Recently by Joel Poindexter: Mocking the State in the DigitalAge
It's popular among Christians (at least in the conservative evangelical circles I mostly travel in, though I can't speak for everyone), to suggest that each time a person accepts Jesus Christ as their savior, heaven throws a party. The idea being that the body of Christ has grown, and there will be yet another seat at God's heavenly table following Jesus' second coming. Similarly, it is often said that another celebration occurs after the passing of a believer, as that person has finally made it home. For him there will be no more death, no more pain, and no more tears.
I've never heard it put this way, but I imagine the opposite is probably true as well. That is when a non-believer is killed, Lucifer must be pretty pleased. The death will mean there's one more soul he'll eventually lay claim to, and one fewer spirit going to meet his Maker.
This is why it's so offensive for such large numbers of professed Christ-followers to be so enthusiastic about war. The Great Commission, as described in the gospel of Matthew, has been perverted by these Right-Wing warmongers. It's gone from a mission to “go and make disciples of all nations,” to go and invade all nations. Instead of encouraging people to help spread the Word, so often we see them advocating the spread of death and destruction, thus condemning the victims to an eternity in hell.
Admittedly, I was once of this mindset. I saw no contradiction between my role as a flesh-and-blood soldier, serving in the infantry, and as a Christian who was supposed to be fighting spiritually in the Lord's army. Indeed, I saw my role in the military as one wholly compatible with Biblical teaching. The reason I arrived at this disjointed conclusion so easily was that I never questioned it. I never gave pause to consider the moral implications of walking into some foreign land with a gun in my hands, rather than a Bible. The blame for this is entirely my own.
For its part however, the church has done little to quell the appetite for war among its members and the public at large. The situation is so backwards that it's practically considered laudable when a pastor ignores the military and doesn't go out of his way to celebrate the troops at every opportunity. Too often Sunday services — in particular those around the state's designated war holidays: Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veteran's Day — become a celebration of all things war.
Instead, the church, particularly pastors, should decry the warfare state. It should refuse to give any deference to an institution that virtually every day robs its members of the opportunity to spread the message of Jesus. Laurence Vance, a leading opponent of the modern church's promotion of war wrote that "It is a terrible blight on evangelical Christianity that our churches have sent more soldiers to the Middle East than missionaries." Indeed, what a shame this is.
In some ways this is why Barack Obama's use of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Bible as a political prop ought to be so offensive. In the first place, for any person to swear an oath on a Bible should give Christians pause. But given that the president is so committed to drone bombing innocent civilians — including those far from any battlefield — using a Bible once owned by a man who dedicated his life to opposing the state's foreign conquests is profoundly grotesque.
Of course prayer has become a single-minded affair as well. I've never once heard a prayer in church that included both American soldiers and those who live under their boots. Prayers are routinely offered up to keep "our" soldiers safe, as they move about one of the half dozen countries occupied in one form or another by the Pentagon's army. Even after I began questioning the wisdom and morality of occupying the Middle East in the name of fighting terrorism, I didn't think much of the subject.
It wasn't until I came across Mark Twain's "The War Prayer" that the detestable practice of praying only for the safety of soldiers became so clear. In it, a man beseeches God to protect the soldiers, and pour misery down upon those who lie in their path. Twain's use of the language is so powerful that reproducing a whole section of his essay is worth the space:
O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it — for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!
Not to be thought irreverent, the old man then humbly asks that "in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen." Sadly, it would seem that Christians pray only for what is seen, as Frederic Bastiat might put this; that is they offer prayers for their soldiers. The unseen, the suffering and misery wrought on the victims of war, is never considered. At best it is repressed deep inside the souls of those who give well-wishes to the troops. Dwelling on the consequences of carpet bombing, cruise missile bombardment, and signature drone strikes just isn't done.
In the short story the man is ignored, and everyone believes him to be crazy. Such would no doubt be the case if any person were to stand up and say something similar in any of the thousands of churches across the country today. Not only would one be shunned by conservatives who worship the government's military, but it's just as likely for the so-called progressive churches to be intolerant of such an opinion.
The mere suggestion that the United States government would entertain, let alone carry out, this sort of reprehensible action against human beings is offensive to them. The fact that such barbarity goes on isn't what offends them, clearly. Having to reconcile their fantasy image of the state and its current figure head, the president, with reality is intolerable. This explains, at least in part, how otherwise intelligent people don't see what is really happening with our money and in our name overseas.
So as a Christian and former soldier who fought in Iraq, I challenge fellow believers to consider the moral consequences of supporting the state and its wars. Ask yourself how killing Muslims does anything to further the kingdom of God and grow the body of Christ. Ask also how or why torturing people, destroying their homes, and kidnapping them is compatible with the teachings of the Prince of Peace. Look not at immediate effects of the United States' foreign policy, but also on the long-term consequences regarding the Kingdom of Heaven.
If you're a Christian and thinking about joining the military, don't. It's not an environment conducive to your spiritual growth. If spreading the message is part of your concern, there are plenty of ways to accomplish this that won't be under the condition you promise to kill if ordered to do so. Know also that as a soldier you will be prohibited from proselytizing when you deploy, and can be subject to legal punishment if you disobey.
For pastors and chaplains in particular, and anyone considering this approach to military service, find another way to serve your Lord. In the early church, one could not be both a soldier and a leader in a congregation; the two were considered irreconcilable. It's too bad this changed. I don't recall ever finding a passage in which Jesus urges his disciples to join the Roman army in order to evangelize to them. It's not even necessary, you just have to be willing to move to a military town and get creative in your approach.
Finally, if you're a Christian and you're in the military, leave at your earliest opportunity. I would suggest that if you take your faith in Christ seriously, look into conscientious objection. At a minimum, refuse to become a tool of the devil, killing people before they've had a chance at salvation.
Joel Poindexter [send him mail] is a student of economics and part-time writer; he is a columnist for the Tenth Amendment Center and a contributing author to Voices Of Revolution: Americans Speak Out For Ron Paul. See his blog.