From time to time someone wonders how a Christian can support something like the war in Iraq or any other war. Recently, I have been attacked by a number of these individuals. It is the price I guess I pay to have a blog site and wanting to increase soldier awareness. Because of my chaplaincy there are a number of assumptions they ussually make, that amuse me. First, they almost always assume that I am Republican, which is an inaccurate assumption. I would consider myself bi-partisan. I voted for Reagan, Clinton, and then Gore, for the record. The second thing is they assume that I am a hawk. People assume because I am a soldier I am somehow for war. Let me assure you that I have never spoken to a soldier who is for war. As Norman Schwartkoff once said, "No soldier worth his salt is for war....but with that said there are some things worth fighting for." Also, I know of no pastor who could fully endorse war of any kind. So, the assumptions of people has been an on-going amusement.
I am in the Army for a singular reason. This is where God has called me to be and my ministry is to help soldier get to the other side. As it says in Micah 4:3 "...so they may one day beat their swords into plowshares." The following is a response to one of my recent critics. I publish it not to defend myself but rather to help others think through the issues of war, terrorism and the nature of government.
Currently, I am at an undisclosed location of Iraq serving the 1/125 FA as they carry out their mission here. I have been away from my family for six months and I have nearly a year to go. Last week I delivered Word and Sacrament ministry, and led worship seven times in six different locations. I have, while here, led numerous people to Christ, baptized and confirmed a few and prayed with hundreds. Last week I lost a full night sleep due to a unit that arrived at my location because of the death of one of their soldiers. I lost a number of partial nights of sleep because soldiers wanted to speak to me about their particular crisis and their faith. This is the context by which your letter has found me. And frankly, due to the depth of my commitment to God and country the tone of your letter was disheartening. You wrote, “the Star Tribune evidently misquoted you in the May 20, 2006 edition of this paper. She quoted you as saying, “I pray history will tell us hatred can be defeated by force.” You know of course, that if hatred could be defeated by force then the Cross would not have been necessary, and Jesus would have died in vain.” Although, you did not invite dialog on this topic I will reply.
I was not misquoted and I said exactly what I meant to say, “I pray history will tell us hatred can be defeated by force”. As you are aware the scriptures and main line Christian theology hold in tension what the reformer Martin Luther referred to as the theology of the “two kingdoms”. On the one hand we have the scriptures telling us in Matthew 5-7 that there is no justifiable reason to take arms, even to defend ones self. On the other hand, we have Jesus validating the vocation of soldiers in another part of the gospels, and we have Paul in Romans 13 validating obedience to government, and going so far as to say they are established by God alone. Romans 13 says,
1Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. 6This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. 7Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
Each of us has a bias toward one or the other of these scriptural mandates. In personal matters, I for one feel more compelled to follow the texts from Matthew 5-7. However, for the sake of the neighbor I view government as a necessary force to establish order in the world. Governments establish this order because not all people are obedient to the spirit of Christ. Therefore, brute force must be employed by the “Kingdom of the Left” (as Luther put it) ie. government. Luther validates the use of force clearly in his treatise, “On Secular Authority” and states that the “exercise of governmental power is not founded on the consent of the governed, but on the ordaining of God.” He appeals to this text from Romans and also 1Peter 2:13 as justification for saying God establishes governments. So, the police man who patrols your streets is part of the “Kingdom of the Left” and he uses force to protect you. The reason he is successful is that he uses more force to protect you than evil is willing to exert to cause you harm. According to Luther, and according to the scriptures this man is a servant of God and by using force acts as a curb against evil.
However, this same brute force applied in the “Kingdom of the Left” has no place in the “Kingdom of the Right”. If it is not for the sake of the neighbor, then Christians are to bear the burden of the day, their cross, turn the other cheek, and sacrifice for the sake of Jesus. So then, “How does a Christian know which kingdom to base his response from?” Does he turn the other cheek, or does he use force? The classic Christian response of nearly all non-pacifist denominations is this: should only his own interests be at stake in a given situation, then the law of love dictates the method prescribed in Mt. 5-7 which took Jesus to the Cross and consequently takes us to our sacrifice.
On the other hand, if he is doing it for the sake of the neighbor the use of force to overcome evil is not only justified but profoundly Christian. “Greater love has no man that he lay down his life for another”. If this is the case, the Sermon on the Mount does not apply and we must function from the “Kingdom of the Left”, which is governed by God’s ordained leaders.
Luther distinguishes between two persons present within each believer: the Christian as he exists before God and the Christian in society. Christ died for both and until the “Kingdom on the Right” (Christ’s dominion) has the time to overcome the evil of the world, “the Kingdom on the Left” must preserve order. And so “I will continue to pray that history will reveal that hatred can be defeated by force”, as it did in the Civil War, WWI, WWII, etc. Although, we cannot destroy hatred, we as Christians and non-Christians alike, for the sake of others, must defeat it everywhere it makes its stand, until Christ comes again. It is this very theology that has led Christians from every generation, men like Dietrich Bonhoffer and others, to make a stand against the forces of evil that are arrayed against the forces of good.