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How Can the Church Support War?

"The holiday season is upon us and we're supposed to advocate peace on earth and yet we've managed to launch a military strike in the heart of it. I hear both pro and anti war partisans in church. How can the church, either formally or informally, support a military action that kills and maims?"

This is one of those questions where there might be a good answer, but it isn't going to win any popularity contests. The issue has been trifled with by the Church since the beginning, but generally the Church supports the government forces at work.

The first time Christianity was used by a government to support a military action was in 310 when Constantine the Great claimed he had a vision from Jesus Christ who told him to emblazon the first two Greek letters of Christ ( ) on their shields and "by this sign conquer." Of course he told his troops about the vision and with renewed courage the ensuing battle was won in the name of Christ.

Since then the Church has been duped repeatedly into blessing most government campaigns. The Crusades were a veiled attempt to maintain and expand the power and wealth of the Roman government and the Church and thousands of Muslims were killed under the banner of Christianity. The attempted genocide of the Native American peoples was done in the name of Manifest Destiny wherein the Church preached it was the European-descendant's destiny to claim the Americas and the Pacific isles for "civilization." The Civil War was supported by the Church, with the North primarily supporting abolitionist efforts and most churches in the South supporting continued slavery. Anti-Semitism was justified by the Church in Germany prior to and during World War II, and initially the Church in the U.S. supported the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam War, and Desert Storm. And in every single instance above, the Bible was used to justify the actions of the government.

How can the Church support military action? Simple. Even a cursory look at scripture, particularly in the Old Testament, shows we've been justifying holy wars from the earliest times. Many are the battles of the conquest of Palestine that the writers claim God ordained in Exodus through Joshua. Even more the slaughter of those with variant beliefs in the books of history (Joshua through 2nd Chronicles). And though we don't read of any God-ordained wars between earthly nations in the New Testament, we do hear Jesus say, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one's foes will be members of one's own household" (Matthew 10.34-36).

But is this what God is all about? Does God advocate the wholesale slaughter of others?

The best way to answer this question is to look at the overall tenor of the scriptures rather than at individual passages. Throughout the Bible we read of God's grace and love. We read of a God who walks in the garden with creation and calls for Adam and Eve even when they're hiding (Genesis 3). Prophet after prophet declares God is a merciful God (Deuteronomy 4.3; Nehemiah 9.17; Psalm 86.15; Joel 2.13; Jonah 4.2) and indeed, God's commands mandate ethical, moral, and kindness to all creation.

And it was Jesus who said: "You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not murder'; and 'whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, 'You fool,' you will be liable to the hell of fire" (Matthew 5.21-22). This doesn't sound like a man who would support a military strike against anyone.

The reality is you can "prove" or justify just about anything from any of the world's religions' holy books--including the Bible, and we have done so from the beginning. However, every holy book contains a version of the Golden Rule (Leviticus 19.18 and Matthew 22.39) love your neighbor as yourself. Because of this and many, many other passages in scripture (and in fact, the whole tenor of scripture), some churches have opposed aggression, military or not, from their inception--the Quaker or Friends Church comes to mind.

The bottom line is that killing one another is wrong--period. There may be times when the act can be justified, but justification does not make a wrong into a right, it simply absolves the wrongdoer from guilt. But is it what God wants? Hardly.

Not that I believe for a moment the government cares one wit about what God wants. But perhaps the Church should.

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