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Monday, August 01, 2005

God, or country?

Former President Jimmy Carter, calling the war in Iraq "unnecessary and unjust," is drawing the usual fire from the right side of the blogosphere. Some call his remarks unpatriotic, while others in the political center seem willing to cut him some slack, realizing Carter's consistency. At least since the Camp David Accords of 1978 until today, he has viewed foreign policy through the lens of a pacifistic brand of Christian faith.

Carter's recent remarks highlight an historic tension for the thinking Christian. It's as old as the Apostle Paul, who said that believers are "citizens of heaven," yet invoked his Roman citizenship as a kind of "get out of jail free" card when wrongly beaten and imprisoned. The early Church had a strong pacifistic streak, discouraging its youth from joining up with Caesar's legions. On the other hand, Martin Luther in 16th century Germany pronounced God's blessing upon his Prince's ruthless crushing of a rebellion, where thousands were massacred. John Wesley, the genius of early Methodism, had no compunction against his followers serving in the military, and was fascinated by stories of Methodists serving honorably in the ranks.

For our part, the U.S. has always been a flag-waving nation. (For background, rent James Cagney's classic film, Yankee Doodle Dandee). When we were attacked on 9-11-2001, flags went up on seemingly every lamp post, and sprouted from every porch. I've been in churches with huge American flags displayed at the front, and in one service the pastor led us all in the pledge of allegiance. One of the memorable images from Ground Zero was two iron girders that survived the attack, standing in the shape of a Cross. At the top, someone tethered Old Glory. What does it mean when we combine these symbols? How would we feel if communist China did the same?

Beyond the question of mixing symbols is the polarization that it always brings. What makes me most uncomfortable in the America of 2005 is the choosing sides. We seem stuck in an "either/or" scenario, where you're either vociferously opposed to the war (like Carter, or those at DailyKos), or you're blindly in favour of any U.S. military action baptized with the blood of the American Martyrs of 9/11. If citizens on either side ask a tough question in their own camp, they're branded a heretic. The first group, the "hell no, we won't go" group, seems unable to imagine any circumstances that would merit the use of force in our nation's defense. On the other hand, the second group, the hawks on steroids, don't seem to care that the Pentagon is developing horrific weapons, like the nuclear bunker buster, that can only be described as immoral.

Where is the Church on this issue? Are we so busy declaring our patriotism, draping the Cross with the flag, that instead of looking after orphans and widows, we want to make more with Doomsday devices? Have we rightfully taken up the cause of the unborn, only to despise the well-being of children caught in the cross-fire in places like Iraq?

There are no easy answers in times like these, but more and more, I'm concluding that change must come both from outside and within. "Outside" means bringing up the tough questions in forums like blogs and letters to the editor. "Inside" means exercising influence where the levers of power are manipulated. A 1st Lieutenant in the U.S. Army might only follow orders, but a three star General can help interpret policy to make it more balanced. Representatives and Senators of faith must steadfastly refuse to be drawn into the polarization that presents a false choice between God and country. Soldiers and politicians who are Christian must understand anew that:

1) "loving your neighbour" sometimes means coming to her defense with lethal force, and
2) Euphemisms like "collateral damage" come from the pit of hell. There is no such thing as "collateral damage," only human beings, lovingly molded by the Creator.

They say that the first casualty in war is the truth. The second casualty is nuance. The Apostle Paul never seems to have balanced his competing loyalties, and it won't be any easier for us. I'm not sure what the answer is, but I'm positive it's not the polarization we've seen so far.


At 1:13 PM, Blogger La Bona said...

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