The Limits of Obedience

**Originally published here; http://blog.sojo.net/blogs/2008/03/10/limits-obedience

In my last post, I illustrated my intention to participate in a collective type of confession from members of our Armed Forces. I am of course speaking of the upcoming Winter Soldier hearings in Washington, D.C., from March 13 to 16 at the National Labor College in Silver Springs, Maryland. Many readers expressed no small amount of confusion in interpreting my motivation for doing so, and for not being more clear, I apologize. Let me state unequivocally that my allegiance to Christ infinitely trumps my allegiance to our country. Upon clarifying that, I might need to express the extent to which I remain in submission to our nation.

Our government, in affirming the rights of its citizens, forfeits the claim to unconditional subordination. While I am eternally grateful for the freedom I enjoy, such gratitude must never demand that one surrender the sacrificial cross of enemy love, because the cross of our King is uncompromisingly nonviolent. In fact, if some perverse form of gratitude (fueled by what Mark Twain called ‘martial dreams’ and ‘the holy fire of patriotism’) insists that I yield blindly to the status quo, it is not appreciation at all, but coercion in disguise. We need to move away from reflex loyalty and adopt a mature, informed awareness in response to the threat of terror. First and foremost, we must know our enemies – if we even insist on having enemies at all – for they are only brothers and sisters we have failed to see as our neighbor.

To be quite forward, I am fully aware that I make oft-unwelcome allusions to WWII and Nazi Germany. This is calculated and purposeful; it serves as a response to the innumerable implications myself and countless other conscientious objectors face in stating their refusal to participate in modern combat. In fact, every GI I have counseled has had to answer questions in their CO process about how they would respond to the threat of Hitler and the Nazis. I agree that WWII makes for an effective measure of justifiable war, but we must also accurately and objectively consider how it also delegitimizes our violence (after all, don’t you think Germany demanded a bit of unconditional subordination couched in patriotic fervor, and don’t you think if the German army had more CO’s the course of the war could have been altered dramatically?). We indeed have much to learn from that conflict, but let’s not inappropriately insist that it must affirm our own preconceptions in order for such an appraisal to be valid.

From the perspectives of the Gospels, imperial Rome offers another rich context to view our current environment of terror and terrorism. Don’t Rome and the U.S. both have intimate experience occupying lesser nations, ruling through the façade of a weak indigenous power structure? Just to be clear to fans of Romans 13, we must remember that Paul neither affirms the moral legitimacy of the state (only indicating that when operating in moral manner, they must be obeyed), nor lends moral authority to Rome. In fact, the same “authority” to which he was submitted later executed him! Do I detect tragic irony? Peter too states that “everyone” must be honored, whether they like to call themselves kings or not. The tax question in the synoptic Gospels ( Matt. 22Mark 12, & Luke 20) is a thinly veiled satire of the Roman figurehead; if you look closely in the Hebrew scriptures, ALL the earth belongs to its creator ( Deut. 10:14 for example), leaving nothing owed to the emperor save love.

Despite all this, if you ask my closest friends, I remain quite pro-military. I do not believe in the abolition of the military, nor do I believe that Christianity and civil service are mutually exclusive. I respect the oath I swore and the valuesinstilled in me in training – all of which are good and right – and in today’s political atmosphere they all direct me to oppose the war of terror. One value that is absent from this list is the divine virtue of love, which is the fulfillment ofGod’s will, and which directs me to oppose all wars. In my opposition, far from distancing myself from the duties of citizenship, I hope to bring about the end of hostilities, as the early Church did through similar intercession and prayer. David Thoreau was known to have said that a creative minority could serve the state by resisting it with the intention of improving it, and an ancient idiom reminds us that it is a nation’s warriors who pray most passionately for the absence of war, since it is the battlefield that makes widows of their wives and orphans of their children. We all must discover the sense in nonviolence and realize the nonsense of violence, then we might know peace.

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