Monday, November 16, 2015

Continuing to Reflect and Respond

Those who preach a message of hate, anxiety, or fear are teaching false doctrines. That's a paraphrase of what our pastor said yesterday morning in his homily. I would add that those who preach vengeance and war as "Christian" responses are also preaching false doctrines. War may be inevitable in many situations, but it is never a Christian response in my opinion. A nation may need to go to war in different circumstances, but as far as I'm concerned Christians become people of prayer to minimize the casualties and the repercussions of war on those involved. Which, by the nature of our citizenship, includes us as well.

But a look around Facebook, the Internet, or 24/7 news will show that to be a person of peace in the midst of such violent times is downright a minority opinion. So is acceptance of those who are different. So is the willingness to call our own Christian history into question as a historic role model for what we see happening today.

One of my friends on FB drew upon the Crusades as a possible way of seeing what we might be called to do against ISIS. Of course it wasn't just ISIS that is invoked as the enemy. It is Islam. Which they imply is far worse than Christianity. When I point out the historic inaccuracy of such views, I become one of those liberals trying to excuse the terrorists instead of condemning.

No, I say. I condemn terrorism.

  • Islamist terrorism in Paris or Beirut; 
  • Christian terrorism in Northern Ireland, the KKK in the American south or against abortion clinics and abortion providers; 
  • Tribal terrorism in central Africa; 
  • Ethnic terrorism in Eastern Europe.
Terrorism is terrorism. End of statement. It is always abhorrent and horrific and aims at innocent people. The terrorists of any type see no one as innocent. If you are not with them, you are supporting the evil of their enemies.

The Crusades, some say, were an appropriate Christian response to Muslim oppression and persecution of Christians. I have a number of responses to that:
  • The world of the Crusades is not the world we live in. For example:
    • Nation-states as we understand them today did not exist. When they did in embryonic form in Western Europe, there was a higher power than the state government- the Church.
    • When the Church called for the Crusades it was a call to a war of aggression and the gain of territory and wealth. Sure it was couched in the language of kicking the "infidels" out of the Holy Land, but it was still a war of power.
    • When some Crusaders entered areas under the hegemony of the Eastern Orthodox-style churches, slaughters of locals sometimes occurred because these couldn't be "real" Christians. They weren't "western."
    • How did the Crusades recruit? They promised the Crusaders that they would get a quicker entry into heaven as a result of their fighting. (Note: This led to what were called "indulgences" and the later protest against that by Martin Luther.)
Any of this sound familiar? The church may not have promised whatever number of virgins, but they did promise entry into God's kingdom as a payment. Many fell into line quite quickly for any of a number of reasons- escape poverty, escape jail sentences, get a family member out of Purgatory, hopes to get rich, a desire to be powerful when feeling powerless.

Others cry out- "Why don't national Muslim leaders speak out? Why don't they condemn the attacks?"

A not very in-depth Google search will find many, many examples of such anti-terrorism statements. What do people want them to do, go fight ISIS with guns in Syria to show they are opposed to the terrorists? Even international Christian leaders such as the Pope have been unable to stop Christian violence by their supporters- and many believe the Pope has unlimited power over Catholics. The National Council of Churches makes statements condemning racism and terrorism, but they are dismissed by those who disagree with them. Yet, it is expected that western Muslim leaders- a significant minority in this country- and within world Islam- will make condemnations that make some sort of a difference.

ISIS and their supporters will only laugh and put targets on the names of those condemning them. We are expecting "western values" to make a difference with a group of terrorists who are out to DESTROY western values. Anyone, even other Muslims, supporting what can be seen as western values will be suspect.

Yes, to have western Muslim leaders speak out has important reasons
  • Call American Muslims to resist recruiting
  • Remind American Muslims of the possibilities they have in the "west"
  • Remind us all that ISIS et al. are the reason many refugees left their homes to come here
  • Take a stand for peace
  • Ease our Euro-centric American fears of Muslims.
What then are we to do? Where is this going?

First, I think we need to stop hiding our own history behind our self-righteousness. We have been here before in history and it wasn't pretty. It isn't pretty now and won't get any better as long as we believe we are blameless in the past. Rewriting - revising our history - to justify anger and vengeance is not helpful.

Second, we need to find more common ground within the country. We need each other. Name-calling doesn't work on the grade-school playground; it works even less in the political arena. It only further separates us. We don't need that!

What might be some of the common ground? How about:
  • Being clear who the "enemy" is- radical extremists Muslims are responsible. Let's name that and NOT demonize all of Islam. 
  • Stop "spin" to make everything Obama's fault or Bush's fault or God knows what else. That gets us as far as does name-calling.
  • Find ways to increase dialogue with Muslims in the United States. Most of us know very few Muslims personally. Let's change that.
  •  Admit that we are in a war. Pope Francis has said we have been fighting World War III as a piecemeal war. I believe he is right. But a war of this type may very well give us some possibilities we may not have had before to bring disparate nations and sides together. I don't give a damn how it started- we can't change that. We can look for ways to bring about a change.
  • As a pacifist I have serious problems with war. It is never the best solution. It may be the only solution at some point, but that is not a reason to celebrate war. As a country we need to find ways to wage this war with as much of an eye to peace as we can. War will always lead to difficult and awful decisions.
  • How does a pacifist support a war? With great difficulty; it is never an easy choice. 
    • A pacifist needs to always be there in the midst of the discussion reminding  the nation of its humanity and its need to remain humane. 
    • A Christian pacifist (which has never, NEVER been a contradiction) will remind all, themselves included, that we are all (on both sides of the conflict) created in the image of the Creator. 
    • The deaths of civilians and innocent people (so called, collateral damage) are never acceptable and when it happens, confession and repentance is essential.
    • Pacifists are not unpatriotic. We love our country and will always work hard to keep her strong and committed to our historic values. We may not take up arms and may often be seen challenging common wisdom as well as a warrior mentality, but we are not un-American. We will do what we can do to maintain our freedoms and hopes as a nation.
This is a difficult time. The government of the past two administrations as led us deeper into a war-mode. One did this by it's saber-rattling, regime-change, and general lack of insight. The other has attempted to downplay what is happening with groups like ISIS. Both have continued the American tradition that goes way back in history of poor intelligence often caused by the intelligence community giving those in power the news they want.

Unfortunately I don't see anything better happening no matter who gets elected. It is a time for new insights, new tactics, new understandings. I don't know what those new things are, but we are not living in the world of World War II or even Vietnam. This is new and dangerous. New insights and direction are needed.

So I pray. Not out of fear or anxiety, but out of the need to remain settled and centered in the ways of God. I also pray that I am not being a prophet- that these things will not come to pass, that we will not deepen the war-mentality and fall deeper into a new morass of unwinnable war. I pray that our values as a nation will not be lost in fear and a desire to have a perfect life.

Let me end with words of a hymn used in worship yesterday. These words form a prayer of hope in these days of growing war...
O God of every nation,
of every race and land,
redeem the whole creation
with your almighty hand;
where hate and fear divide us
and bitter threats are hurled,
in love and mercy guide us
and heal our strife-torn world.

From search for wealth and power
and scorn of truth and right,
from trust in bombs that shower
destruction through the night,
from pride of race and nation
and blindness to your way,
deliver every nation,
eternal God, we pray!

Lord, strengthen all who labor
that we may find release
from fear of rattling saber,
from dread of war's increase;
when hope and courage falter,
your still small voice be heard;
with faith that none can alter,
your servants undergird.

Keep bright in us the vision
of days when war shall cease,
when hatred and division
give way to love and peace,
till dawns the morning glorious
when truth and justice reign
and Christ shall rule victorious
o'er all the world's domain.

Words: William Watkins Reid, Jr.
Words © 1958, Renewed 1986 by The Hymn Society (admin. by Hope Publishing Co., Carol Stream, IL 60188).
All rights reserved.

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