Sunday, May 4, 2014

Christians at War: Pray for Victory or Turn the Other Cheek?

And Jesus said...

"Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well..." (Luke 6:27-29)

Some Christians, such as the Amish, take this teaching quite literally and are pure pacifists. Most of the rest of us understand this to be an expression of Jesus' overall message of love, but we don't deny a right to self-defense.

And if we accept that an individual may inflict even deadly force in self-defense, then nation states can do so as well. And this gives rise to "Just War" theology. Some wars are no-brainers. The Nazis simply had to be stopped. 

But Christians who accept that war is sometimes necessary, can never put Jesus' words to turn the other cheek completely aside. And as a result, it seems and feels somehow wrong to pray for God to help us as we take human life.

In this post I'll survey examples in which Christians grappled with the question of whether they could pray for victory or assume God's favor on their cause. Not surprisingly, such a survey will include the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good

Again, the Nazis simply had to be stopped! Patton wanted to end the Battle of the Bulge by advancing to a position that would cut off the German advance. But he needed good weather for his advance to succeed. So he ordered a chaplain among his troops, Colonel James Hugh O'Neill, to compose and offer a prayer for good weather. The following prayer was distributed among the troops:

Rev. O'Neill
"Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies, and establish Thy justice among men and nations. Amen."

Notice that Rev. O'Neill grounds his request for assistance from God in the justness of the cause. The Nazis had to be stopped! He dares to pray for God's assistance in an action that will result in loss of life only because the greater good and the ultimate preservation of more life is the goal of this battle.

The Bad

When Pope Urban II declared the 1st Crusade at the Council
The Council of Claremont
of Claremont in 1095, the people proclaimed, "Deus vult! - God wills it!"

Setting religion aside for a moment, it was not more evil for the French to invade Palestine in the 11th century than it was for the Arabs to invade it in the 7th. We Christians unnecessarily beat ourselves up over the Crusades. As if only we have no right to go to war?

But all that said, the cry "Deus vult!" has turned into bad publicity for Christianity. It's like the original "Mission Accomplished." Whether we like it or not, because of Jesus' teaching, we are apparently held to a higher standard of conduct than the rest of humanity. 

It's not fair, but it points to a sense from others that we are somehow a people set apart. When we fail, they'll never let us forget it. But let's hope that when we don't, they're noticing that as well...


The Ugly

Nothing could be uglier than people told to turn the other cheek who then turn around and kill each other.

And the sickest episode of it occurred in the 13th century. An army was sent to the French city of Béziers, a stronghold of Catharism (a dualistic heresy challenging the authority of the Church). When the army realized that there were certainly many Catholics in the town as well as Cathars, an Abbot was asked whether they should practice restraint. Reportedly, the Abbot replied:

Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.
Kill them. For God knows those who are his own.

This is certainly a black eye on the face of Christianity.

A Prayer Before Battle

I'm a Christian. And I once went to war. I was an Arabic linguist at the National Security Agency and I served in Iraq in 2004. That was a dangerous time. The base where I lived was attacked by mortars and sniper fire. And I prayed to God constantly. I prayed for my survival first and foremost. I didn't actually pray specifically that I succeed in my job, a job which certainly involved giving intelligence to the war machine. But I sure worked hard at my job. And I have no moral conflict over the job I did.

A Place of Brightness
When I wrote the novel A Place of Brightness, however, I wanted to include an expression of the tension a Christian at war will always feel. The novel is about a family of freedom fighters in Communist Romania. They are practicing Orthodox Christians at a time when religion is persecuted. They attack and kill members of the Secret Police (the Securitate) whenever opportunity presents. But whenever possible, they pray a prayer before going into battle, in which they do indeed ask God for assistance, and acknowledge that, in a perfect world, they would not be taking human life at all:

"We beg your forgiveness that we must take lives precious to you. Have mercy on all the dead of our family and of those enemies we have slain. Grant them rest in a place of brightness and a place of repose. According to your will, O God, assist us in our efforts so that we can create a world in which peace profound reigns. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

No comments:

Post a Comment