Why I’m A Pacifist But I Still Celebrate Memorial Day

memorial day

I’m a Christian pacifist. In light of Christ’s death and resurrection, I do not believe that Christians should execute criminals, wage wars or even posses weapons for the purpose of self-defense. While I hold these views loosely- meaning I try to be humble in my assertions and in my own ability to ‘walk the talk’- I also hold them with great conviction.

That said, today I am celebrating a holiday of remembrance for all those men and women who have sacrificed their lives in service to the American nation. Today, I am celebrating Memorial Day.

There are a couple things about me that make my adherence to pacifism somewhat unique-the first being how many people I truly love and respect who have served in the military. My grandfather was a pilot in World War II. He flew 35 combat missions over Germany, carrying a Bible in his pocket on each flight. Likewise my father- probably the person I admire the most in life- was an Air Force fighter pilot. And I have many close friends who’ve been deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq and some theaters the average American isn’t even aware we’re in.

Secondly- and this is the real kicker- I myself am a member of the military. I currently serve as an officer in the Army Reserves Medical Corps. I joined the military because I wanted to be an Army Ranger. But a change of heart toward pacifist convictions led me to serve my commitment in a non-combative role.

All of this goes to say that Memorial Day raises some interesting questions for me: should I celebrate those who not only gave their lives but also took the lives of others in service to this country? Can I- in good conscience- partake in the celebration of military veterans and members? Is such honoring also honoring to Christ?

The answer to these questions came from an unexpected source: a fairy tale. The Last Battle is the final book in CS Lewis’ famed Chronicles of Narnia series. It’s about the final feud between forces of good and evil and presents one of Lewis’ more vivid depictions of heaven.

It’s near the end of the book that the good servants of Aslan arrive in paradise where they encounter an unexpected character. His name is Emeth and he was a warrior and a foe in the previous life, a loyal servant of the god Tash, a god erected in opposition by enemies of Aslan.

The servants of Aslan are befuddled, and understandably so. All their lives they’d known servants of Tash to be the wicked counterparts to their service to Aslan; how could he have been accepted into paradise? Emeth understands their confusion, and tells them he himself was confused and terrified upon arriving to find that Aslan was the true God, and his life of loyalty had been horribly misplaced. He fell before Aslan, sure of his fate. But instead of smiting him, Aslan kissed him on the forehead and said:

“Son, thou art welcome… all of the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me…Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites…For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him.”

 The Last Battle (pg. 204-205)

I am a pacifist. But I do not believe soldiers who fight and die for America are evil. I believe that- on the whole- they are sincere, brave, dedicated and remarkably loyal individuals. I can only aspire to be so true.

I don’t believe that service to Christ can entail violence under the banner of the American flag, killing for the sake of a nation-state. All that said: the loyalty of soldiers to this country, misplaced though I may believe it to be, is still much greater than any cost I’ve had to pay for my allegiance to Christ.

There will always be discrepancies in the ways we show our dedication to Christ. No one lives a life in perfect service to Jesus and I am certainly not the exception. Shall I then judge those whose service to their country they sincerely believed to also be service to Christ?

Because ultimately it is not historians, politicians or even the clergy and religious leaders who decide which side of the spectrum a person falls; Nazi soldiers were not all evil and American soldiers are not all pure in heart. It is not the stories as we tell that decide the value of one’s service; such deeds are God’s to judge. And no one else’s.

Today, I remember and honor those who gave everything they had: their futures, hopes, homes with picket fences, the sound of their children’s laughter on Christmas morning, the touch of their spouse’s hand upon their skin; today, I remember the men and women who gave their lives in service to this country. I may not believe in the country they served but I do believe in a God who’s grace covers all our best and worst intentions. And I believe that- through the blood of the lamb- God turns all dedicated service into beautiful and willing sacrifice unto Christ himself.

And such a God is one worth celebrating.

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Violence Isn’t The Only Solution To the Iraqi Genocide

TOPSHOTS-IRAQ-UNREST-ARMY-EXECUTION
ISIS executes members of the Iraqi National Army. Photo from CNN.com

During the Winter War of 1939 & 1940, the entire Finnish population of Karelia, some 422,000, people were evacuated to avoid potential civilian slaughter. In May and June of 1940, Operation Dynamo removed 339,000 British and French troops from Dunkirk, France, shuffling them across the English channel before they were annihilated by oncoming German tanks.

More recently, from August to October of 1990, Air India found its way into the Guinness Book of World Records for the most people evacuated by a civilian airliner. They removed over 111,000 people from Amman to Mumbai via 488 flights over a span of 59 days. In 1999, the Kosovo War resulted in 800,000 refugees sweeping into other parts of Europe and even Israel, where locals opened up their homes and took them in. 

Right now, there’s approximately 40,000 Iraqi civilians facing dire circumstances at the hands of ISIS. The above examples are just a few of the many which prove that humanity is capable much larger evacuations than what it would take to prevent a genocide in Iraq. And yet, America has chosen to continue with it’s standard operating procedure which entails bombing the enemies and dropping a few humanitarian supplies.

And if you take a sweeping glance through social media, you’ll see insurmountable support for the use of violent intervention and the belief that more killing is the only solution to saving the scores of civilians fleeing the wrath of ISIS:

“Kill ISIS!”

“They deserve to be slaughtered like pigs!”

“They (ISIS) need to be fought…with great abandon.” 

But violence is not the answer. It shouldn’t be and it can’t be.

 

Or have we forgotten the wisdom of Martin Luther King Jr?

“Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”

How about Mahatma Gandhi?

“Permanent good can never be the outcome of untruth and violence.”

“There are many causes I would die for. There is not a single cause I would kill for.” - Mahatma Gandhi
“There are many causes I would die for. There is not a single cause I would kill for.” – Mahatma Gandhi

 

Or what of Jesus Christ?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ ‘But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven'” (Matt. 5:43-45)

How about Paul? And the Levitical law?

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:18-19, cf. Duet. 32:35)

Have we forgotten that those who live by the sword will die by the sword? And are we unaware that, in a cruel twist of irony it is often innocent civilians who will die as a casualty as well?

Have we forgotten?

Violence as a solution to violence is like pouring dirty water into a wound in an attempt to prevent infection; it may seem like we’ve accomplished something, but really we’ve made the problem infinitely worse.

After all, as Benjamin Corey and numerous others have pointed out it was the United States’ implementation of violence that put Iraqi Christians in this situation to begin with. When we invaded Iraq and disposed of Saddam Hussein, we created a power vacuum in a dangerously unstable area of the globe. The chaos and frustration the United States experienced when trying to stabilize Iraq were red flags to the endless problems that would await the struggling government upon our withdrawal. History textbooks do not leave one much to hope for what occurs violence precedes power vacuums in unstable areas (do I need to bring up World War I followed by the economic instability of the 1920’s in Europe?). Years before the last Yankee boot left Iraqi soil, shadows of what would follow appeared in reports that conditions for Christians in the country had significantly worsened with the instability brought on by the war. 

And yet, here we are again, calling wrath upon our enemies and refusing to believe that there’s any solution other than violence.

But why isn’t evacuation an option?

Look, I get it. I know it’s not as easy as landing a Boeing 747, opening the door and asking everyone to get in a line according to seat number. Evacuations are difficult, they cost money, they take time and there is a risk that violence might be involved. Plus, where would we take all the refugees? Heaven knows, Americans don’t really like immigrants.

It’d be a messy situation. But don’t pretend dropping bombs isn’t just as messy, just as expensive and just as hazardous. The difference is we don’t deal with the effects of bombs dropping half a world away; our hands don’t get dirty. But if we evacuate refugees to our country, they might.

And that’s my real issue with this whole dilemma. Excuse me for being cynical, but I have to wonder if we actually care about what’s happening to these people, if we actually care enough to find a solution that doesn’t involve the quick and easy ‘kill’ button.

Because, as it stands, we don’t care enough to follow Christ’s command and pray for our enemies, to demand that our government sends our tax dollars towards an something better than just dropping bombs. We don’t care enough to support something like an evacuation, enough to be willing to open up our homes, our towns, and our cities in order to house these people in our own country. The atrocity is on the other side of the world and as long as we drop bombs and take names to lift up in our Sunday morning prayer hour, then that’s where it will stay. Only God, after all, can judge the dead. But we’d actually have to house the living if we evacuated them.

Violence towards ISIS isn’t the only solution to what’s happening in Iraq. We are not helpless save for the option of directing our missiles and hate towards ISIS. There are other options, better options, options that involve praying for the people we really wish were dead, opening up our homes to refugees, opening up our minds to the possibility of taking these people into our country. There are options that involve dropping our weapons and thinking of creative ways in which we might help those in need without more bloodshed and more killing. Things like this has been done numerous times before, so why not now?

There are solutions to the Iraqi genocide that don’t involve violence, solutions that honor Christ.

It’s time we start considering them. It’s time we start caring like Christians.

This past week, the United States started making humanitarian air drops of food and water to refugees stranded in northern regions of Iraq. Photo from NBC.com
This past week, the United States started making humanitarian air drops of food and water to refugees stranded in northern regions of Iraq. Photo from NBC.com