Living By The Sword/ Dying By The Sword

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I'm certain
that Jesus intended his church to be a peace church. That statement
is obvious if one reads the gospel stories with an open mind and
hasn't been overwhelmed by the propaganda from the leaders of the
organized Christian church of the last 1700 years that one can,
under certain circumstances, participate in the murder of another
child of God and still be following Jesus.

Without a doubt,
what was unique about Jesus was his ethic of love — love of God,
love of neighbor, love for oneself, love for the least of these,
love for one's enemies. Without a doubt, Jesus rejected violence
and killing in everything he said and did — and he modeled that
ethical stance clearly in the way he lived his life. And without
a doubt, the early church understood Jesus' mission to be about
practicing nonviolent love of friend and enemy, teaching us how
to live in peace with one another, going about our daily lives with
mercy rather than murder, compassion rather than cruelty, reconciliation
rather than retaliation.

I have experienced
only a small number of churches that I would call real peace churches
in my life as a person of faith. The ones that come to mind include
churches like St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, Walker Community
Methodist Church and Reformation Lutheran Church, all in the Twin
Cities. Others that I have experienced are scattered around the
nation in my occasional travels as a member and organizer for Every
Church A Peace Church.

Those churches
somehow have found the courage to be radically prophetic, outspokenly
anti-war, peacemaker churches in a culture that fears disturbing
the patriotic status quo. Those churches seem to be about struggling
to implement Jesus' ethical teachings in the Sermon on the Mount
rather than modifying them to suit their nation's politics, economics
or desire for earthly security. Those churches appear to be doing
what the original followers of Jesus in the original form of Christianity
did — trying to imitate him by consistently performing, no matter
the circumstances, nonviolent Christ-like deeds of love, living
lives of mercy and forgiveness and vigorously refusing to participate
in or remain silent about, the legalized killing in the war-zone.
Living lives of Christ-like love somehow promotes the coming of
the peaceable kingdom of the Lamb here on earth. What the world
desperately needs are more churches like that.

I suspect that
many middle of the road, Just War Theory Christian churches have
clergy and lay leaders that would like to transform their churches
into true peace churches, but may have come to the conclusion that
the people in the pews aren't quite ready for something as radical
as that — and therefore the process is deemed too difficult for
now and therefore effectively abandoned. Perhaps the pastor and
lay leaders fear losing their pro-war members (and their financial
contributions) if Jesus' nonviolence was preached vigorously. Maybe
such churches fear being viewed with suspicion by the powerful,
patriotic, pro-war people that constitute a majority in their communities.

Recall Matthew
25:31–46, the Last Judgment Passage. In that passage, Jesus
says that we judge ourselves by what we did or did not do to u201Cthe
least of theseu201D because what we did or did not do them was what
we did or did not do to Jesus. According to that passage, Jesus
is incarnated in the minds and bodies of those who are hungry, thirsty,
in need of hospitality, naked, sickened, captive, homeless, discriminated
against, powerless, victimized and in need of love and mercy. These
least ones are to be cared for by the disciples of Jesus whether
they are friends, neighbors or enemies; and it makes no difference
if they appear to be deserving or not.

There is a
parallel story in Luke, called the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.
The rich man had wealth, power, privilege and was probably a religious,
law-abiding, religious, Bible-believing Jew. As far as we can tell,
he only lacked one thing — compassion for the u201Cleast of these.u201D

The rich man
treated Lazarus as less than fully human, as an object of scorn,
indifference and mercilessness, for which, in a moral universe,
Jesus says there are serious consequences. The rich man condemns
himself, because of his apathy in the face of relievable human suffering,
to an eternity of separation from a relationship with a loving God,
which many theologians have called hell.

A number of
years ago, I was at a workshop on Christian nonviolence, presented
by a Catholic priest, Father Emmanuel Charles McCarthy, whom I consider
my mentor. He recited a simple but profound poem at that conference.
It went like this:

When you
treat a thing like it's a thing, that's reality.
When you treat a thing like it's a person, that's illusion.
When you treat a person like a thing, that's violence.
But when you treat a person like a person, that's love.

That poem is
a corollary to the Golden Rule, which should help us make our everyday
ethical decisions, maybe even help us decide what politicians to
vote for and which ones to oppose. When we treat someone as less
than fully human, when we disrespect someone because of skin color,
gender, religion, social status, looks or sexuality, we are doing
violence. If we treat people like they are sexual objects, scapegoats,
cannon fodder, or someone to dominate, demean or destroy, we are
doing violence — with destructive ripples that go out we know not

In 1995, during
the 50th anniversary week of the bombings of Hiroshima
and Nagasaki, I was at Holden Village, a politically and theologically
progressive Christian retreat center in the Cascade Mountains of
Washington state. During that retreat, there was a one-man play
about the life of Harry Truman, the president who was in office
when the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. The actor portraying
Mr. Truman mentioned pointedly that as a young man he had kept in
his billfold a copy of the Golden Rule (u201Cdo unto others as you would
have them do unto youu201D), from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Apparently
Truman had claimed in his biographical statements during his life
that he consulted the Golden Rule whenever he had ethical decisions
to make.

Later in the
monologue, the actor elaborated on Truman's famous decision to order
the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, two defenseless civilian
targets, both of which had been protected, for scientific reasons,
from the massive conventional bombings that had destroyed nearly
every major city in Japan in the first half of 1945. At the end
of the play, the actor talked about Truman's conviction that ordering
the bombings had been the right thing to do, that he had never lost
any sleep over the decision and that he would do it all over again
without pangs of conscience.

The grotesque
contradiction of that statement and Truman's professed commitment
to the Golden Rule was too much for me, and so, during the question
and answer period, I asked for clarification. How, I wanted to know,
did Truman rationalize what Jesus clearly commanded his followers
to do in the Sermon on the Mount with his decision to order the
incineration of hundreds of thousands of innocent Japanese civilians,
especially with the knowledge that Japan had been searching for
a way to surrender with honor for weeks before the bombing. All
I got was an angry and sputtering defense of Truman's political
decision, and, of course, no coherent comment about the Golden Rule.

Harry Truman,
just like Lazarus, was a Bible-believing person of faith and privilege
who felt no remorse for his part in generating suffering. But I
suspect that if he had been on the ground at Nagasaki following
the bombings instead of half-way around the world in the safety
of the White House, joyously celebrating the end of the war, his
cavalier attitude would have been different, for Truman would have
then been forced to directly experience the agony, the living dead
pleading for water and for non-existent medical relief from their
pain. He would have smelled the unforgettable fecal stench of decaying
bodies that is always there the day or week after a military strike.

If Truman had
been there he would have seen the carbonized remains of fellow humans,
and he might not have been so proud of American technological superiority.
He might even have expressed shame at being an American, as have
so many other observers of the aftermath. He might even have recanted
of the deed and looked for ways to atone. If Mr. Truman and the
tens of thousands of Manhattan Project workers who developed the
bombs, and perhaps even the bomber crew that dropped the bomb at
Nagasaki from 31,000 feet, had witnessed the end result of their
effort up close and personal, they may have stopped cheering their
success and instead started searching their souls.

If these Americans
had actually been at ground zero and seen and smelled and heard
the death and dying, those with any conscience left would have developed
remorse and probably posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with
overwhelming guilt, panic attacks, insomnia, nightmares, flashbacks,
depression, shame and even suicidality for the rest of their lives,
as so many victims, perpetrators and bystanders of history's battlefields
have done. Mr. Truman may even have worked for the abolition of
war and refused to put so much money and effort into the post-war
development of America's powerful military machine, its nuclear
weapons industry and its national security apparatus, each of which
has been such a tremendous curse to the world and to the soul of

But the problem
isn't just Harry Truman. And it isn't just WWII. The problem is
the willingness of most Bible-believing Americans, especially its
politicians, war profiteers, super-patriots and professional soldiers,
to cause others to suffer and die when their earthly security was
threatened, a stance that is totally contrary to what Jesus did
and said. The problem lies in America's desire for prestige, power,
prerogative and property. The problem lies in America's unquenchable
thirst for vengeance and retaliation when its honor is besmirched.
Part of the problem is the American Christian church's silence or
even complicity in the conduct of its wars. The problem is that
most of Christianity has been nurtured in the type of religion that
never seems to oppose its nation's military actions, in direct opposition
to the teachings of the founder.

The story of
the bombing of Nagasaki is a particularly sordid chapter in the
history of Christianity, for on August 9, 1945, an all-Christian
bomb crew dropped the second atomic bomb on the center of Japanese
Christianity – the Nagasaki Urakami Cathedral. The Cathedral was
one of the aiming points for the bombardier on the plane called
Bock's Car and the bomb exploded only 500 meters above it. That
important story is a profound one and one that can be told at a
later time, but what the Japanese Imperial government had tried
and failed to do for over 200 years — annihilate Christianity – was done by fellow American Christians in 9 seconds.

Since the Cathedral
was near ground zero, few Nagasaki Christians survived. 6000 Christians
died instantly including those who were celebrating mass that morning.
Three orders of nuns and a Christian girl's school were incinerated.
Tens of thousands of other innocent people died and hundreds of
thousands were mortally wounded or are still in the process of dying
as a consequence of the uranium bomb.

Is this the
way of Christ? It is not. In the gospels, Jesus clearly forbids
violence to those who wish to follow him. And, of course, he obviously
would have had no part in doing anything that creates victims.

Following the
bombing, many survivors went mad from the chaos, the disappearance,
death or suffering of loved ones, the loss of homes and possessions,
the hopelessness for the future and the absence of relief efforts.
Every survivor became depressed, and many committed suicide in the
weeks and years that followed. After the carnage of war, everybody
on the ground is at risk of getting PTSD.

But let’s get
biblical again. The Nagasaki victims are u201Cthe least onesu201D of Matthew
25. They were starving and thirsty; most were naked; all were sickened
by the radiation poisoning and absence of medical care; most were
homeless; and all were captives in their devastated city. They were
also spiritually dead and dying, but so were the American soldier-witnesses,
perpetrators who were also victims of the mass slaughter that is
modern war.

The variety
of PTSD called combat-induced PTSD turns out to be, in my professional
experience, its most incurable form, for engaging in the legalized
killing of war eventually comes back to haunt the soul and psyche – and that psychological trauma keeps on repeating itself in the
intrusive, indelible, recurrent memories, with transient respite
only possible when using brain-altering drugs, alcohol or mind-numbing,
addicting activities.

One only has
to ponder the estimated 200,000 suicides that have occurred among
Vietnam War veterans – after they came home from the war – to appreciate the mental anguish caused from being involved in
that atrocity. Combat-induced PTSD meets my definition of dying
by the sword.
As one Vietnam veteran said u201Chaving PTSD is like
having been annihilated in the killing fields of Vietnam, and then
having to wait 25 years to finally lie down and die.u201D After so much
never-ending psychological and spiritual pain it feels good to finally
lie down, even if it is to die.

War and violence
sicken people whether they are victims, bystanders or perpetrators.
War and violence are equal opportunity destroyers of the soul.

The spiritual
costs of war are too high. The pacifist Martin Luther King was u201Cright
on the war questionu201D (the statement that he wanted emphasized at
his funeral). The pacifist Gandhi was right on the war question.
The pacifist primitive Christian church was right on the war question
— and it flourished in spite of that stance. Violence and killing
are deadly to the perpetrators, deadly to the souls and bodies of
the victims, deadly to the souls of the mothers of those soldiers
who participate in war, whether engaged in willingly or unwillingly.

And the pacifist
Jesus was right on the war question. u201CLove your enemiesu201D was
not a throwaway line.
And Jesus meant it when he said to the
sword-wielding Peter in the garden of Gethsemane: u201CPut up the sword
for he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.u201D

So recall the
simple poem. If we treat other people as if they were fully human,
we will treat them with mercy and love; if we treat them as fully
human, we will be incapable of killing, threatening or dominating,
even if certain groups are fingered as enemies by our political
or military leaders.

If we understand
and accept the ethical teachings of Jesus, we will then begin to
question the wisdom and morality of having half of our federal income
taxes expropriated for past and present military spending in a world
where there need be no mortal enemies. And in reordering our ethical,
political and economic lives is such a moral way, we will somehow
be certain to receive the blessings Jesus promised to the peacemakers.

28, 2005

Kohls, MD [send him mail],
an associate of Every Church a Peace
, is a practicing physician in Duluth, MN.

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