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Christians In A Warring World

Cardinal Charles Bo reflects on the first Sunday of Lent on the Russia-Ukraine war and proposes a Christian response to the solution to achieve peace.
Temptations of Jesus. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Cardinal Charles Bo reflects on the First Sunday of Lent in light of the Russia-Ukraine war and proposes a Christian response to achieve peace. 

In the Gospel of today, all three temptations of Jesus are on conditional clauses: “If you are the son of God. It is easy for Jesus to resist such temptations because in his heart, there is no “if.” For Jesus, the Father-Son relationship with God is not a thing to be tested.

When the hysteria of war and violence threaten to blot out our reason and paralyze our faith in all spiritual forces, the church must declare its abiding conviction that the Christian way is the only way out.

"But what is the Christian way?" With such contradictory statements coming from so many so-called orthodox sources and self-styled authentic sources, it is a small wonder that the public mind is so desperately confused on this vital matter.

To be specific, what is the Christian way concerning the problem of war in Ukraine for example and in our nation of Myanmar. Many of us have come to hold certain convictions in this matter that we feel we must speak out boldly and unequivocally. We sincerely believe that the Christian way is the “Pacifist way.”

The term "Pacifist" is extremely repugnant and offensive to not a few. It is used as a term of derision, contempt, and obloquy.

But many words that are now held in high regard once thought of as designations of highest approbation were as unpopular as the word "Pacifist" is today. Take the word "Christian," for example. To call a man a Christian in the early days was to label him with the worst title available. Instead of resenting it, or apologizing for it, or trying to deny it, the Christians boldly admitted it, boasted of it, gloried in it; and today to say that a man is a real Christian is to pay him the highest tribute possible.

We accept the word "Pacifist." It is a good, accurate, honest term. We feel unworthy of it from being ashamed of it and would like to deserve it. "Peacemaker" - from the Latin, pacem facio - I make peace, or as the dictionary has it: "A Pacifist is an advocate of the abolition of war."  "Blessed are the ‘Pacifists,’ for they shall be called the children of God" (Matthew 5:9).

The first thing we all ought to remember is this: Nobody wants war. Everybody hates it. We all want peace, militarists and pacifists alike. There is no difference of opinion about that. The so-called militarist says that the only way to maintain peace is to prepare for war enlarge the military forces to such an extent that no one will dare attack us. Wars always have been and always will be, he insists. Nations are motivated and dominated by self-interest. Russia wants more and China too wants more, and conflicts are inevitable. The only adequate defense is equipment for and skill in killing and destruction. This method has been practiced so long, has been so widely accepted as inevitable and seems so obvious that one who doubts it and particularly one who denounces it as insane and suicidal is considered impractical, visionary, and Utopian.

The pacifist believes that we get what we prepare for - always. If we prepare for war, sooner or later, we get war inevitably. Conversely, the only way to get peace is to fulfill the conditions of peace; that is, to strive, not superficially, but sacrificially, to eliminate the causes of war. This means that we should stop pouring out billions for armaments and all sorts of war preparations, for thus, we increasingly create fear and suspicion and hate in the hearts of the people of other lands.

The pacifist believes that the end never justifies the means but rather that the means inevitably determine the end. The pacifist believes that fulfilling the conditions of hell to establish the Kingdom of Heaven is the ultimate insanity. What we sow, we reap. If we plant hate, bitterness, murder, and all sorts of sin, we guarantee a harvest of Hitlers, Mussolinis, Stalins, Pol Pots, and general depression throughout the world.

The pacifist believes that establishing worldwide peace and maintaining it requires justice, goodwill, cooperation, fundamental righteousness, and a love that is willing to sacrifice itself for the sake of the cause it espouses.

Pacifists are by no means passive or negative persons who propose to lie down and do nothing in the face of injustice, unrighteousness, and rampant evil. They stand for the "fiery positive."

Pacifism is not a theory. It is a way of life - creative, aggressive, forth-putting, sacrificial. It is the way of the cross in contrast to the way of the sword.

Some time ago, 20,000 American ministers of religion answered a questionnaire, and of that number, nearly 15,000 said that they would never sanction, or as armed combatants, participate in another war. These men obviously came to this great decision only after terrific travail of spirit and disciplined thinking. Despite all the plausibilities and time-honored justifications of war, they saw certain facts with unmistakable clarity.

First, they came to realize that war is sin - the most colossal and ruinous social sin that afflicts mankind. Like many other great denominations, the Christian Churches have officially declared their fundamental conviction in this matter. War is a sin because it involves: (1) complete denial of the ideas and ideals of Christ; (2) the ruthless, indiscriminate slaughter of human beings; (3) the utter violation of personality; (4) lying propaganda; (5) deliberate breeding of the spirit of hate; (6) wholesale destruction of property; (7) putting in the place of moral law the obligation of military necessity; (8) distorting the religion of Jesus into the religion of a war god.

The pacifist believes war is utterly fruitless. It never achieves the results sought. The victor is victimized as much as the victim in modern war.

How can we so easily forget that not more than two decades ago, the Americans fought and won a war to end war; they fought and won a war to make the world a decent place in which to live; they fought and won a war to make the world safe for democracy. And what happened? They lost far more than they dreamed possible. And the defeated of yesterday defies the world today.

The pacifist believes that war is suicidal. Sooner or later, it destroys those who resort to it. Nothing could be worse than modern war, for it has within itself the essence of all other evils - hatred, vengeance, murder, atrocity, deception, lust, defense of falsehood, evil, loss of moral standards, disease, famine, poverty, despair, violence, revolution, lawlessness, crime, and death.

Pacifists believe in preparedness, but only the kind that prepares for peace. Pacifists believe in fighting, but only with the weapons of the Spirit. Pacifists believe in resisting violence, evil, and unrighteousness, but not by adopting the same wicked means and methods we deprecate in the aggressor.

Pacifists are willing to die for their country, for they love it with a sacrificial devotion that makes them not willing to sin for their country, to lie for it, to hate for it, to murder for it. To commit such sins is to sow the seeds of destruction in one’s own land, which means national dissolution, not defense.

A pacifist believes with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength that Jesus of Nazareth is the final authority on the way of life, for a nation as well as individual, and that nation which would save its life must be willing to lose it for his sake, which means it must be ready to die for the right, but not sin for it. If necessary, it must be willing to suffer and be crucified, but never to despair - for such a nation shall stage a resurrection and redeem the world.

To all those schooled in the philosophy of violence and vengeance, such a doctrine as this sounds frightfully foolish, sentimental, and altogether unrealistic. I can understand that it sounded that way to us for a time, too. To talk about meeting physical violence with non-violent resistance seemed silly. The turning the other cheek, returning good for evil, praying for those who despitefully use you - well, it was all in the Book clearly enough. Jesus not only preached it but practiced it so uncompromisingly that he got himself killed for it, but I knew it wouldn’t work - not for nations anyhow. Anybody could see that the only way to conquer an invader was to kill him. That was as obvious as that the sun goes around the earth, or that the earth is flat. Exactly.

There are some who said that murder and slaughter and lying and starving and sinning would bring peace and prosperity and a united world were hideously wrong. Apparently, they forgot that you can’t sow evil and get good; you can’t fulfill the conditions of hell and get any semblance of heaven. I remembered reading somewhere a simple, shattering, statement of cosmic law: "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Galatians 6:7).

At last it dawned on us that Christ did know what he was talking about, that his way was the only way that is ultimately effective, that when a nation or a man is attacked, the answer is not to resort to all the devilish devices of violence we denounce in the invader, nor is the answer to lie down like a coward and cravenly acquiesce in his demands; the answer is to resist him, refuse to do what he tells you to do - even if he kills you for your disobedience. And while you resist, don’t hate him; pray for him, if possible, and though there is no guarantee that you won’t be crucified in the process, there is pretty good ground for belief that you will stage a resurrection. That is the elemental meaning of the cross - the crucial heart of the gospel of Christ.

I feel like saying to all my Christian brethren, particularly to all my Christians: "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfected together in the same mind and the same judgement ... For though the word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; unto us who would be saved, it is the rower of God" (1 Corinthians 1:10, 18).


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