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Planning a “Faithful Witness Amid Endless War”

10.27. 2015 Written By: John Stoner 236 Times read

The first resolution passed by delegates at the Kansas City convention identified the name of Jesus in Revelation 1:5, “Faithful Witness,” (to God’s truth), and declared that our church is called to a new affirmation that we trust in God and the way of Jesus, not weapons, for our security.

This affirmation, or teaching position, the church said, will require renewed understanding of what it means in practice to be faithful witnesses to God’s truth in our time of endless war.

God’s truth? But truth claims are controversial in our world, are they not? At some level we all know that it takes courage to make truth claims and stick to them.

There in Kansas City we made a start on that courage and began to imagine what a faithful witness to God as our security would require of us. Now we are in the time when our resolve to carry out our resolution is tested. The first of four calls to action in the Resolution is directed to congregations, and this call is in three parts. What follows are suggestions for discernment and action by congregations and small groups to practice 21st century faithful Christian witness–these local expressions of church are surely the foundation on which the next three calls to agencies, staff and action regarding drones will rise or fall.

At Kansas City we said, first, that our teaching would have to address our society’s commitment to the moral necessity of violence.

And what is meant by our society’s commitment to the moral necessity of violence? It states the fact that society claims the nation uses violence to pursue moral ends and that hence its use of violence is morally justified. Here is the thinking: terrorism must be stopped—a moral end—and violence is the indispensable tool to do this. You have heard the argument: “But surely we must do something!” And just that quickly, the end has been used to justify the means. But is it true that doing something violent is what we should do or the best that we could do?

Jesus actually taught another way to run the world, which he called “the kingdom/empire of God.” He took the world’s language (kingdom) to describe its way to run the world (organize human affairs) and added “of God” and made his life and teachings a revelation of that other way (God’s way) to run the world.

While our society is committed to the moral necessity of violence to run the world, Jesus has shown us a counter-commitment, a commitment to the moral use of truth, forgiveness and nonviolent resistance to evil as God’s way to run the world. We face a choice here.

In many ways Jesus said it is wrong to kill, but one time he simply posed the question: “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” (Mark 3). He posed that question to his culture. Is he not asking us the same question?

This text will reward careful study—notice that Jesus changed the moral agenda from legalistic obedience to scripture to the simple and inescapable question of life vs. death. To repent (Mark 1:5) is to change our thinking from our society’s commitment to the moral necessity of violence to Jesus’ way of enacted shalom/justice—God’s kingdom way.

John the Revelator (Revelations 13) used the imagery of beasts to describe the propaganda process used by empires to shape public perception. When did you last hear, in your church, an appeal or warning that we must not depart from or ignore the truth of this scripture? We are called to let the Holy Spirit, Scripture, history and our sisters and brothers expose the false claims of the the world’s propaganda in this spiritual battle.

Secondly, at Kansas City, we said that we must address our government’s undisclosed purposes in its so-called “security efforts.” Again, what would this mean?

We could start with insecurity. The purpose of “security efforts” would be to give insecure people (that would be us) security. Do we, do the American people, feel insecure and feel a need for security? Is ice cold? Is the earth round?

So the selling point for the military presence of the U.S. around the world is to provide security for the people. The government says it is protecting us from harm. This has been called, not without reason, a gigantic protection racket. The government protects us, and we do pay something—pay a lot—for it, in taxes.

Profound, troubling and revealing questions can and should be asked about whether endless war is in fact making us (American citizens) or the world, safer. We might well ask and discuss those questions. But beyond that, what other undisclosed purposes may the government (in bed as it is with corporate interests) have for endless war—purposes which are not even about this presumed security?

Starting with an example from Scripture, recall the Roman King Herod (not the kingdom of God here) asking the Wise Men to come back and tell him where the young child was, so that he may come and worship him. (Matthew 2) The men, being wise, saw an undisclosed purpose in Herod’s edict and committed their act of civil disobedience by not coming back and telling Herod anything. For us the question may be, are we wise enough to look for undisclosed purposes in messages from kings and presidents?

We are called then, in our circle of church-based discerning friends, to do our own research and discuss our own perceptions of probable undisclosed purposes for endless war. Again, we’ll have to start by recognizing that this takes a little courage, because it is not the usual stuff Rotary Club discussions. You will be participating in Jesus’ work of “unmasking principalities and powers” (Colossians 2 and Ephesians).

Third, at Kansas City, we said that our teaching would have to address our often secret sympathies with so-called security operations. But what would such secret sympathies be? Here is a challenge to engage in more honest conversation and not-so-easy discussion. Do we as Mennonites say “In God We Trust” but actually hope that our protection will come from America’s military strength and drone warfare—from endless war? Such a thing has been known to happen before in history—let’s consider our own Biblical history.

Not so many years after God delivered Israel from Pharaoh’s Egyptian empire, the children of Israel were asking the prophet Samuel to give them a king “so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles” (I Sam. 8). Actually, here their sympathies with “security operations” were no secret at all. How would a candid discussion of this text go in your Sunday School class or small group? Or what kind of sermon could you preach on that?

Again, consider Ezra’s shame, in his own words: “For I was ashamed to asks the king for a band of soldiers and cavalry to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king that the hand of our God is gracious to all who seek him” (Ezra 8). But why do we have this shame? Or have we no shame? Are we shameless in our secret trust in America’s endless wars? More material for discussion.

Let’s bring Jesus into this discussion. Peter was so ashamed of Jesus who wouldn’t rise up and fight when the enemy attacked that he denied he even knew Jesus (Luke 22). There’s much grist for discussion here and also in Mark 8. These texts could lead us to ask one another if “Christians” today believe Jesus or only believe in Jesus.

All of this discernment process is for “the renewal of our minds” in Jesus Christ (Romans 12:2). Appropriate actions will surely follow the initial action of engagement in this, admittedly difficult, discernment process.

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2 Responses to “Planning a “Faithful Witness Amid Endless War””

  1. M. South says:

    I note that this article’s been read 52 times, while that of Eliana Neufeld Basinger has been read 2379 times. That, to me, says a lot about where our priorities lie.

    Just as with the larger modern western society, the church is more obsessed with arguments about accepting and affirming of various sexual practices and preferences, than it is about engaging in serious discussion and action concerning the life and death question affecting millions by increasing war.

    To engage endlessly with Eliana’s conversation and advocacy, a certain amount of ignorance of church history and obfuscation of scripture is needed, to extract justification for making the drastic changes necessary to overcome two thousand years of Christian teaching and practice, so that the church can conform to the wordly model now in vogue.

    On the other hand, nothing could be clearer in scripture than what Jesus has to say about Christians wielding the sword or putting their trust in political domination. As anabaptists, our historic theology has been to affirm what Jesus taught about these temptations, rather than the failed compromises of wielding power. Our prophetic purpose is to speak truth to power, not to exercise domination through violence, or to concur or collaborate with those methods indirectly, expecting benefit.

    Jesus rejected that paradigm overtly, three times. First, in refusing to bow down in an hierarchical system of domination, though offered the kingdoms of the world to be ruled, through temptation by dark spiritual power. Secondly, by refusing the democratic will of the people for Him to become the military messiah who would throw off the domination of empire, substituting their own through violence. Finally, by rejecting the claim to be a competing empire based on the same violence and domination, when examined by the Rome’s governor.

    When we model the world, with its obsession with finding justification for appetites of all sorts, we engage precisely in the same sort of decadent distraction that engulfed official Washington in the summer of 2001. While so distracted, no attention was paid to questions of life, death and the consequences of policy, while the nation’s leadership was weighed in the balance, and found wanting.

    And almost all we can do, those who were called to be a light to the world, is become indulgently self-absorbed, by a ratio of fifty to one?

  2. M. South says:

    Just to note a typo:

    “John the Revelator (Revelations 13) used the imagery of beasts to describe the propaganda process used by empires to shape public perception.”

    Revelation, singular. 🙂