According to one version I heard yesterday, someone ran their Tacoma into the Vineyard sign (which is no mean feat…) and then walked away from it apparently unhurt. Not sure what’s what yet. Don’t know how their vehicle made out, but from the looks of the sign, the Tacoma won.
This weekend in our Summer of Love series we covered the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder”. I briefly touched on the tension between Christian pacificism (Walter Wink’s “third way”) and “just war” theories. John Howard Yoder is probably the best to read on the former, and Augustine as an early proponent of the latter. C. S. Lewis’ “Why I Am Not a Pacifist” essay from The Weight of Glory is a quick, head-tilting read as well. Regardless of your slant, an introspective “heart-check” is critical to understand why one leans either way, to make sure we aren’t driven by fear, or self-preservation, or self-righteousness or vengeance.
For followers of Jesus, ultimately our citizenship is in the Kingdom of God before any nationalistic adherence. If there is an example that a government can actually champion as morally right for the safety and justice of its people, we should approach it extremely humbly. Jesus can never be aligned to a country or a cause—that’s what the freedom fighters of the first century, the Zealots, wanted of Him. But they missed the Big Picture: He is the Cause, the cure for a very sick human condition. In our current context, despite being Democrat, Republican, Independent, Libertarian, or whatever, we are all messed up with a one-way ticket to Gehenna unless intercepted by the grace and love of God. My politics will not save me. I desperately need Jesus.
The New Testament implies that in this age of grace, the business of war is associated with human governments, not the Kingdom of God. When Jesus was being interrogated by the Roman government, He said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my followers would be fighting for me...”. The Kingdom cannot be fought for on a flesh-and-blood level. The case for pacifism can best be made here: any persecution for the Kingdom’s sake is met with a martyr’s mindset.
At the same time, Paul seems to say we have a responsibility with human governments in a fallen world. He writes:
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” Romans 13:1–7 (TNIV)
The degree of involvement is what’s argued. The pacifist asks: should I even pay a portion of taxes that support a military?
Paul’s passage is tough to swallow for a guy like me, a product of the sixties. I was a vociferous anti-Nixon protestor, complete with black armbands and all. It seemed unconscionable to me that you could send an eighteen-year-old to Vietnam but he couldn’t vote until he was twenty-one. The Twenty-Sixth amendment finally rectified that in 1971. One study put the average soldier in the Vietnam war at nineteen-years-old as opposed to WWII where the average was twenty-six. But this is where this all gets tricky: despite what I would consider a strong “justice”-streak in me, I had other demons I was wrestling with, and by age twenty I was introduced to Christians who began to shake not so much my world view but the secret places of my heart. It is one thing to argue politics or even morality, but another thing when a seven-million watt searchlight exposes your soul. I was undone.
All this rambling simply means that at times I don’t trust my own heart in how I settle some of the peripheral theological issues (one might argue what is considered peripheral). It’s not always as black-and-white from text-to-text as I’d hope. And sometimes we have to admit that we’re looking through a glass darkly.
One thing I know for sure: Jesus changes everything. And I’m still working that out.