Rather than “smoking guns” and military timetables, our government needs to take initiatives that offer alternatives to war.

Fundamentalist preacher Bob Jones, president of Bob Jones University, answered that Jesus met a Roman centurion and never rebuked him for being a warrior. Then Jones added that Jesus knew war and rumors of wars will be with us until the end times.

When Church of Christ preacher Max Lucado was asked, “What do you think Christ would have said today?” Lucado skipped the Gospels and turned to the Pauline idea that God-ordained government meant Americans should trust those in authority.
“According to Romans 13, the government and those in authority are really ministers appointed by heaven to protect and to punish,” said Lucado, who repeatedly emphasized the need to trust government leaders.

John MacArthur, a conservative preacher, said “We need to go back to the Bible and see what the Bible actually says.”
“In the Old Testament, God tells Israel to go to war against Amalek, tells Saul to go in there and destroy the Amalekites because they were a blight on humanity,” MacArthur said. “God told the children of Israel to go into the land, destroy the Canaanites.”

He also cited Jesus telling his disciples that one should sell his garment to buy a sword (Lk 22:36). “He [Jesus] knew there would be persecution and he knew that could go to a level of someone endeavoring to take their life,” said MacArthur. “And [he] told them, Get a sword because you may have to protect yourself.”

Only United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert quoted from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.”

The Christian leaders on “Larry King Live” offered a variety of perspectives, reflecting different approaches to interpreting the Bible and applying the biblical witness to a tough issue. Clearly, some approaches were more palatable than others.

For months now, conservative Christians have boiled about the widespread opposition to war within the global Christian community. Some of these conservative Christians have a holy crusade ethic; others see the conflict in eschatological terms. All want Jesus on their side, but can’t figure out how to squeeze him into their camp.

So, they justify war by citing accounts where Yahweh told Israel to slaughter this or that tribe, as if the United States represented a modern-day Israel with a divine command to destroy Iraqis.

Or they cite Romans 13:1-7, where Paul wrote that Christians should be subject to governing authorities who do “not bear the sword in vain.” Of course, the passage never mentions war.

One of the most extreme arguments for Jesus’ support for war was made by Joseph Loconte, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He painted Jesus as a warrior.

Writing in a New York Times column, Loconte criticized so-called liberal religious leaders who claim Jesus practiced love of neighbor, which meant he would oppose an attack on Iraq. Loconte argued that Jesus favored violence as evidenced by his cleansing the temple with a whip.

Never mind the sizeable leap one must make from Jesus’ whip of reeds to precision guided missiles, from Jesus forcing the money-changers out to taking the lives of innocent children.

When folk want Jesus on their pre-existing, ideological side, they don’t hesitate to take biblical texts out of context for proof texts.

Fortunately, Jesus’ teachings offer us a third way, beyond the common, albeit false, images of Jesus as either a passive figure unfit for the harsh realities of life or a warrior prince against evil.

The third way is the transforming initiative. It recognizes that Jesus knew about the gritty realities of conflict and sought strategies to get folk out of dead-end paths.

Jesus taught his followers to take initiatives that shake up hostile situations, creating an opportunity for goodwill. He told his followers to “make friends quickly with your accuser,” “love your enemies,” “pray for those who persecute you” and “give to him who begs.”

He urged his followers to go the second mile to alter the relationship with Roman soldiers who had the right to force Jews to carry their military packs for one mile. After all, carrying a pack a second mile surely created different attitudes—Roman gratitude and Jewish empowerment.

In other words, transform the situation with surprising and more effective tools.

When Clarence Jordan, the forerunner of Habitat for Humanity and a Southern Baptist biblical scholar, was confronted in rural Georgia due to his opposition to war, he asked his accuser: “You see that mule over there? Well, if that mule bit you, you wouldn’t bite it back, would you?”

The farmer replied, “I’d hit him with a two-by-four.”

Agreeing, Jordan said, “You wouldn’t let that mule set the level of your encounter with him. You would get a weapon a mule couldn’t use and knock his brains out. That’s what Christians are supposed to do—they are supposed to use weapons of love and peace and goodwill, weapons that the enemy can’t handle.”

Like Jesus, Jordan refused to respond to evil with evil.

So far, conservative Christians and the Bush administration are mule-biting. They are responding to Saddam Hussein the way Hussein treats his enemies. They are letting him set the tone for the encounter.

Surely, someone in the White House can think outside the military box about solutions that alter the relationship between the United States and Iraq.

Rather than “smoking guns” and military timetables, our government needs to take initiatives that offer alternatives to war.

Perhaps without realizing it, President Bush took one such initiative when he dropped the phrase “axis of evil.” Another step would be to stop saying “time is running out.” Backing off of ultimatums might help the nations of the world to think more clearly and allow creative ideas to emerge.

A Christian delegation that met on Feb. 18 with Prime Minister Tony Blair put forth some workable ideas that emulate Jesus’ strategy of transforming initiatives.

“What would Jesus do about war with Iraq?” is a practical question that affords a realistic road map—not to justify pre-existing political loyalties, but to change the level of encounter with Iraq.

Robert M. Parham is the executive director of the
Baptist Center for Ethics.

Read Just Peacemaking: Transforming Initiatives for Justice and Peace and Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War, both by Glen Stassen.

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