I am not a man of great significance. With every new dawn, I realize ever-increasingly that I am but a reluctant and unwilling cog in a great mechanism whose course is wholly unaltered by such singular workings of any man or woman. Every day at dusk, I look at my day’s work and know without question that no single effort has or will contribute to the rebirth of a system that is currently caught up in apathy, complacency and ignorance.
It is not out of anger or any amount of contempt that I am compelled to act in the way I do. I know the wounds that these tactics inflict, the pain and suffering they cause. My words and deeds are motivated solely by indiscriminate love for both the casualties of and contributors to a culture that deprives creation of it’s inherent dignity and respect granted by the Creator. The culture I refer to, of course, is my own.
My foundational convictions are rooted in my deep patriotism and love for the country that has formed me. I cannot deny that I am, unalterably and undeniably American. However, my identity does not primarily rest upon its rootedness as an American, but as a disciple of Jesus Christ. I am first and foremost seeking and pursuing the Kingdom of God. The advancement of freedom and democracy are secondary endeavors to my witness as a child of God. I am an American only after I understand myself and any other human being as a blessed creation of the Divine.
I have become convinced that we do indeed require soldiers for God. I readily confess that evil does exist in our world. However, if we as Christians see that evil as manifested by fellow human beings, the battle has taken it’s first step toward defeat. We have been deceived by the one true source of evil in the world, an Enemy that is not subdued by shock and awe, but by true love. This foe is not driven from the world by smart bombs and munitions, but by weapons of the gospel such as readiness, truth, righteousness, and faith.
The good fight we face is never amongst one another, against fellow children of God. To deny the createdness of any other brother or sister is an implicit form of atheism. It is to deny that God is the shared source of life and being for every human regardless of race, nationality, or religion. It is because of this shared nature of being created ‘very good’ that we must honor the divine reflection in all human life. It is because of this conviction that I refer to myself both as a christian soldier and a conscientious objector.
Despite the familiar rhetoric so prevalent in the American consciousness, I fail to confess our country as spiritually or morally superior to any other. I have watched idly as my fellow countrymen have forgotten and ignored the humanity of those we were taught to hate. I have listened unmoved to countless appeals to my own humanity by members of unfamiliar religions, cultures, and worldviews. And I have obeyed blindly men who have no more authority than you or I have to end a life created, nurtured, and protected by a God who hears the cries and shares the wounds of the victims of our country’s violence, and worse, our negligence.
Do Christians have a place participating in war? Of course. Disciples of Jesus have for millennia found themselves on the battlefield. Confusing, though, is the fact that the most sincere and faithful of our number predominantly have had the battlefield brought to their tranquil fields by the very same ambitious characters that confess the same Prince of Peace as Lord. It is by the hand of these self-proclaimed ‘Christian Soldiers’ that many martyrs met their demise, a defeat by the standards the world holds. Today we find ourselves in a similar conundrum. Christians worldwide face oppression and hardship by the hands of the self proclaimed ‘only super power.’ In countless nations, the cry from our brothers and sisters has been to awake from our moral and ethical slumber; to realize our destructive and reckless ways and turn from them.
It is in our most earnest and sincere collective interest as Americans not to continue in selfish ambition and vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than ourselves. It is my duty as both a follower of Christ and as a patriotic American that I must undo the betrayal of my own silence and speak not against my fellow Americans, but in concern and love not only for our own longevity and security, but for our neighbors’ as well.
In the sense that God’s love is pro-active not re-active, unconditional not discriminatory, that I call myself a soldier of God. The weapons I use are not of our world, for our world collectively rejects the ways of true and lasting peace and justice. We have adopted vengeful over redemptive justice, condemnation over compassion. We curiously accept the gift of grace as our exclusive right as we deny the same gift to the enemy we are commanded to love just as God first loved us. Our enemies are no more evil to us than we were once to God, and they deserve to be offered grace just as we were granted it. Let God forgive us only in as much as we forgive others.
It is in this sense that I also identify myself as a conscientious objector. Far from being a pacifist, which unfortunately implies flaccid passivity at worst and opportunistic peacekeeping at best, I seek to advance the nonviolent front of God’s Kingdom with all my will and imagination. True peacemaking surpasses response to conflict; it creates ways of tending to the root of the disease, which is fear and hatred, instead of treating merely the symptoms, which are manifested by violence and hostility. In the spirit of love, we must be willfully and intentionally against using lethal force as a means of loving our neighbor. Love causes no harm to its neighbor, instead forcefully driving out fear. This is the good fight of the faith, which is a faith not worth killing, but dying for.
The prophet Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony. In this, he is appallingly correct. In standing firmly upon our moral and ethical convictions, by pursuing and proclaiming peace above prejudice, we face harassment, isolation and rejection. In a society that insists that it embraces and celebrates the inherent equality of all men and women, we will be condemned for suggesting that such respect and dignity is deserved and needed even by those who would wish to do us harm.
Robert F. Kennedy spoke of communism, but we would do well to confer his teachings to our modern peril of terrorism. He told students at Capetown University “The denial of freedom in any name only strengthens the very communism it claims to oppose.” So it was for Mr. Kennedy and Dr. King, so it is for any preacher of peace in our current state of affairs. Any threat to our privilege and tranquility is labeled as terrorist, even as brothers and sisters trembling under the threat of American terrorism see a “Christian nation” withholding for themselves any hope of peace or providence.
Of the familiar traits of those great orators and activists, one tradition must be altered. No longer must we look upon like persons and proclaim our people, but we must now look upon the entire global community and boldly declare all people. We as Americans have the great power, and necessarily the great burden, to speak for the victims of our own avarice and complacency. It is not from the peripheries and margins that we must speak and act, but from our own perches, pulpits, podiums and pedestals. It is within the very belly of the beast that rumblings and growls are not just heard and felt, but remedied as well.
In acknowledging our complicity, we take the first step toward rectifying our complacency. Should we wash our hands disgustedly, we surrender the only true power we might have to effect change. As we piously withdraw from our position of perceived privilege, we embody the very assumption of superiority we wish to depart from. We thank God for not being like our enemy. In fleeing our fears we quickly become exactly that which we fear the most. Separatists become elitists, defenders of freedom violate human rights, and a nation ideologically founded on Christ’s pillars of humility and love becomes known for arrogance and greed.
We must take action to remedy our own shortcomings and failures. Love for country demands that we speak out when our governing bodies fail to be accountable to the very people they serve. Blind obedience, on the other hand, demands we stay the course and quiet our genuine concern for where such a course will lead. Such concessions are not patriotic, instead coming dangerously close to despotic. Against the threat of such imposed silence we must speak, even if our voices shake. Love calls a spade a spade, gently and reverently evoking integrity instead of intimidation.
However, it is not so much speaking the truth to power that compels and fascinates people, but living it out despite such powers. With just as much fervor and passion we pour into our hopes and passions, we must transform our words into actions. With every ounce of our strength that we tap to achieve our dreams, we must match it equally with our humble and enduring witness in our everyday lives. We must be and enact the change we dream of, we must break them forth into the world around us. Robert F. Kennedy suggested that some men look at things the way they are and ask why, prophetically reminding us to dream of things that never were and ask why not. We must now go one step further, and see how things should be and ask why not now?
In as much as we relegate true peace, justice, and love to dreams and ideals, we commit this, the fuel of our lives, forever to the realm of unreality. A great man once said “Science has proven that we can live months without food, days without water, and minutes without air. But no man can live more than a few seconds without hope.” A man dies long before he straps a bomb to his chest and takes his first step toward his target. The human spirit is suffocated by the enormous weight of apathy and ignorance perpetrated by the very men and women who have the ability and responsibility to relieve that pressure.
We must no longer passively wish, but actively create and change. We must see idealism as realistic and necessary. The realism of change only occurs once idealists become realists, when we stop entertaining thoughts and begin enacting dreams. It is not only possible, it is inevitable; God’s Kingdom is breaking forth. It is not restricted to the red, white, and blue, but is represented by every color in the spectrum. Men and women have felt its presence and heard its whispers. This other world exists despite the pressures and powers that be. It is our charge as children of God to dance, skip, hope and dream this world into our own.
The frontlines of this Kingdom are not advanced by shock and awe, but by faith and humility. His soldiers do not use temporal weapons, they know mercy and truth are wielded infinitely more capably in their battle against an Enemy who uses lies to convince mothers and fathers that their shed tears will be dried by the spilt blood of neighbors in faraway lands. God’s children abandon the ways of the world, beating their pistols into pruning shears and melting their grenades into gardening hoes; eager to seek and to share God’s Kingdom on earth, as it is in Heaven.
Despite our insignificance, in embracing the divine within and amongst one another we begin to share in a bit of His omnipotence. For if we have God, who is called Love, nothing is impossible.