Something happened on Face Book this morning that prompted me to revisit in my thoughts a conundrum I had resolved in my mind and heart years ago. I remember when the first Gulf War started and how I was forced to finally reconcile my Christianity with my American pride. At that time I lived in Fairbanks Alaska, home to Fort Wainwright and the “Arctic Warrior.” It is a diverse community where you can see a pick-up truck driving down the road with an NRA bumper sticker next to one for Green Peace. I vividly remember standing in the kitchen of my good friends debating the act of war in relationship to Jesus’ message of peace and love. Some of the folks gathered there were soldiers and others were civilians. Some were Christians and some were not. Some were pacifists and others were “war-mongers”, for lack of a better word. However, we all agreed on one thing. If we were attacked, we would defend ourselves. If someone we loved was threatened we would have no qualms about picking up a gun and blowing the head off of whomever was threatening them. Even the pacifists had to agree. I realized once again that our beliefs and our actions don’t always match.
There are many who believe true Christianity is marked by pacifism and in many ways they are right. However, we live in a fallen world, a world that is broken, and what is ideal and what is real are very far apart. We live in a country where the name of God is etched into our public buildings, printed on our money, invoked by our politicians, and brought up even by newscasters in times of crisis. It’s hard to separate our national consciousness from a Judeo-Christian world view. However, I think American Christians forget that Jesus was without politics.
Jesus lived in a world of great political unrest. Yet he said, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s.” He numbered among his apostles a tax collector, a zealot, a business man, a thief, and a bunch of working men. All of these men were dissatisfied by the politics of the day and all were looking for something to give them hope for better tomorrows. What they found was Jesus. The Apostle Paul responded to cultural, political, racial, and religious divisions by saying, “When I’m with the Romans, I am a Roman, with the Greeks, I am a Greek and with the Jews, I am a Jew. Be all things to all men.” Jesus is not just the God of Israel, or the United States, He is God of the whole world. He loves us all and died for us all, and admonished us to do the same for each other.
Make no mistake, war is about politics, and politics is often a very dirty business. Do I believe that most wars have been motivated by money and greed? Yes I do, but that is not the fault of the soldier. Throughout history, most wars have been fought by those who had no choice. They had to go – just like Richie had to go. He had no choice. Yes, he volunteered to be a sailor but he didn’t volunteer to go to Afghanistan. However, he is doing what he signed up for. As a Navy veteran, I understand that. Ultimately, the bottom of his job description reads in bold, “YOUR JOB IS TO KILL PEOPLE!” This is very sad but very true. I believe that politics and religion don’t mix. I also believe that the highest expressions of our faith are often incompatible with our politics. So what should be the Christians response to the political act of war? More importantly, as a Christian and the wife of a Sailor headed to war zone what should be my response? How do I serve both God and country? How do I reconcile my belief system with my national pride?
My answer has always been, don’t do anything in the name of my country that violates my conscience before God. Jesus was a peacemaker but He wasn’t a pacifist. He drove the money changers out of the temple with a whip – not the actions of a pacifist. Dietrich BonHoeffer a famous German theologian who died in a Nazi prison camp once stated, “All it takes for evil to flourish is for righteous men to do nothing.” Bonhoeffer also said, “First they came for the communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.” Throughout the Bible it is apparent that God recognized the reality of war in a world filled with fallen men.
On September 11th, 2001 some extreme men with an extreme viewpoint perpetrated an extreme act of violence against my country. We all watched with disbelief and horror as the twin towers crumpled into the ground. Thousands of innocent American lives were lost. My country since that time has attempted with any means possible to apprehend those responsible for that loss. The decisions and policies that have occurred since then have been ridden with controversy. Some of the actions that have taken place have been successful. Others were a supreme waste of time. Some of these actions have increased our security and safety, while others have just infringed upon our freedoms. Despite these things I do know for a fact that the American men and women serving in uniform overseas are doing so with the preservation of our way of life in mind. They are serving out of obedience to their Chain of Command, which ends at the top with President Obama. They are serving because of an oath of honor they took when they raised their right hands and said, “I, John Richard Berrios, do solemnly swear to protect my country against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” They serve from a place of love – love of country, love of family and, for many, love of God.
In every war on foreign soil, the American service member has been characterized by the people who live there as a person of integrity, a person to admire. G.I.’s come with chocolate bars and smiles for the children and are usually met by throngs of people waving, crying, shouting and laughing. Like it or not, our military is viewed as the great liberator. We bring things like schools, food, clothing, building supplies, churches, synagogues and mosques. And, it is the men and women in uniform who do these things, not the politicians. I have personally known Sailors who have served in Iraq who have said that their most memorable experience was collecting money, extra food, bottled water, blankets and building materials, out of their own pockets or their own supplies, and taking these things to a local school or orphanage. They spend the day repairing walls and building relationships with the people there. Every effort, often at the cost of their own lives, is made to preserve, protect, defend and enrich the lives of the citizens where they are the visitors. In my mind, that is not an act of war but of peace.
Whatever we do as Christians in this fallen world, whether it is stand behind a pulpit, or fight in our wars we must do it with honor and integrity. It must come from a heart that desires a better world, a world where all men have the freedom to know the Jesus we serve, and where all men can see Jesus in us. As a Christian I have an apostolic mandate from Paul to “pray for those the Lord has appointed over me.” It is the politicians and the military leaders who will have to answer to God if they make the wrong decisions, not the soldier who just follows orders. Therefore, I pray daily that God will give our leaders wisdom because the decisions they have to make are hard ones. That is this Christians response.