Friday, July 23, 2004

Discipleship, Pacifism and Identity

My friend James Wilcox has been reading one of my favorite books of the past year, Lee C. Camp's Mere Discipleship. This book, which channels John Yoder's Politics of Jesus through the lens of C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, is one of the most challenging treatises in a long while dealing with what Christianity should look like for American followers of Christ.

Anyway, James has been publicly dealing with some of the implications for Christians on his blog lately (especially the political implications, such as pacifism, identity and loyalty).

Today, he is dealing specifically with Just War vs. Pacifism as a way of life. I commented to James and decided to republish my comments here...

In response to James' struggle with pacifism and Just War, I want to consider that we must have different expectations for a Nation-State (The USA) and the Church (universal and American).

My expectation of any secular nation bent on self-preservation (which is a worthy goal for a nation-state) is to abide by centuries old Just War arguments. In a civilized (moral) society, this is a strong tradition and is a powerful argument (although it is abused regularly- see Iraq War). What happened in Afghanistan could be more readily considered "Just War" than what is going on in Iraq. Of course, our "war" in Afghanistan is not very just, because it was so poorly conceived and carried out (or not carried out), but that is for another blog.

Also, I understand that my beliefs concerning pacifism, while based entirely in Scripture, can be debated powerfully by great and respected theologians and preachers.

However, my expectation for individual Christians (especially those who are being discipled in the way of Christ), especially for myself, is that of pacifism. I believe my Christian faith allows me no other alternative. However, I cannot hold a non-Christian nation-state to such principles (which is how I see the USA;  as Wendell Berry says, "why God might particularly favor a nation whose entire economy is founded foursquare on the seven deadly sins is a mystery that has not been explained.")

Some questions for Christians are "Can I serve in the military of a Nation-State and engage in such life-giving or life-affirming offices as Chaplaincy or the medical field?" This is a complex question. However, I think certain people (my father being one) can do so in accordance with their Christian beliefs. Another question we must ask ourselves is the extent of our identity and loyalty to a nation-state. Again, this is a complex question with too many nuances for a one-sided conversation. However, it is a question all Christians must ask of themselves and others.

But, I think we can have a certain loyalty, respect and identity for a nation-state in the same way we can have these loyalties to family. However, they (including family) are always subject to the teachings of Christ and loyalty (fidelity) to him (and identity with Christ above nation-state, political party, family or college-ouch).

The First Commandment deals explicitly with this demand from God. The tragic circumstance for many within the American Church (especially my denominational heritage) is that we have chosen to actively break the First Commandment explicitly and without reflection. Again, commentary on that is for another day. Also, Jesus deals explcitly with such conflicting demands in his comments at the end of Luke 9, along with his demands to the Rich Young Ruler. Lastly, in the book of Galatians, Paul also demands that identity with Christ superceed all other identity.

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