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Our news media is right now filled with reports and speculations concerning what the army calls “foreign underwater activity” in the Stockholm archipelago. Foreign media like the Guardian and ABC News have also reported on the story, making comparisions with how the Swedish navy were constantly looking for Soviet submarines during the Cold War (and, from time to time, found some). The Swedish military has not conformed that the underwater activity is either a submarine or Russian, but this is what most analysts seem to believe, and several military experts fear that Russia is either spying on Sweden’s defense capacity, or even preparing for war.
“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.” (Mt 24:6)
Just two months ago, Sweden celebrated 200 years of peace. While we do have sent troops to Afghanistan and other places under UN flag, and while we are one of the world’s primary weapon exporters, there has not been a war on Swedish soil for two centuries (it should also be mentioned that Sweden sold iron to Hitler during World War Two to avoid Germany to hit us).
About a month ago, Charisma News published an article called “Why I Am Absolutely Islamaphobic” by Gary Cass as an op-ed. The article is now removed since quite a lot of people were upset over the fact that Cass wants to steralize, deport and kill Muslims. You can still view the article on Cass’ website, and it’s not a pleasent reading. He collectively describes all Muslims as potential mass murders and says that there are only three “solutions” to the Muslim problem:
- Conversion to Christianity,
- “D.A.M.N.: Depart All Muslims Now.” (his words) or;
Cass immediately rules out option 1 because, in his opinion “History does not record a mighty move of God in saving masses of Muslims. I believe the scriptures militate against mass Muslim conversions.” Which means that he wants us to depart all Muslims, and wage war against them. “First trust in God, then obtain a gun(s), learn to shoot, teach your kids the Christian doctrines of just war and self defense.”
Oh, did I mention that he wants to “force them all to get sterilized” as well?
As a charismatic Christian, I think it’s totally unacceptable that Charisma lets this awful, hateful piece of shit on their website, and I think that they are extremely weak and cowardly to not issue an apology or any other sort of comment to the fact that the article is now removed. Cass’ Christian Islamophobia is one of the most extreme I’ve seen, but it’s unfortunately not rare in charismatic and evangelical circles nowadays to hear hate, prejudice and xenophobia towards Muslims. In my country, the racist party Sweden Democrats grew tremendously in the latest election, and since they build their politics on Islamophobia it has become more common these days that Christians dare to express hostility towards Muslims more clearly than before.
This article is part of a Synchro-Blog by the MennoNerds to express responses to the violence in Iraq, specifically answering the question: How do non-violent, peace-making Christians respond to the violence in Iraq both by ISIS and by the nations attacking ISIS. Go here to read all the articles.
The conflict in Iraq is escalating and the United Nations is now warning that the Islamic State, more commonly known as ISIS, may perform a genocide against minorities like Christians and Yazidis. To prevent this, US forces are bombing ISIS militants, France is supporting Kurdish militias and voices are being heard that a new Western invasion in Iraq is necessary. I have also noticed a rise of islamophobia among Christians here in Sweden, since friends of mine have said that this shows the true face of Islam and that Muslims must be restricted to come to Europe.
ISIS is totally mad, their violent fundamentalism is very dangerous and their behaviour is as far from Jesus’ teaching about non-violence and enemy love that you can go. When I read about them I see many parallells to militias like M23 and the Lord’s Resistance Army in central Africa that I have studied in my peace and development studies. They behead civilians, rape women and want to create their own fundamentalist state.
And just like the conflicts in Congo or Uganda, it’s hard to point out the good guys. There are many reasons people think that this applies to the American forces – they’re trying to save lives while ISIS want to kill entire minorities, they are democratic while ISIS are fundamentalists, they are somewhat Christians while ISIS are militant islamists. But remember that American forces have killed over 120 000 civilian Iraqis since 2003.
Ten years ago, John Piper held a sermon on Israel, Palestine and the Middle East. It was a hot topic then and may be an even more hot topic now, and I really recommend you to read it. It may not be any convincing for Jews themselves, since they don’t believe in the New Testament, but Piper gives a good case why Christians should not think that Israel has to occupy Gaza and the West Bank in order for Jesus to come back, but instead support a solution that secures the safety and peace of both Israelis and Palestinians, no matter how the borders look like. Below, I qoute point 3-5 from Piper’s seven-point sermon:
3. The promises made to Abraham, including the promise of the Land, will be inherited as an everlasting gift only by true, spiritual Israel, not disobedient, unbelieving Israel.
This was the point of Romans 9. When Paul grieved over the lostness of so many Jews who were rejecting Jesus and were perishing, he said in verses 6-7, “It is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring.” In other words, the promises cannot be demanded by anyone just because he is Jewish. Jewish ethnicity has a place in God’s plan, but it is not enough to secure anything. It does not in itself qualify a person to be an heir of the promise to Abraham and his offspring. Romans 9:8 says it clearly: “It is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” Being born Jewish does not make one an heir of the promise—neither the promise of the Land nor any other promise.
This was plain in the Old Testament, and it was plain the teachings of Jesus (which we will see under truth #4). For example, in the terrible list of curses that God promised to bring on the people if they broke his covenant and forsook him was this: “ And as the Lord took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you. And you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of it” (Deuteronomy 28:63 ). Throughout the history of Israel, covenant breaking and disobedience and idolatry disqualified Israel from the present divine right to the Land. (See also Daniel 9:4-7 ; Psalm 78:54-61 .)
I involuntarily get a lot of updates from the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in my social media feeds, since I follow other Christians and some of them think it’s godly to share and retweet war propaganda (frankly, that’s what military forces’ public messages are, per definition). IDF regularly updates how many rockets are being fired from Gaza and how far they reach, but not so often what destruction these rockets cause. And this is of course because most of them either miss or get shot down. Whenever they hit something though, IDF immediately shares it on Twitter:
Well… it sure sucks for those people living there, but personally, I wouldn’t kill 200 children because of that. IDF started “Operation Pillar of Defense” before one single person had been killed by the Palestinian rockets. During the conflict though, three Israeli civilians have unfortunately been killed, and IDF could provide some more disturbing images: (more…)
Christianity is a pacifist religion. Most of the early church fathers wrote that Christians should not kill or join the military, and the idea of “just wars” first developed in the late fourth century, after Constantine’s reforms. The ante-Nicaene church was to a large extent a non-violent church. This was clearly shown already in 1919 when John Cadoux pubished his book The Early Christian Attitude to War, which is now available online. The research has been updated with Ron Sider’s book The Early Church on Killing, which was published last year. But only by looking at quotes from early church fathers, we see that these saints were far from the war-waging right-wing Christians that unfortunately are quite influential in the public debate today:
Justin Martyr wrote in 160 AD:
“We ourselves were well conversant with war, murder, and everything evil, but all of us throughout the whole wide earth have traded in our weapons of war. We have exchanged our swords for ploughshares, our spears for farm tools. Now we cultivate the fear of God, justice, kindness to men, faith, and the expectation of the future given to us by the Father himself through the Crucified One.” (Dialogue with Trypho 110.3.4)
Tatian (dead c. 185), Justin’s disciple, wrote:
“I do not wish to be king, I don’t want to be rich, I reject military service. I hate adultery”(The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Vol. II, reprint 1979, p. 69)
Athenagoras (133-190) wrote:
“What, then, are these teachings in which we are reared? ‘I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven, who makes his sun to shine on the evil and on the good, and sends his rain on the just and on the unjust . . . Who [of the pagan philosophers] have so purified their own hearts as to love their enemies instead of hating them; instead of upbraiding those who first insult them (which is certainly more usual), to bless them; and to pray for those who plot against them? . . . With us, on the contrary, you will find unlettered people, tradesmen and old women, who, though unable to express in words the advantages of our teaching, demonstrate by acts the value of their principles. For they do not rehearse speeches, but evidence good deeds. When struck, they do not strike back; when robbed, they do not sue; to those who ask, they give, and they love their neighbours as themselves . . . We . . . cannot endure to see a man being put to death even justly.” (Legatio 11, 34-35 (Athens, 175))
As the conflict in Israel and Gaza is going on, conservative Christian friends of mine are posting videos and images that tell the message that everything is Hamas fault while Israel only defends itself, that Hamas wants to kill civilians and use them as human shields while Israel actively tries to avoid hurting civilians, that Hamas wants war while Israel wants peace, that Hamas is evil while Israel is good. Over and over again I hear that if Hamas lays down its weapons, there will be peace, but if Israel does it all Israelis will be killed. One Christian friend told me that Israel is righteous while Hamas has a demonic, Nazi spirit.
Now, there are indeed big differences between Hamas and Israel. Hamas is a fundamentalist organization where there is a lot of antisemitism and hatred, and they do indeed target civilians and use them as human shields. But to blame everything on them and nothing on Israel, is not a true portrait of reality. Israel has done attrocities (for example, the use of human shields) and many of them are on a structural level: the settlements, not letting enough goods through to Gaza in order to stop the humanitarian crisis, breaking international humanitarian law over and over again, etc.
And in the conflict, it is the Palestinians that suffer and die the most. People that are pro-Israel often point out how many rockets Hamas is firing into Israel, but they are often quite silent about the fact that very few die from them. During operation Cast Lead in 2009, 1391 Palestinians died and 5 Israelis. More than half of the killed Palestinians were civilians, while all five of the killed Israelis were soldiers. In the current conflict between Hamas and Israel, over 100 Palestinians have died and 77% of them are civilians. (more…)
Iraq is experiencing renewed conflicts since rebels have taken control over Mosul, the country’s second largest city, and are now heading for Baghdad. Civilians are dying and suffering and we are probably witnessing the start of a new humanitarian crisis in the Middle East. As we all know, Iraq has experienced the horrors of war in over a decade, and the Western invasion obviously hasn’t created stability and peace but on the contrary, it has increased conflict and instability. But the rulers of this world are simple-minded and violent, so don’t get surprised if political and military leaders will argue once again for more war in Iraq as a response to the problem with war in Iraq.
We Christians belong to another Kingdom though and it’s our responsibility to love our enemies and speak life and hope into violent and hateful hearts. This is the goal of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). CPT were created when Ron Sider spoke in the 1984 World Mennonite Conference about the need of active Christian pacifists that not just refuse to use violence but actually establishes peace through active non-violence. He said:
Those who have believed in peace through the sword have not hesitated to die. Proudly, courageously, they gave their lives. Again and again, they sacrificed bright futures to the tragic illusion that one more righteous crusade would bring peace in their time. For their loved ones, for justice, and for peace, they have laid down their lives by the millions.
Why do we pacifists think that our way — Jesus’ way — to peace will be less costly? Unless we Mennonites and Brethren in Christ are ready to start to die by the thousands in dramatic vigorous new exploits for peace and justice, we should sadly confess that we really never meant what we said. We did, of course, in earlier times. In previous centuries, we died for our convictions. But today we have grown soft and comfortable. We cling to our affluence and our respectability.
Unless comfortable North American and European Mennonites and Brethren in Christ are prepared to risk injury and death in nonviolent opposition to the injustice our societies foster and assist in Central America, the Philippines, and South Africa, we dare never whisper another word about pacifism to our sisters and brothers in those desperate lands. Unless we are ready to die developing new nonviolent attempts to reduce international conflict, we should confess that we never really meant the cross was an alternative to the sword. Unless the majority of our people in nuclear nations are ready as congregations to risk social disapproval and government harassment in a clear ringing call to live without nuclear weapons, we should sadly acknowledge that we have betrayed our peacemaking heritage. Making peace is as costly as waging war. Unless we are prepared to pay the cost of peacemaking, we have no right to claim the label or preach the message.
As the election to the European Parliament gets closer, I want to highlight some of the biggest European sins that unfortunately are not very present in the political debates.
It is finally time to end this series. It has been a bit risky to focus so extensively on Europe on a blog with readers from all around the world, but I hope you have seen that these seven deadly sins are relevant to know about for most people. For my readers in the majority world (Africa, Asia and Latin America): I want you to know that I am strongly opposed to the neo-colonialism, environmental destruction and activist sloth of my continent that hurt you countries so badly, which is why I try to highlight this now that there is an election to the European Parliament. And for my readers in non-European rich countries: I hope you realize that these deadly sins are present in you countries as well, unfortunately.
Anyways, let us turn to the final sin: wrath, or anger. Our good ol’ friend New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia simply defines it as “The desire of vengeance… It becomes sinful when it is sought to wreak vengeance upon one who has not deserved it, or to a greater extent than it has been deserved, or in conflict with the dispositions of law, or from an improper motive. The sin is then in a general sense mortal as being opposed to justice and charity.” We have already seen how Europe kills non-European through lack of aid or by destroying the climate, but Europe also executes violent wrath in a much more direct way: through selling arms to dictatorships and countries at war.
Compared to its American cousin in the Wild West, Europe often portrays itself as a much more peaceful and friendly part of the world. But historically, Europe has been an extremely violent country, with hundreds of wars that have changed the borders of European countries over and over again. And of course, Europe was the main playgrounds for the two of the most bloody wars in history: the first and second world war. Thankfully, this violent era ended with the creation of the European Union. Increased trade and diplomacy has made Europe a much more peaceful place than ever before.
So if it wasn’t bad enough that we almost got a new war in Europe – something that thankfully looks less probable today compared to last weekend – for the first time since World War Two there are Nazis in a European government. And because of the enormous threat of mother Russia this has been so supressed in the media flow that many people don’t even know that Ukraine’s temporary government include five neo-Nazis, that for instance occupy the ministry of defense. Not to say that the threat from mother Russia is something to play with, but the same is true for neo-Nazis who control the Ukrainian army, and I think we need a broader picture fo the situation to condemn violence and stupidity from both parties.
During the Soviet era millions of Ukrainians starved to death because of Joseph Stalin’s agricultural reforms. Stalin also made sure that Russians migrated to Ukraine and other satellite republics in the USSR to control them. Today, around one third of Ukrainians speak Russian and 17 % identify themselves as ethnically Russian, most of them living in eastern Ukraine or on Crimea.
After the fall of Soviet Ukraine has been one of those countries that has had a hard decision in choosing to be either Western or Eastern, or neither, or both, or in-between. Generally, people in western Ukraine likes to be Western, and vice versa. As we all know, the guy who used to be president until a week ago, Viktor Janukovych, was pro-Russian and declined to sign a treaty with the EU, which made pro-Western citizens in Kiev very angry and they protested aggresively, the police answered violently, people died and finally Janukovych fled to mother Russia.
Yesterday was the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day that feels extremely important to remember in xenophobic Europe of today. As Spain is going fascist, the neo-Nazi “Christian” party Jobbik has 12% of seats in the Hungarian parliament and islamophobia is growing rapidly, many are afraid that the economic crisis will throw Europe back to a similar state like the 1930’s. The period when Adolf Hitler gained power.
There is a great number of extremely simplistic solutions to how the second world war would have been prevented, the most common is probably to kill Hitler as a child. I cannot count how many times I’ve heard people dream about this “what if” scenario. Not long ago it was discovered that Hitler actually almost died as a child when he fell through the ice, but a friend, who later became a priest, saved him. The Daily Mail called it “the most devastating act of mercy in history”.
But of course, Adolf’s soul was darkened not because of mercy but because of lack thereof. The upcoming genocide in the Central African Republic won’t be stopped by people who let children die but by people who save them. Our culture is so dipped in a logic of death that we think the best way to stop a murderer is to kill him, that the best way to stop the Holocaust was to kill civilians in German cities, that the best way to stop the war against Japan was to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people with nuclear bombs.
What jobs can Christians have? Many would probably answer “all, because Christians should spread the light everywhere” but that would be an overstatement. Should Christians for example be prostitutes? Even if Jesus never said “Don’t be a prostitute”, we understand from the Biblical ethics that prostitution is not a very suitable Christian workmanship. In the early church, the Apostolic Tradition from 215 AD lists prostitution as a non-Christian job, along with some other very interesting occupations:
If someone is a gladiator, or one who teaches those among the gladiators how to fight, or a hunter who is in the wild beast shows in the arena, or a public official who is concerned with gladiator shows, either he shall cease, or he shall be rejected. If someone is a priest of idols, or an attendant of idols, he shall cease or he shall be rejected. A military man in authority must not execute men. If he is ordered, he must not carry it out. Nor must he take military oath. If he refuses, he shall be rejected. If someone is a military governor, or the ruler of a city who wears the purple, he shall cease or he shall be rejected. The catechumen or faithful who wants to become a soldier is to be rejected, for he has despised God. (Apostolic Tradition 16:7-11)
According to the early church, Christians shouldn’t be gladiators, soldiers or governor. Ron Sider has written more about this in his book The Early Church on Killing. Even “rulers of a city” is ruled out. They kill and hurt people as well, indirectly. The political power is power through violence. The early Anabaptists and the early Pentecostals rejected political power for the same reason as the early Christians: they wanted to change society through love and the Holy Spirit, not by force or swords.
I was raised in the Lutheran Church of Sweden, the biggest church in my country, formerly state-church, with around seven million members of whom 85 % according to a recent poll don’t believe in Jesus. When I was saved in 2006, Martin Luther was one of my spiritual heroes. As I read the Scriptures and compared it to Catholicism I realized that they had added a lot of stuff that Jesus and the apostles never talked about, and I thought Luther was one of the first to realize that and to resurrect the original Gospel. Arguing that Scripture should be the only source to theology and pointing at Paul’s emphasis on justification by faith and grace, he criticized the unbiblical Catholic indulgence and several unbiblical doctrines. I thought Luther was awesome.
As I learned more about Luther and Lutheranism however, I started to realize that perhaps he wasn’t entirely biblical either. In fact, he changed the order of biblical books according to his personal opinion, placing the letter of James, one of my favourite biblical books, last because it didn’t make sense with his interpretation of sola fide. And he was a quite violent man, justifying wars, capital punishment, persecution against Jews and execution of Anabaptists. In fact, as I discovered the existance of Anabaptists and their radical, pacifist Jesus-centered theology, I realized that Luther was not the only one protesting against Catholic errors, and far from the best.
I hope to return to my criticism of Luther in a future post, but right now I want to turn to the Augsburg Confession, one of the most important Lutheran documents that actually is one of the primary faith documents of the Church of Sweden, in line with the Nicene Creed. It’s a really weird document. It starts like this:
Most Invincible Emperor, Caesar Augustus, Most Clement Lord: Inasmuch as Your Imperial Majesty has summoned a Diet of the Empire here at Augsburg to deliberate concerning measures against the Turk, that most atrocious, hereditary, and ancient enemy of the Christian name and religion, in what way, namely, effectually to withstand his furor and assaults by strong and lasting military provision…
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore. (Micah 4:3)
A soldier of the civil authority must be taught not to kill men and to refuse to do so if he is commanded, and to refuse to take an oath. If he is unwilling to comply, he must be rejected for baptism. A military commander or civic magistrate must resign or be rejected. If a believer seeks to become a soldier, he must be rejected, for he has despised God. — Hippolytus of Rome
Ron Sider is one of the most influential activist theologians in the Western church; his 1977 book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger has been read by over 400 000 people and has been ranked as one of the top 50 books that have shaped evangelicals by Christianity Today. This same magazine has now made an interview with Sider because of the publication of his new book The Early Church on Killing: A Comprehensive Sourcebook on War, Abortion, and Capital Punishment.
As the title suggests, Sider looks at the writings from the church fathers and other early Christian documents to see what they thought about killing. And as we previously have written on this blog, he found that they were pacifists. They were against all forms of killing; war, abortion and capital punishment – which should confuse the traditional left-right political paradigm a lot.
Just war-proponents sometimes argue that the reason most church fathers argued that Christians shouldn’t join the military was that idolatry was so common in the Roman army. This, Sider says, is not true:
Their most frequent statement is that killing is wrong. Killing a human being is simply something that Christians don’t do, and they’ll cite the Micah passage or Jesus’ “love your enemies” to support that. But the clear statement that Christians don’t kill is the foundation.
The most frequently stated reason that Christians didn’t join the army and go to war is that they didn’t kill. But it’s also true that in Tertullian, for example, idolatry in the Roman army is a second reason for not joining the military. But it’s not true that idolatry is the primary or exclusive reason that the early Christians refused to join the military. More often they just say killing is wrong.