WAR AND THE CONFESSING CHRISTIAN
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Peace ArticlesWAR AND THE CONFESSING CHRISTIAN
by Stan Penner
My concern lies with war and the terrible toll it takes on human lives. Most people want peace and yet hundreds of billions of dollars a year are spent on weapons worldwide- money that could be used to help people instead of money used to kill and injure them. When a cousin of mine was in Japan he was repeatedly asked, "What are you doing for peace?" Some years ago, I met a former World War II Canadian Army warrant officer. With tears in his eyes, he wondered out loud as to how many German children he had orphaned. He had rigged up a heavy gun on his army carrier and had snuffed out as many German men's lives as possible. "I was a very good shot," he chokingly told me. Are we, the followers of Jesus Christ, blessed because we are peacemakers in this war-torn world? (See Matt. 5:9) Are we the salt and light that we should be or are we as Christ's Church just as guilty or even more guilty than others in instigating and maintaining the wars on the face of this earth?
According to a paper in my possession (see also Charles Colson's book, Kingdoms in Conflict) some sixty years ago, at Barmen-Wuppertal, in Germany, a small group of Christians, in a confessional statement, set themselves against the war, racial, and other policies of Adolph Hitler. They were told in no uncertain terms that they were wrong. Both fellow citizens and fellow Christians assured the Barmen believers that Hitler was a real saviour, not the enemy of God but God's emissary. Had the Church in Germany as a whole adopted the Barmen confession the world could have been spared untold suffering. Hitler would hardly have risked war if he had known that the Church would not back him. Some time ago, on 100 Huntley Street, a Christian TV program, a "Christian" Jew spoke. His father had been taken away and killed by three Germans; one a Catholic, one a Lutheran, and one a Pentecostal. (The speaker had the grace to call them backslidden.) But is this the way for the Christian? Do we who are the followers of the Prince of Peace simply commit any and all atrocities that our government wants us to do or do we draw the line somewhere? Many Christians hold to a so-called "Just War" theory but when it comes to actual war, most Christians simply side with their own land. Some believers who have refused to take up arms have been terribly persecuted for it and some have been put to death. Somehow I feel that this is the Jesus' way- die rather than kill. That’s what He did. Are we not to be like He was?
What was the position of the early Christians in regard to war? "Robert M. Grant, the distinguished historian and author of Augustine to Constantine: The Thrust of the Christian Movement into the Roman World (Harper & Row, 1970), says:
“Early Christian theologians condemned murder and cited war as prime instance. Manuals of church discipline refused to allow for the possibility of military service and insisted that upon conversion a soldier had to leave the army. (Jon Bonk, The World at War The Church at Peace, Kindred Press, Winnipeg, MB., 1988, p.19.)
The Sermon on the Mount (and many other teachings of Jesus) with verses such as, "You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven:" (Matt. 5:43-45a) had left their mark. Paul had told them, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."(Romans 12:21}.
What do military men themselves say? Well, we know it varies but one, Omar Bradley, a U.S. five-star general, Known as the "GI's general" and field commander of 1.3 million men during the Second World War has said, "As far as I am concerned, war itself is immoral." (Maclean's, April 20,1981} Surely we as Christians should take up a cry such as this!
Farley Mowat, now a naturalist, a writer, and a former Canadian soldier who participated in the carnage of the Second World War, writes as follows in his book AND NO BIRDS SANG: Let it be said then that I wrote this book in the absolute conviction that there never has been, nor ever can be a "good" or worthwhile war...So awful that through three decades I kept the deeper agonies of it wrapped in the cotton-wool of protective forgetfulness. ..but could not, because the Old Lie--temporarily discredited by the Vietnam debacle--is once more gaining credence; a whisper which soon may become another strident shout urging us on to mayhem. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori!* Spawned in Hell long before Homer sanctified it, and goading men to madness and destruction ever since, that Old Lie has to be put down! (McClelland et al, Toronto, 1979, pages 195-196).
Pierre Berton, a Canadian soldier, an officer, and also a renowned author, describes the battle of Vimy Ridge in gruesome detail in his book, Vimy. In conclusion he asks, "Was it worth it?" The battle had cost thousands of limbs, eyes, and lives on both sides. Even relatives had been pitted against each other in this terrible slaughter and, much after the war, as an old German soldier and the son of a Canadian soldier talk about this they agree that the war had been "a terrible waste of human life brought on by greedy people and tolerated for too long by silent majorities." To the question, "Was it worth it?" the answer is very clear- "No." (McClelland et al, Toronto, 1986, pages 307-308}.
Why is it Bradley, Mowat, and Berton who have to say this, why not the Church per se? Do churches have blinders on their eyes as to the antithesis of war and the Christ of the Gospels? Loving care for those on the "other" side is put on the shelf and war is supported by many of the very people who carry, or at least are to carry, the image of the Prince of Peace. Jesus talks about stones crying out if certain voices would be silenced and it seems to me that this is what is happening in regard to a peace witness. Far too often, the Church refuses to preach peace and others are taking up the cry. A case in point would be modern school textbooks. Often people in the upper echelons of education, nowadays, are trying hard to make the next generation of young people see the folly of war on this rather fragile "spaceship earth." One Junior High book carries the story of the founder of the Red Cross, Henry Dunant. In the course of doing business with as Emperor, Dunant stumbled upon a battlefield littered with bodies and with mortally wounded French and Austrian soldiers. Dunant got the Red Cross movement going but later hated all mankind because of the cruelties he had seen at Solferino. Another school book tells of a Japanese girl who desperately wants to live but cannot because the atom bomb disease (leukemia) took her away. The story ends with a prayer, "This is our cry, this is our prayer; Peace in our world."
The Church should call war what it is: it is horrible; it is brutish; it is fiendish. But no! The Church far too often blesses the tanks, the cannons, the bayonets, and, in some cases, possibly even the hydrogen bombs. What preachers have said in support of their country's military would fill volumes.
I honestly feel that it is wrong to kill my fellow man even when my own country is at war. At such times I appeal to a higher authority, God Himself, and say with Peter and the other apostles, "We must obey God rather than men! "(Acts 5:29).
And please don't get me wrong. I think that soldiers have been brave without end, they have sacrificed as no one should have had to sacrifice, and they have done countless acts of heroism. To be honest, though, we must admit that the "other" side's soldiers did more or less the same. This was brought out very forcefully in a movie I watched on television, "All's Quiet on the Western
Front." The sad part is that the braver and the more dedicated a soldier is, the more suffering he would generally inflict on the other side.
Sometimes in my mind's eye I can "see" a bayonet thrust into another man's stomach or I can see a small child lying with legs blown off etc. etc. Years ago, when my father and I operated a pulpwood and logging operation in Northern Manitoba, a neighbour one night shot and killed his son (around twenty years of age). At the request of the R.C.M.P. I went to identify the body. I can still see him lying on that cold floor, dead, his mouth wide open, his arm behind his head-a very unpleasant sight. Countless soldiers have done this to each other and why? They were sent by their governments and often by "Christian" governments on both sides. England and France had a "Hundred Year's War." Even Canada and the United States have been at war. Surely the Church can do better than to simply support each and every conflict governments get themselves into. The CANADIAN WAR AMPS stress the words NEVER AGAIN. They have seen and experienced the horrors of war. One old soldier who was interviewed on their program, on being shown an "enemy" soldier's grave showed no hatred but commented something like, "Just another good soldier." This old soldier well knew that the soldiers on the "other" side weren't all the heinous monsters that war propaganda says they are. They too were the precious sons of their mothers, brothers to doting sisters, with sweethearts and wives at home. They, too, desperately wanted to come home-alive.
We are shocked and outraged when someone is murdered and we absolutely should be, but isn't it somewhat strange how as soon as it's called war many people and even many Christians are ready to do mass "murdering" themselves or at least have others do it. Imagine what happens when huge bombs fall on a heavily populated area (like in London, England or in Dresden, Germany in World War Two). Men, women, and children are burned alive, they are blown to smithereens, they are horribly maimed, unborn babies are aborted, mutilated, torn apart, etc., etc. Many people who ordinarily are dead set against abortion seem to shrug it off as long as it is done under the guise of war. Isn't it time that we confess that we have sinned horribly because of all the warring that we have done and that we allow Christ to give us a heart of love for all people-even for those who happen to live across some political border?
I truly feel that as followers of the Prince of Peace we must work for peace, both spiritual and physical. I read a poster that suggests a modest proposal for peace: LET THE CHRISTIANS OF THE WORLD AGREE THAT THEY WILL NOT KILL EACH OTHER. May I quickly add :LET THE CHRISTIANS OF THE WORLD AGREE THAT THEY WILL NOT KILL THEIR FELLOWMAN.
I am sure that most people would agree with what I've said as long as it is applied to the "other" side. If only the other side would follow the teachings of Jesus then things would be just great, but miracles can start to happen when we go by the old saying "Charity begins at home.” Let’s work together to further Christ’s kingdom. As Christians, instead of being involved in the horrendous deeds of war, let’s be involved in works of mercy and thus be instruments of peace** instead of instruments of war. This is a tall order, and especially so when our own country is at war. With God’s help, and our wanting to do so, this does, and will continue to happen. Somehow I think we could turn the world “upside down” if we Christians did this consistently. My prayer is that God will give us the courage, the strength, and the love to do this.
*It is sweet and seemly to die for one's country.
**see prayer of St. Francis of Assisi
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