I believe there is a need for Christians to really examine their allegiances. I was one of those who wrapped himself in his national flag. I loved the flag, and at the heart, it was really a tribal affiliation and identification, rooted in who we are, and when I became a soldier, the flag meant even more for me. Then in my years since my eight years of service, I came to realize that the way of Christ is the way of peace, not war. I had once ridiculed pacifists, including my father-in-law, for being “wimps” and not realizing that there is need for “redemptive violence” in our world, and that we needed to stand up to the then Soviet Union, and as a Christian, I had to share that load of responsibility to defend freedom. I came to my current view on pacifism after a long and hard struggle of conscience and struggle with the Scriptures, as well as a confrontation with history.
The long and short of it is that I realized that the Early Church forbade and excommunicated believers who served in the Emperor’s legions. To owe allegiance to Caesar was treason against Christ. You owed your life to the Emperor as a soldier, and it was in conflict with your allegiance to Christ. There are rampant testimonials of soldiers who came to saving faith in Christ, who as a result were executed for treason to the emperor. Such was the case until the “conversion” of Constantine. A lot of things changed with Constantine’s arrival on the scene, and not all of it very good. Yes the persecutions stopped. Yes there was a recognition of Christianity, but it became not only widely accepted, but came to be distorted, came to be weakened through no cost to discipleship, and it came to be institutionalized, moving from gathering in homes, to gathering in religious buildings, which led to the establishment of paid clergy, which led to the division of clergy and laity, and the church has not recovered since!
The other significant change is that Christians were encouraged now to support the state, and to support the military in particular, and more and more Christians joined the ranks of the imperial legions, ending up extending and defending the Roman Empire by the use of force and redemptive violence against the enemies of Rome. Killing became a sacred duty, sanctioned by the institutional Church. Thus began the descent into the abyss of war by well meaning Christians. Seventeen centuries later and we have learned nothing.
I kept justifying my military service until confronted with these realities. Then I studied the Anabaptists, and there again I was confronted with how my heroes, Luther and Calvin, had joined the Roman church in the persecution of the Radical Reformers, to the point of taking the lives of men, women and children, simply for believing and living out the gospel of peace as taught by Jesus. That was it. I could no longer deny the reality.
I then read of other pacifists who resisted serving the British Crown, in the UK and its Dominions (Canada and Australia) and saw the wickedness of war, and that there really is nothing noble about taking human life, especially when one understands that what Carl von Clausewitz stated is even more true in this age of “terror war” and “redemptive violence,” that “war is the extension of politics by other means.” This I have found particularly true since 911 and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
War has become the means more than ever to extended domination of others to control natural resources, and access to markets. To knowingly do this, at the expense of hundreds of thousands of lives, by leaders who claim to be Christian is nothing short of blasphemy.
My Convictions After Years of Wrestling
- That as Christians our allegiance is to Christ, and not the state.
- That as good citizens Romans 13 commands us only to obey the law, and to pray for leaders, and to live at peace. Notice there is nothing here about our democratic ideals and participation in government or military.
- Our allegiance means that as citizens of our countries, there will be conflict as to where our hearts lie. Whenever there is a conflict between the Word of God, we must stand on the Word of God, even if it causes our governments to fine us, to confiscate our property, to imprison us, take away our rights, or even take away our lives, we must stand on the words of Christ, and the way of His Kingdom, which is the way of peace. This is what cost the Anabaptists their lives, in embracing brotherhood, and loving their enemies to the point of death.
- As Christians we are agents of peace, love and grace to a world filled with violence. As Christians we must proclaim and live out a different Kingdom mandate, a mandate of love and peace.
- As Christians when others are being taken advantage of, then we must stand with the oppressed, and stand with those being ravaged and killed and disenfranchised, even if the perpetrators are soldiers of our own nation.
- A Christian cannot on one hand seek to defend the oppressed and those being warred against, and not resist and stand against the perpetrator. To bless and sanction those committing such heinous acts is to condone “redemptive violence.” We must love the transgressors (our soldiers), in particular those who claim to be of Christ, and we must show them the way of peace and ask them to re-examine again the teaching of Jesus on peace, praying and hoping for their own change of heart on the matter.
- A Christian must pray, and then participate in whatever means available, under the guidance of Scripture and the Spirit, as to how to engage in peaceful demonstrations, and in peaceful engagement with government, agencies, and even contact with the nations at war and their peoples.
- A Christian ought to share their lives, their resources and their homes to those who suffer due to war and deprivation. There are all kinds of means available to engage and bring hope and relief to these devastated regions of the world.
- As Christians we must pray, engage, and find that place where we can be most effective for the Kingdom of God, and an advocate for peace, reconciliation, and social and economic justice.
I have renounced “redemptive violence” and war, and as a Christian, I call on all men and women in military service to prayerfully and biblically re-examine the teaching of Jesus on the issue of peace, and what it means to live a non-violent life as an agent of love and peace in the world. I repented of my military service and have peace now with God over it.
I challenge all believers who believe in “just war” and “redemptive war” to re-examine the teaching of the New Testament in light of where our true allegiance lies, whether to Caesar (the state) or to Christ (Kingdom of God). I challenge those who believe “patriotism” is a virtue, when in fact it is the weapon used often by the state to coerce and manipulate people and their consciences to embrace ideals that are in conflict with God, His word and the way of peace. I was such a one, manipulated by the ideal of patriotism, “God, Queen and country,” as they say in the UK, and the Dominions. Thousands of Christian men and women have gone to their deaths believing that their participation in “redemptive violence” in the guise of “patriotism” was some noble act of courage. There is nothing farther from the truth.
I challenge believers who engage in the affairs of men, who engage in the political process, who run for election, who support national parties, who give finances, their time as volunteers, and who support political platforms, and who vote, to consider this one fact. There is no biblical support for such involvement for a Christian (see Romans 13). There is another fact, that should be clear enough to comprehend. Democracy as an ideal and institution is pagan in origin. It is Greco-Roman in its ideal, character, and practices, and is far removed from the biblical Kingdom of God. Compromise on truth, and on values and beliefs are the order of the day, to get things done politically. Christians have to sacrifice what they believe and cherish to participate as a candidate, and as a Member of Parliament, much to the shame of their faith. Christianity is castigated in the Western democracies, and ridiculed. It is no place for a Christian.
Not Being Involved In The Political Process Is Not Abandonment, But Re-engagement At Another Level, The Social Activist Level, Also Known As Christian Service
Before you accuse me of vacating the public square, understand this. I am advocating the cessation of participation in the political system called democracy, and calling for the cessation of running for office for Christians, for the cessation of financially supporting the political system, and for the cessation of participation in the democratic process by voting.
I am NOT calling Christians to cease from engagement with the political establishment. Like Bono of U2 and all his campaigns to eradicate hunger and poverty http://www.onecampaign.org I am calling on Christians to engage with all politicians, NGOs and government agencies, to be a voice for those affected by unjust wars, to be a voice against aggression by war and aggression by free market economies that exploit developing nations by robbing them of their natural resources (ie., oil), and to be an advocate for social change, and social and economic justice, here in Canada and around the word.
Jesus Christ was and is the most political of historical persons. He belonged to no political party. He never voted. He never supported the system of the day. He stood with the poor and the oppressed, and exposed the religious and political system as the oppressors of the poor and dispossessed. This is ALL POLITICAL, without being party to a political party or platform. We can do likewise, and call on all those who share in the same ideal, like Bono, to take a stand to bring forward the Kingdom of God by seeing the oppressed set free from debt, from poverty, from hunger and from lack of shelter and lack of employment. This is what Jesus spoke of in Matthew 24. How can we not do likewise.
May God awaken our consciences and write upon our hearts His words of love, peace and grace for the oppressed.
* The above three pictures are of me, during the 1970’s and 1980’s when I served in the infantry for 8 years, in the Canadian Forces.