By Steve Holt, Opinion Editor
As images of bombs falling on Afghanistan and Iraq were emblazoned across two large screens, some church-goers clapped and cheered.
That’s right-scenes of war ignited celebration from some members of a Christian church in Abilene.
I heard the above story from a friend, who heard it from a friend. It may not be completely accurate, but even if it were false, as my friend said, it’s just as sad that we couldn’t pass off such a story and say, “That could never happen in Abilene.”
We can’t, because unfortunately, many Christians seem to have taken a pro-war stance in the last few years, seemingly elevating their American citizenship over their citizenship in Heaven. This stance has seemed to go beyond simply agreeing or disagreeing with the necessity of America’s presence in Iraq but has glorified battle and wished harm on America’s foes.
How can we find the middle ground between appreciating the sacrifices made by many military women and men and glorifying violence? In my estimation, the church must find this balance, as we are a people living in a “new order” established by Christ and marked by radical commitments to love and non-violence.
On Sunday, many Christians will worship together in a community-wide service honoring Abilene’s military women and men and their families.
Called “Faith for the Fight,” the service will feature New York Times Best-Seller Stephen Mansfield, author of The Faith of George W. Bush and The Faith of the American Soldier. The flyer for the military appreciation day contains this message to troops in the area: “Because of what you mean to our community- Because of the sacrifices you have made for our freedom – Because of the hope you bring to our world – We invite you to join us.”
“Patriotic” events like Sunday’s seem to always include the heavy implication that America is God’s chosen nation and thus has a mandate to “civilize” the rest of the world. This civilization most often is carried out through military force. But if efforts at world change are taking place as a result of violence, then how does that reconcile with the peaceful mandate of Christ? Can a Christian consciously support the “civilization” of other countries with the use of force? This question has disturbed me.
The view that God has blessed America above other nations also often carries with it an animosity toward America’s perceived enemies. For this reason, Christian Americans were some of the first out of their seats calling for massive military retaliation after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. A couple years later, the same group was backing the president in air raids on Baghdad because they were convinced Al Qaeda and Iraq were one in the same-threats to the freedoms and comforts we enjoy.
And so, these attitudes also might drive a Christian person to cheer at images of violence and pain and call it patriotism. These attitudes might cause churches to display signs saying, “God Bless America’s Soldiers,” as if he doesn’t or won’t protect and bless other nations’ soldiers.
When claiming citizenship in the kingdom of Heaven, Christians ought to love and appreciate soldiers as they would anyone else, while putting war and “love of country” in their proper places.
President Royce Money effectively communicated many of these ideas in the Centennial Opening Convocation speech:
God is not the God of one nation over the other. In ways we do not fully understand, God ordains governments as His servants, and all come under the judgments of the Lord, as to whether they stand or fall.