This may seem like a non-starter. What could be more obvious? Governments, nations, societies, and cultures are all extensions of individuals who, in both their relationship to others through individual agency and through the agency of corporate actions, are always faced with the existential question of who they are and where lies their allegiances. If it is ludicrous for me (an individual) to think I can convey the love of Christ (which includes his humility, suffering, and serving) through any kind of violence, warfare, or dominance, then it is also ludicrous for any government (merely an extension of many individuals) to do likewise. If I am to take up my cross every day then I cannot seek to nail others to it.
Christians have grown comfortable with the idea that governments can take care of the dirty work (armies to kill our enemies, embargoes to starve governments into doing what we want, etc.) so that we can get on with our personal peace and prosperity. Strangely, Christianity (in its Christendom formation) has tended to require the force and brutality of governments to secure the right kind of environment so that its faith can flourish. But what kind of a Christianity is that? What kind of faith? When I was a kid I heard that Christians in Soviet Russia (a state apparatus set against Christianity) were praying for the the western church because they knew our lack of suffering, our materialism, and our self righteousness would lead to a kind of faith that had shallow roots – if it was even genuine faith at all. One evidence of shallow roots, I would argue, is enthusiasm for the use of military force by one’s government, and maybe even the support our the military’s existence.
I have been watching Ken Burns documentary on WWII, called The War. Like all of Burns’ films it is slow moving and invites one to ponder the subject matter (which is a good thing). The archival images are amazing and, at times, staggering. It is hard to take one’s eyes off them. The stories are touching, deep, profound, and often unbelievable. War is truly an attention grabber in so many ways (even WWII after all these decades). As a Christian I understand the connection between human sinfulness and the fact of war. I also know that Christians are called to love their enemies, to love their neighbors, to carry their crosses, and to trust in God for their destiny, their daily needs and their very well being regardless of the apparent threats arrayed against them. Jesus is to be our example and he showed us that sacrifice and service are the touchstones of the true believer. So why do so many Christians support war? I am not sure.
For me WWII presents somewhat of a struggle. It is hard to be a pacifist in light of the supposed glory of WWII. Who would not want to stop the spread of Fascism and end the Shoah? And then one has to contend with the very real valor of the soldiers who did the fighting. Their stories are so amazing and so often deserving of praise. In fact, one could argue that the lot of the ordinary soldier fighting against objective evil is a kind of cross bearing. However, I look at my government today and I don’t trust it. I see our foreign policy and it looks evil to me. I see our leaders and I sense they are glory hounds and corrupt (but what else is new). I study our economic system and I do not see any intention of bowing the knee to God. And I see what our military is being used for today and I do not see the love of Christ or a trusting in God. I do not find a love for one’s enemies, the forgiving of offenses seventy times seven, or a faith to move mountains. And I do not expect the situation to change any time soon.
What I do see is a kind of modern American version of Christianity mixed with American militarism. It is the ultimate prosperity gospel, a gospel that hopes God will keep one alive and healthy so that the job at hand can continue, and promises glory in the afterlife for those whom God has called to Him (via an IED or bullet). It is a gospel that seems to support the couching of warfare in the language of freedom, but does not question what freedom is nor contrasts it with what the Bible actually says about freedom. We are told they (whoever they are, “our” enemies I suppose) hate our values, therefore we must bring war upon them. This is a gospel that supports walking the streets of someone else’s home town with an assault rifle in one’s hand and the authority to kill. As with all of us, the individual soldier must come to terms with God. I cannot judge an individual soldier’s heart.
With what I know of the gospel I could not follow orders to carry a gun or use lethal force against others. I am also not certain I could go to war at all, even as a medic or a soldier on the back lines doing paperwork. It all seems to be supporting war in one way or another. And I am still sorting out the whole “support our troops” thing. I understand it means that no matter what you think of the current administration, at least recognize the individual sacrifices of the troops. I am no longer convinced that is a good position to take, especially since we no longer have the draft. But I’m still sorting it out. What I am convinced of is that war cannot defend Christian values or, if “Christian values” is too squishy of a phrase: War is the opposite of Christ.
I have previously written some related thoughts here.