombs and borders?
We know that Christians persecuted Jews and waged “holy wars.” Christians killed one another over interpretations of doctrine. Colonization and enslavement of indigenous peoples happened at the hands of Christians, under the eyes of Christian leaders. Slave owners and slave traders went to worship on Sundays and their pastors did not turn them away.
Christianity has made its own martyrs, martyred its own saints.
But Christianity was also the religion of the early church in which all were equal, the religion of the great saints who gave to the poor and cared for the sick. While the slavers prayed in their respectable white churches, the enslaved cried out to God for justice. Christianity has been a source of comfort for the afflicted, with its assurance of a God who is present not with the wealthy and powerful but with the “least of these.”
Which Christianity are we going to be?
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