Just-War, Peace, and Lingering In Afghanistan

Our government is in the process of making some tough decisions about the war in Afghanistan.   There are several ideas on how to deal with a country riddled with tribal conflicts and pervasive instability.  One idea is to send more troops—as many troops as nearly half of Rockdale County’s population.   With that many troops embarking oversees in addition to the thousands employed, Christians should consider how to be politically engaged during this time of war.

The complex relationship between Christians and warfare began when the Roman emperor, Constantine, made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.  At the time, tribal groups from the East threatened the very fabric of the Roman Empire and encroached on its territory.  It turned out that thousands of Christians, now suddenly able to worship freely, made for a formidable force indeed.

Nevertheless, Christians debated how to reconcile war with the teachings of Jesus, some of which commanded believers to not kill, much less be angry with one another (Matthew 5:21-22).  How were Christians going to engage in battle with an ethic like that?

Enter St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the most influential theologians of the early church.  He came up with this little thing called the just-war theory, which basically outlined a set of circumstances that, if met, permitted Christians to go to war.

Just-war theory continues to guide how Christians think about war.  I remember back when President George W. Bush made a case for going to war with Iraq in 2003 he basically cited in so many words the just-war theory.   Many Christians went to war willingly, some without even considering the negative implications of war on the Middle Eastern world.

Years later, we are still debating whether the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are just.  Christians are divided, and there does not seem to be any end in sight as to the propagation on views ranging from all out nuclear proliferation to extreme pacifism.

In The Future of Faith in American Politics, Baptist ethicist David Gushee writes, “It is not too simple to say that our nation is constantly fighting wars and that as we do, we are constantly assessing those wars according to some version of just-war theory.”

We have to just agree to disagree on this one.

What I think we can agree on is that God calls Christians to be truth-tellers, many of which reflect directly on our Christian witness.

One truth is that all humans are made in God’s image.  Torture, unilateral arrogance, and intimidation belittle others in the global community and are not becoming of a nation that prides itself on family values and moral authority.  Just warfare implies precision and great care, with as little civilian casualties as possible.

If you think this is obvious, then just remember Blackwater’s dismal record regarding civilian loses, Blackwater being a company headed up by an outspoken Christian.

Another truth is that Christians can biblically support what Glen Stassen calls just peacemaking.  This means helping Afghanistan and Iraq build healthy infrastructures by instilling trust-building measures, focusing on dialogue-driven conflict resolution, and enacting human rights initiatives.   The focus emphasizes preventative policies aside from military ones.

Lastly, being a truth-teller means keeping our leaders accountable to making decisions that are in the best interest of the global community, of which all Christians are a part.  In effect, it’s up to us to remind our leaders of their promise to keep their eyes on the ball, the ball of peacemaking.

My father had a saying: “You live by the gun, you die by the gun.”  The justification for war will always be debated and wars often fought, but truth-telling must be assertive in demanding obedience to God’s will and the laying down of guns for humanity’s sake.

Trends in Theology, Pt. 2

This is the second article among several exploring trends in theology.  Theology is a search for and conversation with God to realize how God is working in each one of us, in our communities, in our world, and in history.  We do theology because God calls us to respond to His love in creative ways; such reflection is the stuff of theology.

Last week I mentioned that the work of theology is becoming a global discipline, meaning that Western civilization no longer has a monopoly on theology and that various regions spanning from South America to Japan are contributing to the conversation on how humans and God interact.  The trend I’m writing about this week has to do with the relational aspect of theology.

As the world continues to connect in urban, suburban, rural, and cyber-communities, people are hungering for deeper relationships and sustainable partnerships.  But there is an irony here because people are seeking these relationships outside of churches.  People are attending church less but are joining intimate fellowship groups in far greater numbers.  The aim of relational theology is therefore to put Church back in center stage to help build sustainable relationships.

A theology that focuses on relationships mirrors the Trinity—God-in-Three Persons—for it is the Trinity that gives us a vision of the diverse-but-interdependent mode of what it means to be truly human.  What this means is that we are to see that all humans are interdependent upon one another, and that we find God and experience God by listening to one another’s life stories.  It is within this storytelling that God emerges as a major character in the patchwork quilt of our lives.

This trend in theology also obliges us to seek Christ in community, for the sake of community.   In this way theology does not merely help us think about God or talk about God, it forces us to discover God’s Presence no matter how mysterious or uncomfortable that Presence may be.  It forces us to respond in active social justice and repentance.

Emerging out of this theology is the idea that we are firmly rooted in all of God’s creation whereby Christians see themselves as a part of creation.  We are interconnected with creation and have mutual obligations to creation.

This does not lead to pantheism or panentheism (worshipping the Earth or creation); rather, this is a re-claiming of the ancient biblical understanding that humans are holistic beings who partner with the Earth in order to bring about the effects of God’s redemptive plan in every square inch of our world.

Additionally, relational theology assumes that humans naturally seek out authentic relationships and make us aware that there are some ways of seeking relationships that are inauthentic.  These deceiving paths do not lead to the type of authenticity that includes God in the mix.  One false way of building relationships is partnering with the idol of mass consumerism.

It is my opinion that we live in a sort of technocracy in which major corporations study how we live and then feed us products that we think we need.  As long as these products insure us that we “belong”, we buy into the myth that our material things provide identity.  Such an identity does not foster the God-conversations that theology demands, nor does it enact wise stewardship of creation and of the Earth’s resources.  Instead our own desires in a must-have world blind us to the needs of others.  We are so busy seeking the things of this world, we miss out on exploring how God’s Kingdom is manifesting itself in our midst.

A friend of mine often quotes Desmond Tutu: “I am who I am because of who we are.”  Relational theology requires us to stand before a Trinitarian God that calls us into sustainable communities with our neighbors. It keeps us from falling into a consumerism mold.  It intentionally builds relationships that emphasize our interdependence on the Creator and all creation.