(Nashville, TN – 7/12/2011) – If the Council on Christian Unity were seeking a topic designed to engage Disciples in vigorous, robust discussion on the challenges of putting faith into practice, they found just the topic at the General Assembly during a series called “Faithful Conversations.” A series of lectures and small group discussions called “Christian Perspectives on War and Peace” played out in a trio of meeting rooms at the Nashville convention hotel before standing-room only crowds and deeply engaged members of the denomination.
In one room, Lexington Theological Seminary faculty member Dr. Sharon Warner began with a talk on the roots of the “just cause” theory of warfare with the writings of Cicero and Reinhold Niebuhr. She cautioned the gathering that a just war demands more than simply righteousness as its cause. Cicero believed that a just war could only be waged by legitimate authority (government vs. individuals), could only be waged as a last resort (following diplomacy) and must be proportional to the cause (to avoid non-combatant casualties).
“Cicero also believed there must be a strong probability of success,” Warner said. “He didn’t go for the whole idea of ‘ridding the world of evil’. The rationality for war always falls along a continuum and it’s never easy for people of faith to determine where they fall along the continuum.”
Down the hall, Dr. Doug Skinner of Northway Christian Church read a letter from the father of a U.S. Marine deployed to Iraq who lamented the condemnation of the leadership of many Christian denominations toward U.S. foreign policy. The letter expressed the anguish of a father who said too many Christians are forced to choose between their love of their church and their pride in their sons, daughters and other relatives who embrace the thankless task of defending their nation. How can a church comfort its children, the father asks, when it condemns them and takes sides in political debates?
“People ask whether the church seems determined to make God as small as we are?” Skinner said. “We should exclude no one in this debate from the body of Christ.”
In another room, a group of Disciples historians discussed the anti-war origins of the Stone-Campbell movement. Dr. Craig Watts of Royal Palm Christian Church in Coral Springs, Florida called Alexander Campbell a strong believer that war is against God’s design for his people, but as the slavery issue divided his church, Campbell still held Christian unity as the priority to the consternation of those Disciples who believed war as the only path to eradicating the blight of bondage from American society.
“As early as 1823, Campbell wrote he was appalled Christians would go forth with a Bible in one hand and a sword in the other,” Watts said. “He couldn’t understand why Christians would first create as many widows and orphans as possible, then would proceed to minister to them with compassion.”
Dr. Newell Williams of University Christian Church in Fort Worth, Texas says Barton Stone wrote clearly that slavery was unbiblical and told Disciples that engaging with a government which supported it was a distraction – no voting, no politics, but payment of taxes.
“Stone believed when you engage with government, you support an institution interested solely in the consolidation of power, keeping the rich rich and the poor poor,” Williams said. “Sometimes, I think the old boy was onto something.”
Ultimately, the speakers argued the decision to take up arms against our fellow human beings is one of the most complex and difficult decisions Christians can undertake.
“Somehow, somewhere, we need to model honest, genuine disagreements as Christians, and still claim each other as one family,” said Robert Welsh, Council on Christian Unity president.
Sharon Warner closed her presentation with the words of Reinhold Niebuhr on the topic. “When a nation decides to take up arms, it should be with humility,” he wrote, “..with a sense of the pervasiveness of sin and a heavy heart.”
By: Mark Drury