These are all valuable, but I'll leave them to others.
I'm here to talk about peace as an end to war, and by war I mean large-scale organized violence between nations or population groups. I don't hear nearly as much about this kind of peace in my church visiting. But that's the kind of peace we work for at Quaker House, which is next door to Fort Bragg. And that's the kind of war that Fort Bragg and many other institutions in North Carolina are devoted to.
Now I said I wasn't going to talk about these other kinds of peace. But one point does need to be made: I've often heard it said that these personal & local forms of peace are the way to peace in the world.
The problem with this idea is that it doesn't square with what I see all around me every day in the military community where I live and work. There are about 350 churches in our military town, and they all preach inner peace and family peace and so forth, and no doubt some of their preaching succeeds.
But then when the orders come, the soldiers who have inner peace go off to make war just as dutifully as those who don't have it. The troops from peaceful families produce just as much war per capita in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere as do the troops from families without it.
So while these other kinds of peace are still desirable in themselves, their relation to peace as an end to war is by no means clear; in fact, I'm not sure it exists at all. Besides my own observations, I've read stories about Nazi concentration camp guards who were fine peaceable family men and peaceable churchgoers; and there's no intrinsic reason to doubt it.
So my conclusion has been that if we want the kind of peace that involves the absence of war, we need to figure out how to end a war, or even better, all wars.
One such war, in Iraq, we were recently told by the White House is coming to an end. If it really is ending, I thank God for that, because from almost any vantage point, that war has been a horrible and enormous waste of blood and treasure that achieved little if anything.
Consider this quick list of the costs. First for the U.S.:
- 4400+ troops killed; -60000 troops seriously wounded; - Many more damaged in mind and spirit; - A $3 trillion dollar price tag, money robbed from our children and grandchildren, from the poor and the sick. - The war saw torture used and legitimized by the U.S. Government. - The war made us less safe, as torture and the war helped recruit thousands of new insurgents. - It's undermined our military, where suicides are at record levels.
But what about Iraq? Yes, Saddam Hussein is dead . . .
- But so are up to a million Iraqi civilians. - Five million Iraqis are homeless refugees. - Iraqi women have seen their freedoms drastically restricted. - Unemployment is between forty and sixty per cent. - There is no functioning Iraqi government, as of early September 2010. - Most of the professions --doctors, professors and others -- have been decimated, by murder and forced exile. - Iraq's ancient Christian communities have been ravaged by killings and many driven from their homes. - Continuing terror bombings and attacks kill hundreds of Iraqis every month.
How did this disastrous war come to pass? And what about the ongoing war in Afghanistan, which has no better prospects? Or the repeated calls for a war with Iran?
Many forces brought these wars about -- we can point to politicians, large corporations, and our consumerist lust for oil; they're all part of it.
Yet my eight years of work at Quaker House next door to Ft. Bragg have convinced me that there is another crucial factor, a key pillar upholding the American Temple of War, that's almost never identified and needs to be, especially if we hope to change it.
That pillar is what I call American War Christianity.
American War Christianity is the conviction that the U.S. is God's Chosen Instrument to bear the sword against evildoers, and thereby advance the gospel wherever we decide it needs to be forcibly planted.
This church's Jesus is The Prince of War, not peace; its gospel message is not to love your enemies, but to hate and kill them, including their children. Its Christ is the avenger of Revelation, galloping toward Armageddon with blood up to the bridles of the horses.
American War Christianity is found all across the nation. But it has especially deep roots in the southern white Protestant churches. And it manifests in two main forms. One is active and aggressive, making loud pronouncements of wrath on America's designated enemies, while glorying in the righteous violence of our armed forces. We heard such talk leading up to the Iraq war from the likes of Charles Stanley of Atlanta; Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson of Virginia; and to every Tarheel's continuing shame, Franklin Graham of North Carolina. (The southern accents are not a coincidence.)
But such noisy effusions are only the tip of the War Christianity iceberg. Its other and more basic expression was seen in thousands of churches. It is "passive," and takes the quieter form of "going along." The features are familiar: the US flag in the sanctuary; special Fourth of July and other patriotic services; "supporting the troops" by going along with whatever they have been sent to do.
And going along by staying well away from anyone or any group that raises questions -- and going along by not raising questions ourselves -- at least not so anyone can hear.
In the case of Iraq, this meant ignoring the worldwide chorus of Christians, including evangelicals, who pleaded for the U.S. not to start this war. Yes, it meant going along, or as Paul put it, being conformed. (Romans 12:2)
While this passive side of American War Christianity is less visible than the Robertsons and the Grahams, it is ultimately more important. After all, politicians come and go; even evangelists pass from the scene; but the war machine remains -- and so do the churches that bless it. They add fuel to its fire; they grease its wheels, lubricate the cogs, aid recruitment and help keep the whole bloody apparatus turning, year in and year out. And again, while this belief can be found also in the north and among Catholics and people of color, its homeland and stronghold have long been among the southern white Protestant churches.
Of course, this war cult does talk of peace, but almost always in personal or tribal terms -- inner peace or peace in the family or church, and perhaps especially the peace which passeth understanding-- I wonder if that's because, if it "passeth understanding," we don't have to try to understand it.
But this peace slides off when a uniform goes on; it stops at the U.S. Border. And it doesn't extend to people who are called "illegal immigrants," or who might be suspected of possibly sympathizing with anyone on the terrorist lists, whether they've been proved guilty of anything or not.
So I'm grateful to see North Carolina Quakers designate 2010 as "The Year of Peace." This is a perfect time to "seek peace and pursue it," (Psalm 34:14) by naming this idolatry of war, in both its active and passive forms. It's a perfect time to start facing it, calling it out, questioning it, challenging it, breaking its hold. And what better place for this kind of a revival to break out than in North Carolina?
-- North Carolina, where much of the shame that is American torture had its genesis;
-- North Carolina, which was recently self-proclaimed as the most war-friendly state in America on billboards beside all its major highways, and official signs at its borders.
-- And North Carolina, where Quakers have carried a Peace Testimony for more than 300 years. This witness has had its heroes; yet too often it has been treated as if it were a military secret, under deep cover. Or like a family heirloom, in a glass case, too delicate to touch, its mechanism rusty and irrelevant to today's world.
But it IS relevant. And it IS about more than inner peace. It has also and always been about naming and banishing the Spirit of War, real-world wars like Iraq and Afghanistan.
So let us reclaim this testimony, put it to work again, to help us see American War Christianity for the heresy that it is, for the blight upon the land and its churches that it has been.
Let's give these churches back to the Prince of Peace, the one who said "Blessed are the peacemakers," not the warmakers. (Matthew 5:9)
This may be a difficult task, but our work at Quaker House has made clear how urgent such a revival is. And if it starts in North Carolina, let's work to see that it doesn't end there.