Post Advent Reflections: God with us.
By now many of our Christmas trees have been put in the attic or thrown to the curb. Our neatly placed manger scenes are now stored nicely ready to be displayed later this year. And as we enter into 2020 we are confronted yet again with the reality of our state of affairs, upheaval in the Middle East, a soon to be impeachment trial, and for those a part of the United Methodist Church a possible split over issues concerning human sexuality.
In our present current affairs right now is an assassination of a senior Iranian military official. In response to the disturbance this is causing in the Middle East the US is sending 3,000 troops to stabilize the region. People are calling for the US Nation to be unified and to pray for our troops in lieu of a possible war with Iran.
What do we mean when we say we should unify? Does that mean we shouldn't have dissenting opinions? Can a Christ-following person endorse or ever give praise for any act of violence regardless of their country? And does this make us unpatriotic when we have these questions? What I think we mean when we say unity is uniformity. Dissenting opinions need to fall in line, which isn't unity. Unity leaves space for a variety of ideas and opinions to exist in tension.
Our conviction as a congregation is that Jesus was a person of peace. He demonstrated this with his life. Showing us that at the end of the day violence leads to well more violence. The willingness to demonstrate restraint and to be diplomatic is considered to many a point of weakness but for us, a spiritual strength called meekness. To love our enemies isn’t just a call for our individual lives but one that the state should take notice of.
In our prayers we ask God to be on our side and for God to be with us. Something about this is troubling and a notion that Jesus challenged often. We pray to Jesus as if Jesus was a United States citizen or a Republican or a Democrat.
The Jesus story has more in common with that of refugees, immigrants, those experiencing poverty and especially those occupied by foreign powers like the United States in their own homeland.
It is uncomfortable for us as a church to just pray for our troops. It lacks the full view of God and seems to demonstrate that God cares more about our nation and not other nations. Jesus calls us to also pray for those who we consider our enemies. Maybe the reality is that Jesus is trying to teach us a second way. Possibly showing us that when praying for our enemies we actually start to dignify them and to feel some sort of compassion. We then begin to see the mothers who clutch onto their dead babies that were killed by United States bombs.
The argument over how a state uses violence to achieve peace is not an indictment on those who serve or a lack of appreciation. My father served in Iraq in the early 2000s and I remember good Christian folk debating the legitimacy of the war in Iraq. It was no doubt difficult to hear those conversations when my father was actually engaged in those conflicts. But nonetheless, as I look back it is important and vital that the church has a deep, scriptural understanding and struggle of how our views are shaped of current affairs.
We feel that it is also our Christian duty to denounce violence in whatever way it presents itself. Too often we confuse our allegiance to Christ as the same as the state. But it isn’t. We are not trying to create disunity but I feel that when Christians detest violence… they shouldn’t be silenced. Or accused of causing disunity or unpatriotic.
We want to be a church that is open and honest about their views and to also have the courage to live out our convictions. This isn't to say that there isn't room for many conversations. Because there is. If there is anything our society needs more is thoughtful dialogue when we disagree about issues. What we hope to offer to this conversation is a second way. Jesus would often say, "You have heard it said... but I say to you..." Offering a new way for us to live and understand our world.
Advent is a beautiful season that teaches something wonderful about our God. The in-breaking of the God of peace in a world that uses violence as a means to achieve so-called peace. And that God is not just with us. But God is with us. The United States, Iraqis, Iranians, etc,.
And that maybe God is ready for us to finally figure this out.
I am excited to serve a church that aligns with these values in the United Methodist Social Principles. We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ. We therefore reject war as an instrument of national foreign policy. We oppose unilateral first/preemptive strike actions and strategies on the part of any government. As disciples of Christ, we are called to love our enemies, seek justice, and serve as reconcilers of conflict. We insist that the first moral duty of all nations is to work together to resolve by peaceful means every dispute that arises between or among them. We advocate the extension and strengthening of international treaties and institutions that provide a framework within the rule of law for responding to aggression, terrorism, and genocide. We believe that human values must outweigh military claims as governments determine their priorities; that the militarization of society must be challenged and stopped; that the manufacture, sale, and deployment of armaments must be reduced and controlled; and that the production, possession, or use of nuclear weapons be condemned. Consequently, we endorse general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control. *