21 October 2004

Confessing Christ in a world of violence

By and large I've been disappointed in the Christian statements on politics and war that have emerged since September 11, 2001. Disappointed but not surprised: When I was chief bureaucrat at Friends United Meeting, I was involved in writing more than one ecumenical statement, and found that the task was made more difficult by the multiple agendas that those statements often had. The writers were (1) addressing the public issue that was the occasion for the statement in the first place; (2) being representatives of a particular concern or constituency within their denomination; (3) using whatever code words or concepts they needed to get affirmation from their peers.

Some critics would use the snide phrase "politically correct" to describe the outcomes of some of these processes. There's justice in that criticism, but the snideness drowns out the honest idealism that permeated many of those exercises, both in their original impulses, and in the multiple agendas that often weakened them.

A couple of days ago, Jim Wallis and Sojourners published a statement that is a breath of fresh air to me. It is blunt. There's no litany of liberal platitudes: everything hangs on the proposition that Jesus Christ is Lord. It is therefore even more powerful in addressing and condemning the present captivity, even hypnosis, of the "evangelical" church under the spell of evil carried out by people who seem unable to blush while asserting their godly motivations. Here is the statement, with an introduction by Jim:

A new confession of Christ

by Jim Wallis

Because of a deep and growing concern about an emerging "theology of war"
in the White House, the increasingly frequent language of "righteous empire,"
and official claims of "divine appointment" for a nation and president in the "war" on terrorism, I have joined with several theologians and ethicists in writing the following statement. A climate in which violence is too easily accepted, and the roles of God, church, and nation too easily confused calls for a new "confession" of Christ. The statement names five key points of Jesus' teachings, while rejecting false teachings that nullify his message. It has been signed by more than 200 theologians and ethicists - many of them from theologically conservative seminaries and Christian colleges. We share it with you and ask that you send it to friends and present it to your churches if you resonate with its concerns and convictions.

Confessing Christ in a World of Violence

Our world is wracked with violence and war. But Jesus said: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God" (Matt. 5:9). Innocent people, at home and abroad, are increasingly threatened by terrorist attacks. But Jesus said: "Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you" (Matt. 5:44). These words, which have never been easy, seem all the more difficult today.

Nevertheless, a time comes when silence is betrayal. How many churches have heard sermons on these texts since the terrorist atrocities of September 11? Where is the serious debate about what it means to confess Christ in a world of violence? Does Christian "realism" mean resigning ourselves to an endless future of "pre-emptive wars"? Does it mean turning a blind eye to torture and massive civilian casualties? Does it mean acting out of fear and resentment rather than intelligence and restraint?

Faithfully confessing Christ is the church's task, and never more so than when its confession is co-opted by militarism and nationalism.

- A "theology of war," emanating from the highest circles of American government, is seeping into our churches as well.

- The language of "righteous empire" is employed with growing frequency.

- The roles of God, church, and nation are confused by talk of an American "mission" and "divine appointment" to "rid the world of evil."

The security issues before our nation allow no easy solutions. No one has a monopoly on the truth. But a policy that rejects the wisdom of international consultation should not be baptized by religiosity. The danger today is political idolatry exacerbated by the politics of fear.

In this time of crisis, we need a new confession of Christ.

1. Jesus Christ, as attested in Holy Scripture, knows no national boundaries. Those who confess his name are found throughout the earth. Our allegiance to Christ takes priority over national identity. Whenever Christianity compromises with empire, the gospel of Christ is discredited.

We reject the false teaching that any nation-state can ever be described with the words, "the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it." These words, used in scripture, apply only to Christ. No political or religious leader has the right to twist them in the service of war.

2. Christ commits Christians to a strong presumption against war. The wanton destructiveness of modern warfare strengthens this obligation. Standing in the shadow of the Cross, Christians have a responsibility to count the cost, speak out for the victims, and explore every alternative before a nation goes to war. We are committed to international cooperation rather than unilateral policies.

We reject the false teaching that a war on terrorism takes precedence over ethical and legal norms. Some things ought never be done - torture, the deliberate bombing of civilians, the use of indiscriminate weapons of mass destruction - regardless of the consequences.

3. Christ commands us to see not only the splinter in our adversary's eye, but also the beam in our own. The distinction between good and evil does not run between one nation and another, or one group and another. It runs straight through every human heart.

We reject the false teaching that America is a "Christian nation," representing only virtue, while its adversaries are nothing but vicious. We reject the belief that America has nothing to repent of, even as we reject that it represents most of the world's evil. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).

4. Christ shows us that enemy-love is the heart of the gospel. While we were yet enemies, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8, 10). We are to show love to our enemies even as we believe God in Christ has shown love to us and the whole world. Enemy-love does not mean capitulating to hostile agendas or domination. It does mean refusing to demonize any human being created in God's image.

We reject the false teaching that any human being can be defined as outside the law's protection. We reject the demonization of perceived enemies, which only paves the way to abuse; and we reject the mistreatment of prisoners, regardless of supposed
benefits to their captors.

5. Christ teaches us that humility is the virtue befitting forgiven sinners. It tempers all political disagreements, and it allows that our own political perceptions, in a complex world, may be wrong.

We reject the false teaching that those who are not for the United States politically are against it or that those who fundamentally question American policies must be with the "evil-doers." Such crude distinctions, especially when used by Christians, are expressions of the Manichaean heresy, in which the world is divided into forces of absolute good and absolute evil.

The Lord Jesus Christ is either authoritative for Christians, or he is not. His Lordship cannot be set aside by any earthly power. His words may not be distorted for propagandistic purposes. No nation-state may usurp the place of God.

We believe that acknowledging these truths is indispensable for followers of Christ. We urge them to remember these principles in making their decisions as citizens. Peacemaking is central to our vocation in a troubled world where
Christ is Lord.

By the way, Sojourners scored a coup of sorts in terms of public visibility when their "God is not a Republican" campaign was the focus of a Washington Post column. I have that bumper sticker on my car along with an improbable assortment of other bumper stickers, my own way of refusing to be easily classified. Maybe that's a subject for another entry here.


Martin Kelley said...

Hi Johan,
Thanks for forwarding the statement. I too have seen so many statements that I've just tuned them out and skipped by earlier references to the Wallis/Sojourners one, but it is powerful and heart-felt.

Benjamin said...

I'm glad I read this. I've been disillusioned with christianity for quite a while because in all the churches I've been too and the preaching I've heard has been completely contrary to what I've always thought that Christ was about. The war has nothing to do religion - all to do with politics and the way that this war has been framed: that you're not christian or american if you're not for it, is ridiculous.

Anyhow, Like your blog, interesting to read :)