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Tools for our time: congregations in a country at war
As I reflect on my ministry since 9-11, three themes have called for persistent attention
Since 9-11 we have become a society structured and functioning in response to our fear. The primacy of fear has resulted in a massive loss or dismissal of imagination (other than imagining more exquisite ways to exterminate those whom we perceive to be a threat). In line with this loss of imagination, we are attempting to direct the vocations of members of our society - particularly the young - toward the protection and preservation of our way of life.
None of these themes began on 9-11, but they have taken on greater, almost totalitarian power, (I believe a demonic power) in our culture. The effect of this has been to silence dissent and breed conformity; to justify expedient action over just action; to condemn our opponents motives while refusing to critically examine our own..
Each of these themes represents a deeply spiritual matter - matters addressed in Jesus' announcement of the good news of the kingdom of God. They are at the core matters of allegiance, commitment, and lordship.
Fear is the antithesis of love - when we organize around fear we organize against love - in particular against love of the other - the alien, the stranger, the enemy - all whom we view as a threat. Yet, it is precisely love of these that Jesus commanded in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere. The antidote, declares the epistle of 1 John is perfect love that "casts out fear".
In the lead up to the Iraq War, I was party to many conversations that ended with a shrug and the declaration - "What else can we do?" The unstated implication of this was and is that many must die because we cannot imagine another alternative. We dare not promise easy answers, but in constraining us from violent options, Christ also liberates our imaginations to begin seeking alternatives. The world quickly shortcuts to holding and using the biggest stick - its logic is that might makes right. It would limit our imaginations by filling our minds with all manner of violent alternatives. Consider for a moment, how much of our popular entertainment begins with a murder or some other violent crime. But Jesus would fill our imaginations with images of enemies being prayed for and demonstrate that true power is revealed not in the one who condemns to the cross, but the one who yields himself on the cross.
Gerhard Lohfink, author of Jesus and Community, has noted that the vision of Isaiah 2 (swords to plowshares) was one of the most consistently invoked texts in the first three centuries of the church. It was the part of the answer that apologists gave to explain why Christians did not fight for the empire. Its usage demonstrated that the early church, rather than waiting for a future act of God, taught and demonstrated that the vocation of the people of God since the coming of the messiah was living out the prophet's vision - "They will beat swords into plowshares and spears to pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they war any more."
So, rather than defending a "peace position" or speaking about "pacifism", I have found it more constructive to examine the themes of fear, imagination and vocation in light of a primary allegiance to Christ as Lord