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Peacemaking in an Age of Terror
“Glory to God in the highest, and peace to people on whom his favour rests.” The familiar words uttered by the angelic beings at Christmas to the shepherds on the hills outside Bethlehem bear little resemblance to present reality as we wait to see if there will be a war.
Will America unilaterally attack Iraq seeking ‘regime change’, or will she submit to the collective will of the UN, based on the findings of the UN inspection team? The combination of Saddam Hussein’s track record of deception and President Bush’s obsession in pushing for war with Iraq is frightening.
America vs Iraq — A Just War?
Christians hold two main views concerning war — though they may all agree that war is evil, reflecting a fallen humanity out of relationship with God and each other. The ‘just war’ view allows for killing in defence in the case of direct attack by an enemy. Ethical reasoning considers it a lesser evil to kill the attacker before the attacker kills again. Biblical support is mainly from Old Testament ‘law’ (which ensured justice, whilst limiting pay-back) summarised by Moses’ “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth . . . .”2 Limited New Testament support includes Paul’s requirement to obey authority: “authorities have been established by God . . . rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong . . . .”3
The ‘pacifist’ view depends mainly on New Testament ‘grace’ overriding previous Old Testament ‘law’. Jesus said “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth’. But I tell you do not resist an evil person.”4 “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”5 Killing is not allowed even in defence.
The just war theory is more popular. Few people consider pacifism to be a realistic option. Internationally, far greater resources are poured into war preparation than into peaceful conflict resolution.
Some would argue a UN sanctioned war against Iraq fits the just war theory, if all other peaceful avenues to disarm Iraq of possible weapons of mass destruction (WMD) have been tried, and there is absolute evidence Iraq is planning to attack somebody — something difficult to prove. But an American unilateral ‘pre-emptive’ non-UN sanctioned war against Iraq clearly falls outside the just war parameters.
Can the UN resist the reported pressure, coercion and manipulation of the UN Security Council process by the USA? What punitive economic pressure is being applied behind the scenes to bring about the ‘coalition of the willing’? Sadly, this may make even a UN-sanctioned war an unjust war.
There are too many questions: Why Iraq — why now? Is this about oil, with Iraq containing the second largest oil reserves in the world? Is this a family feud between the Bushs and the Husseins? Why the incredibly short time frame for the UN inspection team to search a whole country for WMD? Why is Iraq assumed ‘guilty before proven innocent’? If a WMD is found, why not simply remove it rather than trigger an attack? When will all other WMD countries — including the USA — disarm?
Could President Bush be God’s agent for regime change in Iraq and the Muslim world, given Old Testament accounts of God allowing/using other nations to punish rebellious Israel? Isaiah tells of the Assyrian conquest and deportation of the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC, and of ongoing threat to Judah (the southern kingdom). God said “the Assyrian, the rod of my anger . . . . I send him against a godless nation . . . to trample them down like mud.”6
Who can be sure of God’s current international intentions? It would take a brave person to say President Bush is God’s agent, in the face of so much contrary opinion expressed by a range of people, including Christians. Then there are those who argued the September 11 terrorist attacks were allowed/used by God as a corrective to America’s direction. Who can know?
I live, work and witness in Bangladesh, a largely Muslim country, formerly a British colony. Here religious faith is communal, so it is presumed by many that all in the West are Christian. Newspapers here report Bangladeshi fear of a new ‘crusade’ resulting from President Bush’s unilateral foreign policy and War on Terror.
A Western-led, unjust war on Iraq (without clear observable provocation by Iraq) will likely further damage the Western-Muslim relationship and also Christian witness in some Muslim majority countries. Evidence suggests an unjust war will place ‘some’ Westerners or Christian organisations in ‘some’ locations at increased risk of personal injury.
A number of terrorist attacks resulting in death have occurred over the last year, including in Pakistan: at the International Church and a local church, at a Christian mission school, a Christian NGO, the US embassy and a French business; in Lebanon at a mission organisation; in South Yemen at a medical mission; in Bali — the nightclub bombings. Various Western embassies have closed due to threats.
Any downward spiral in the Western-Muslim relationship, resulting in missions closing and workers returning home due to fear of attack, or non-renewal of visas, will mean that various Kingdom activities (including witness or aid and development) cease, at least for a time. This has already happened in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
All this means great personal cost for the uprooted mission families. It also may mean that some Westerners contemplating doing overseas mission feel increased unease and are persuaded by family to delay — perhaps indefinitely.
War against Iraq and terrorism in general offers short term gains, while fuelling “an inexhaustible recruiting ground for anti-Western terrorism”, sowing the seeds of the next generation of terrorists.7 Much world opinion is against a US-led war, instead insisting on a UN multi-country process. Apart from large anti-war rallies, some people have offered to be human shields in Iraq!
Which “axis of evil” country will be next — Iran or North Korea? Surely it is better to work towards resolving the causal effects of terrorism such as poverty, and land disputes between Israel and the Palestinians, rather than having one superpower acting as ‘policeman’ of the world?
Jesus was born into a ‘peace-lacking’ scenario — his homeland occupied by a harsh foreign power. Deceit and bloodshed surrounded the events of his birth. Disturbed at the birth of a rival king, Herod killed all baby boys under two years of age in and around Bethlehem. Miraculously Jesus survived this infanticide. Hardly a pleasant Christmas story.8 What was the response of Jesus and his followers to their dangerous world?
Eight hundred years before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah heralded the future Christ as the Prince of Peace.9 In the face of fear, poverty and war Christians are called to introduce individuals to Jesus, the Prince of Peace who gives peace: “Do not be anxious about anything . . . by prayer with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."10 This ongoing salvation relationship with, and dependence on God, leads to individual renewal, peace and wholeness.
Yet according to Jesus — who said, “blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God”11 — individual salvation and spirituality is not the full biblical answer to individuals, communities and countries at war with each other. God, as modelled by Jesus, is interested in ‘all of life’, not just ‘personal spiritual life’.
Jesus proclaimed salvation, loved, taught, healed, fed and socially transformed. The biblical expectation is that personal salvation will lead to social transformation — including some aspect of ‘peacemaking’. What would Jesus have us do?
Development as Peacemaking
Peace may be described not as the absence of war but as the presence of ‘well-being’. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, suffers when his creation bleeds, whether due to war, social inequality, pollution or starvation (28 people die of starvation related causes every minute, 1 billion people live on less than US$1 per day). Peace (and well-being) is present when people’s basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, health care, clean water and education are met. Peacemaking includes good governance, human rights, inclusivity, fairness and equity. Forced peace without justice is oppression. As God’s stewards we are responsible to share equally the earth’s resources, which God has placed at our disposal.12
One contemporary term for this notion of peacemaking is ‘sustainable development’ which considers the whole person and his/her community in terms of social, environmental and economic needs, involving close connection with biblical requirements for love, justice and creation stewardship. Christians use several terms for this concept: integral mission, wholistic transformation, transformative mission and church-based development.
Christian ‘sustainable development’ is the church working to transform the world and the lives of its people so that relationships with God, others and the environment are restored to what God intended.13 Christian-based development also serves as a ‘bridgehead for the gospel’, providing authentic relational and servanthood contexts in which to share Jesus.
The war on terror and any future war with Iraq are not biblical peacemaking initiatives. The projected US$5 billion per month for war could better be spent on development peacemaking within Iraq and other poorer countries. The total world aid and development budget is only US$50 billion per year — just 10 months worth of war and follow-up occupation.
Dialogue as Peacemaking
Viewing post-September-11 world issues from ‘within’ a Muslim majority country, brings home again and again the importance of peacemaking dialogue between countries, cultures, religions and people. Why not talk to each other, offering friendship for all? Paul reminds us “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone”.14 No matter what our belief system or point of view, within an open atmosphere of mutual respect we need to learn, understand, persuade and love, rather than coerce, control, hate or destroy.
A New/Old Role for the Church
In these post-September-11 war-on-terror days the global church has a new, relevant and revitalising role as peacemaker. What has the church’s response been to the proposed American war on Iraq? In the USA, despite some rightist inflammatory calls for a new Western imperialism, President Bush’s own church denomination clearly opposes a pre-emptive attack.
In England, the new Archbishop of Canterbury — Rowan Williams — has challenged the morality of waging war against Iraq. His headline-grabbing Christmas message criticised Western warmongers as “wise men” who may become the authors of much needless bloodshed and suffering. In Williams, the UK anti-war movement may have found a charismatic, prominent and articulate leader not easily ignored.
Could this help lift the Church of England (known as the Conservative Party at Prayer) out of decline? Certainly Williams is likely to become a source of irritation to another churchgoer, Prime Minister Tony Blair. At Christmas time the Anglican church issued a prayer for use by churches across Britain: “Lord, we pray fervently for the people of Iraq facing the horror of a full-scale war, and for those people who may be called upon to fight. Help us to persuade world leaders to continue negotiations . . . .”15
In New Zealand, my own denomination (Baptist) along with other churches (Anglican, Church of Christ, Salvation Army, Quakers, Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregational Union, Catholic) committed to a statement opposing a non-UN sanctioned American-led war. The major points being:
(1) A pre-emptive war is not a ‘just war’, but would be immoral, illegal and unjust (referring to 1945 United Nations Charter).
(2) Dealing with dictators and terrorists can only occur by tackling the root causes of the disputes themselves.
(3) Peace cannot be maintained without justice, respect for human dignity and solidarity between peoples. It is not merely the absence of war, and is not limited to maintaining a balance of power between adversaries.
(4) The basic requirement for peace is elimination of all weapons of mass destruction, the curbing of the arms trade and the eradication of massive, endemic poverty.
(5) Earthly peace is the image and fruit of the peace of Jesus Christ. He offers all people reconciliation with God and with one another. He is the Prince of Peace who declared peacemakers are blessed.16 Signing a statement is easy; now churches need to outwork this statement from the personal spiritual level to the international political level.
Church Based Development in Bangladesh
An extension of the New Zealand Baptist church, our overseas mission tranzsend is committed to peacemaking with the one-liner: “Sharing Christ, Serving the World”, bringing together both ‘proclaiming’ and ‘loving’.
In Bangladesh, within the wider context of growing healthy churches, we support a new component known as ‘church-based development’ — doing sustainable development to assist in poverty alleviation, working alongside more usual aspects of church planting and nurture. We partner with the national church in a consultative, resourcing, training and learning role. Bangladesh is fertile ground for this transformative mission, in the face of extreme poverty, social issues and environmental stress.
The vision is for local churches to have a practical development programme transforming the surrounding community, without neglecting spiritual needs. Currently, through this approach, some poor rural churches of 25 to 50 members are impacting whole communities of several hundred. We pray this Kingdom expression will be peacemaking, reducing the poverty-induced ‘seeds’ of future terrorism17
It’s exciting, that at last the church is being seen as an essential (though previously overlooked) partner in peacemaking development by non-confessional development organisations such as the World Bank. The church has a major role in attacking the root causes of poverty — both within and outside the third world — through its presence with the poor, the dignity provided by the gospel of hope and moral vision based on God’s ‘big story’.18
As President Bush threatens, the American war machine grows and UN inspectors frantically search, finding no weapons of mass destruction, God watches. Isaiah’s 2800-year old vision concerning the future kingdom reign of God continues to draw us:
God will judge between nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war any more.19 Swords into ploughshares . . . a utopian vision.
This year within the context of our own family, community or the world (why not aim big?) let’s seek the Prince of Peace and be peacemakers. A new role for the church . . . or rather an old one!