Thursday, October 16, 2008

Thoughts on Not Being a Patriot

I grew up in a family very involved in the military. My sister was in the Oregon National Guard, my brother is currently in the navy. I have cousins in the army, and a history of family members in all branches of the military.

I grew up with the idea that this has been their patriotic duty, and I want to clarify, right now, that I absolutely respect and appreciate each and every one of them and their own personal decision to fight for our country.

My own journey, however, has brought me to a different place. I'm not sure when I started to really question war as an entity, but it's been happening for some time. During college I studied history and therefore wars. I remember having discussions with Michael about war, and it was truly the first time I'd really heard a pacifist point of view. I could appreciate it, but I really felt like there were times when war was required, especially from studying the historical events leading to many wars. And now I find myself saying what Michael was saying to me only a few short years ago, that we think war is necessary because it's in our frame of reference, it's all we know how to do to handle problems.

I'm not sure if I'm a "pacifist." I probably am but haven't quite come to terms with that label. And to clarify, being a pacifist does not mean you don't take action, or that you are passive. It means you are not using violence to achieve your means.

Pacifist or not, I no longer think war is justified. Ever. (For more on the Just War Theory and Just Peace Theory click here.) I don't believe a Just War Theory exists. War is never just. I don't believe Jesus would have us fight in any war. Yes, there was some warfare in the Old Testament, but Christ came to change that (see link for Jim's blog at the end of this post that covers some Old Testament war issues).

And here's where the ultra-patriotic Americans will have a problem. A few months ago I had a turning point. I was at a family reunion and an older relative was asking me about my husband and if he'd ever served in the military. I replied no, he hadn't, and probably never would (if there were ever a draft, I think he'd apply as a Conscientious Objector), being a pacifist and all. And my great uncle, having children in the military, said (paraphrase), "Well, I guess we will leave the fighting for our freedom to my children," implying that someone needs to do it.

This is where I've always had a conflict. Again, I appreciate that so many feel this desire to keep our country safe. But I've had a problem over the last few years with the verbiage that is used to describe America as God's country, and the pride that makes us think we are better than every other country in the world. It actually sickens me. But as I thought about this conversation a question or two emerged: Who says America must be kept safe (especially when killing others is the requirement)? Where does it promise in the Bible that we will be safe and live in freedom?

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy my freedom and can't imagine living in a country where these freedoms don't exist (though I may live in a country like that at some point in my life). But, I don't think it's justifiable to demoralize our enemies in order to feel okay with killing non-Americans that get in our way of staying great. And a close look at the Bible shows that many of God's people lived in captivity of other great nations, and through their suffering God worked in them.

To some, this is blasphemous. Unpatriotic. Crazy and Liberal! But I don't care. Because at the end of the day, I am a citizen of Christ's Kingdom first, then a citizen of this world, and lastly a citizen of America. In that order.

Our friends Jim and Karri (Karri is in the same program with Michael at Eastern) are currently serving in Burundi to fulfill Karri's internship requirement. Jim recently wrote a fantastic post where he is wrestling with some of these same issues of non-violence. Instead of copying the whole post, here is the link to his blog. If you really want to understand where I am getting this idea of non-violence from the Bible, Jim provides a long list of places in the Bible where this is discussed, and also provides some quotes by some of the earliest Christian thinkers in regard to war. I would absolutely love to hear feedback on these passages.

I'll end with one that spoke to me as I read his blog. Why do we think we need to gain the whole world, to conquer and defeat our enemies, for the sake of "Freedom"?

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul?” (Mark 8:34-36)


Jessi said...

Forgive me for not commenting on your post, but I tagged you in mine!

Krista said...

It's funny what can happen when you go to college and start to really have to think for yourself, huh? ;)

Heidi said...

Thank you for sharing Melissa, you speak my mind! I have been questioning and wrestling with the same things.

Scott Cornwall said...

Very eloquent words Melissa. Thanks for your honesty and challenge. I come from what seems like the same type of background and have had to wrestle and continue to wrestle through what it really means to live into the Kingdom of God, rather than the kingdom of this world.

cherice said...

Hey Melissa! Good stuff--I agree that it's frustrating when people say stuff like your great uncle did. And who is to say that just because they're in the military, they're actually fighting for "freedom"? It seems like so often the wars we fight just spark more wars, which creates less freedom for us and for our "enemies." But if we LOVE our enemies...then no wars, more freedom for everyone...but of course that's too idealistic, so we have to join others in their games in order to eventually beat them, right? Anyway, good stuff, and even though there are still tons of hard questions, I agree that it's more important to do what's right than to be patriotic.

We wish you guys were still out this direction!

Anonymous said...

Melissa ... thanks for writing this for the whole world to see. Unfortunately you probably won't get a lot of discussion out of this from those who oppose your, my, and many others way of thinking on war, and this fine but non-perfect country we live in. I personally wish more dialogue would occur ... but it seems that those who like war also like to yell in conversation. Or at least that's what I think they would do. Anyway ... good stuff, on your journey with Christ you are becoming more like Him. Awesome!


Jim said...

You put language to the way I'm feeling, friend. So well said. We can't wait to get you out here in East Africa!