Justice

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Justice

Peace Notes for Soldiers of Shalom (Part 13)

January 4, 2017 by

This series explores the biblical vision of peacemaking, what being committed to Jesus’ way of nonviolence might entail, and how we as Christ’s followers can point the world to a peace that is beyond its apprehension and capacity to make. Read previous posts here.


Whether you are a pacifist, activist, citizen, or patriot you are likely against war. I have never personally met anyone who likes the idea, let alone the reality, of war. My military friends tell me they are as much against war as I am. I believe them. They see their mission as peacekeepers. Their aim – so they say – is to prevent war from happening. Only when it is deemed necessary will they fight.

This same attitude prevails among those I’ve known in law enforcement. They see their duty as protecting the public, not hunting down unseemly characters. They want people to feel safe and they are the first to know that guns fired, even when they do the firing, only increase fear, and the chances of more violence.

My hunch is that most people want a peaceful world. We prefer that conflicts be settled long before fists fly. We prefer diplomacy to seeing our sons and daughters deployed to some battlefield. We would rather get along than shoot it out.

a man and young boy outside the rubble of their home in Pakistan

Now if this is true, why do we war as we do? Why are our prisons one of the fastest growing housing industries in America? Why is domestic abuse on the rise? Why are our inner-cities more like war zones instead of bustling centers of urban life and productivity? Why do we spend 70% more than the next five nations combined on our military? Why are we as a nation so bent on flexing “armed” muscles in so many areas of the world?

In his book, Engaging the Powers, Walter Wink cogently argues that western culture is deeply committed to what he calls the myth of redemptive violence. We want peace, but plan for war and get it. We’re under the illusion that violence, along with measure of force and coercion, if applied appropriately and with the right motives, has the power to bring about social redemption.

So perhaps we are a violent race. We want peace, but can’t help viewing the world and others unlike us in terms of conquest. We are enigmas, fallen from God’s grace, longing for a better world yet wired to see conflict in terms of winning and losing, having and not having, us vs. them, good guys and bad. I’d like to believe that such polarities are not inevitable, and that through Christ’s power we can overcome our propensity to fight back. Alas, my reading of history, including church history, tells me things aren’t that simple.


We want peace, but can’t help viewing the world and others unlike us in terms of conquest. We are enigmas, fallen from God’s grace, longing for a better world yet wired to see conflict in terms of winning and losing. . .


I’m not sure why we who call ourselves followers of the Prince of Peace war like everybody else. Chalk it up to lack of faith, to biblical illiteracy, to fear, to selfishness, to injustice, to the fleshly desire for power, or to our perceived duty to protect innocent lives at all costs. The fact remains: despite our abhorrence of killing and dismay over war, despite our avowed convictions that Christ’s will and way is one of peace, we too easily justify the use of the sword.

By sword I don’t only mean a howitzer. In subtle and not so subtle ways, we are not only prone to defend ourselves but find all kinds of ways to “do others in” or “get even” whenever they make life difficult for us. We threaten, cajole, sue, report, file complaints, gossip, call the police, divorce, rage, kick and scream, and readily perform other counter-moves to keep those we don’t like away.

When we say we want peace or that we are against war I wonder if we really don’t mean we just want order. As long as our self-interests are being served, we cry “Peace, peace!” We act decently towards others so long as they don’t disturb our equilibrium. As long as no one challenges our turf, be it intellectual, relational, economic, or physical in nature, we are nonviolent. But once we feel threatened, once our domain is crossed, we fight back.

I think one reason why we do this is that we find it difficult, if not impossible, to visualize any other way of securing justice and fighting evil. The stories we tell ourselves and what we imagine is possible limit and distort what we think we can and ought to do.


When we say we want peace I wonder if we really don’t mean we just want order. We act decently towards others so long as they don’t disturb our equilibrium. But once we feel threatened, we fight back.


We all know stories of violence. We study wars. We preoccupy ourselves with murders and atrocities. We inhabit virtual worlds obsessed with violence, of eliminating bad guys by destroying them. But while we fill our imaginations with stories of death, we forget to tell ourselves and one another the stories of those who have courageously and nonviolently advanced good in the world. I can’t help but think of one story that dates back to the gladiator fights.

In Rome in AD 402 the gladiator fights had been part of Roman life for almost 700 years. I suspect that most Romans thought there would always be gladiator fights – just as today many people think there will always be war and conflict. Some Romans objected to the fights. Emperor Honorius closed the gladiator schools. Yet, the fights persisted.

At this time, Rome was officially Christian. Telemachus, a monk who probably lived outside of Rome, was known as a holy man so most likely he prayed about the gladiator fights, wondering if there was some way he could help end them. We can only imagine that he wanted to give witness to God’s love, especially to the slaves trained to fight as gladiators. Telemachus knew he might be killed, and despite this, he walked into the arena and right up to the gladiators, the crowd becoming furious. They began to throw things at Telemachus. They were ready for a kill. Very likely, a guard pushed Telemachus away. And possibly, Telemachus fell. But, we can imagine him getting up and turning to the crowd to say, “These men are the children of God. They were not born to kill. They were born to love.”

Now, the crowd was even angrier. I have read several different versions of what happened next. In one, a soldier gave a guard an order; a sword flashed and Telemachus lay dead. In another, the crowd stoned Telemachus to death. And in the third, the crowd tore him apart. However Telemachus was killed that day, we can imagine the crowd suddenly (or maybe finally) becoming silent. What had happened? A man of God lay dead. What had Telemachus tried to tell them? Whatever it was, that was the last gladiatorial fight ever fought.

Today, whenever we feel compelled to deploy troops and drop bombs to ensure justice and freedom, we should remember that what we deem necessary or inevitable may be anything but. Maybe we need to revisualize our violent attempts to rid the world of terrorists and jihadists, and like Telemachus wage peace in the world. Perhaps we can allow imaginations and habits to recondition our visceral responses so that when violence and hatred erupts, we can, in the name of Christ’s redeeming love, rise above the fray and bring healing and hope, tending to the wounds of fear and despair which otherwise fester and explode into violence.


Maybe we need to revisualize our violent attempts to rid the world of terrorists and jihadists, and like Telemachus wage peace in the world.


Perhaps we will allow many other stories of nonviolence to shape our imaginations, stories like that of the Danes during WWII and how through nonviolence they resisted the Nazis until they finally dragged their unfinished warships back to Germany, as they could not make the Danes do the work. Perhaps we will retell stories of the African Americans and of the South Africans who found nonviolent ways to end segregation and apartheid. Perhaps we will recall how in 1989, thirteen nations comprising over a million and a half people experienced nonviolent revolutions that succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. All this and more has happened, and all in the teeth of the assertion, endlessly repeated, that the way of nonviolence is but a pipedream.

We will not only know the story of Telemachus, and other such stories, but as believers in Christ we will live them out in our daily lives, forgiving one another, forgoing our right to get even, ridding our homes and screens of speech and images that breed revenge and retaliation, and forsaking the pleasures of this world which empty us of the habits that build integrity, character, fortitude, and self-control. Stories of forgiveness, like those of Nickle Mines or Charleston, will define us, for our identity is in Christ; he is our peace and through him the plan of God to reconcile all things is unfolding right in our midst. We will testify to how love of enemy, doing good to those who seek us harm, not only breaks the cycle of violence but frees them from the burden of carrying consequent shame and guilt.

The question for believers in Christ concerning war is not, “Should war be eliminated?’ That is a false question. The question to us is rather, “Are we soldiers of shalom?” In all that we do and say and are, can it be said of us that we are followers of the Prince of Peace? This is a very personal question, and one that demands a conscience that is honest.


In all that we do and say and are, can it be said of us that we are followers of the Prince of Peace? This is a very personal question, and one that demands a conscience that is honest.


When William Penn became a convinced Quaker, he did not immediately give up wearing a sword. One day he was in the company of George Fox and asked his advice about this. Penn explained to him that his sword had once saved his life without injury to his attacker. He also reminded Fox that at one point Jesus commanded his disciples to buy a sword. George Fox answered, “I advise thee to wear it as long as thou canst.” Not long after this they met again, but this time Penn had no sword. Fox was surprised and asked him, “William, where is thy sword?” “Oh!” he said, “I have taken thy advice; I wore it as long as I could.”

This anecdote illustrates how important personal conviction is. Jesus’ way of peace is not a moral principle; rather it is a way of being in the world. As participants in the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), we who are convinced that the cross is the center of the universe believe that war and killing have been eliminated because suffering love is the ultimate answer to evil; we are those who participate in God’s history which will, through the blood of the Lamb, overcome the world. The miracle we call the church, the body of Christ, is, as Stanley Hauerwas puts it, “God’s sign that war is not part of his providential care of the world.” Our task is to boldly witness to that fact.

The church does not have something to say about war so much as the church is what God has said about war. The church does not have an alternative to war; the church is our alternative to war. That is why we offer the world not simply moral advice designed to make war less destructive, but rather a witness to God’s invitation to join a community that is so imaginative, so rich in its history, that it gives us the means to resist the temptation to give our loyalties to those that would use them for war.


I’m not done yet; I’ll continue these thoughts in two weeks – check back then for more!

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About the author

Charles E. Moore

Charles E. Moore

Charles E. Moore and his wife Leslie live in Denver, CO, where they form a small house community with friends and visitors...

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