What have Christians learned from 9/11? I fear that we have not learned much. And there are a lot of lessons to be learned (feel free to add your own). While the nation may have reasons to defend itself and engage in war, Christians must understand some things that we have not yet grasped.
What Christians still need to learn:
1. We need to trust not in military might but rather in God.
In the wake of the trauma of 9/11, many Christians unquestionably backed a military response, trusting that it will bring us security in a world that has spun out of our control. The shock of 9/11 should have taught us that we are as vulnerable as the rest of the world, and instead of depending on our own military strength, we should have been humbled and forced to trust in God.
“Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,
who rely on horses,
who trust in the multitude of their chariots
and in the great strength of their horsemen,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel,
or seek help from the Lord.” (Isaiah 31:1, see Psalm 20:7)
“It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.” (Psalm 118:8-9)
2. Because of Christ, the “Christian Nation” is a trans-national, supra-national entity; and due to war, the Christian witness in Muslim nations has been devastated.
The Religious Right has perpetuated the myth that America is a Christian nation, that therefore our international policies somehow have the imprimatur of God. However, we must learn that there is no parallel between ancient Israel and the United States (or any other modern nation)—we cannot presume that anything we do as a nation has the direct guidance or blessing of God. We seem to care little about how many missionaries in Muslim nations have had their ministries devastated by war. Christian evangelism is the proclamation to the world of the Prince of Peace, and here is a nation calling itself “Christian” fighting a destructive and questionable war, appearing to care very little about civilian deaths and casualties. Christians and Muslims have a long and ugly history (remember the Crusades and the Serbs in Kosovo!), and the current war on terror is not helping this history.
“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those
who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Isaiah 52:7)
3. Christians need to confess our idolatry.
As the outflow from numbers 1 & 2, we Christians need to confess that we have placed our faith in idols: be it our nation, our government, our president, or our military might. When Christians too readily fly the American flag of nationalism without questioning their nation’s righteousness in its actions, when we presume that our leaders would not sin in their power, when we sacrifice our discernment over to the government’s decision-making, when we seek to fulfill our need for retribution, we are participating in idolatry.
“We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
4. We must rid our thinking of a dualistic attitude to following Christ’s nonviolent model.
Too many Christians seem to think that if they personally turn the other cheek and carry someone’s pack a second mile, they are fulfilling Jesus’ command to not retaliate violence with violence. They think that the Republic that represents them does not have to reflect their individual convictions—that there is a different ethic for governments than the people in that government. However, a consistent Christian ethic would demand that the government that represents us needs to actually represent us! Even if we interpret Romans 13 as giving Rome the use of the sword for the sake of justice and raising taxes, we must admit that the United States is not Rome—our government is elected and is meant to represent us and our values. It’s amazing to me when Christians who want to pass laws banning gay marriage, displaying the Ten Commandments in courtrooms, forcing prayer into public classrooms, and overturning Roe v. Wade do not want a government that seeks to find loving and nonviolent ways to find peace. Nowhere does Jesus or the Old Testament create a dualistic view that separates out individual ethics from the rest of life. Jesus is Lord of all or he is not Lord at all.
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)
5. Whether you are a Christian Pacifist or a supporter of Christian Just War Theory, you must first and foremost acknowledge that Christ came to bring peace.
It seems that often those who seek to justify a war go to “Just War Theory” to do so. But this theory is meant to not justify a war but to find out if a war is “just” or “righteous.” There are specific rules to Just War Theory, and ALL the rules must be met for a war to be just. If a leader is going to say that a war is “just,” he or she has the burden of proof. The presumption of Just War is that we do not want to do violence but that we do want justice in the world. And sometimes in an evil world, war is the only way to arrive at justice. But the overriding principle in our debates about war must be this: Christ wants peace. Period. Anyone advocating for war must prove that war is the only (that’s ONLY!) way to a lasting peace.
When Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem on a donkey, he showed that he was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah:
Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!
Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the war-horses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth. (Zechariah 9:9-10)
6. Before pointing out the evils of our enemies, we must confess our own.
It is difficult for us, when we are so convinced of our own righteousness and so convinced of the evil of our nations’ enemies, to pull the logs out of our own eyes when it comes to international relations—how economics, oil, ideologies, fears, and prejudices have given rise to rationalizations for our actions as a nation. If there is to be a lasting peace, we Christians need to confess to the international world that we have sinned when we defended the use of torture, the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians, and an ideology of "if you're not with us, you’re against us." Until we repent of our nationalism and honestly decide to love our enemies, we are continuing in sin.
“How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:4).
7. We must realize that peace (shalom) is not just the absence of war; peace and justice cannot be separated.
All Christians should be praying for peace (at least as much as we "pray for our troops"). While many Christians on the left have wholeheartedly renounced the war on terror as being contrary to Jesus’ call to be peacemakers, we must remember that in order to make “peace” in an evil world, we may have to use some dreadful means. We may have to take down a Hitler to stop a Holocaust (which we did), or go in and stop a Rwandan Genocide (which we didn't). Peace cannot be found merely by protesting war. We must remember that peace cannot be had without also seeking justice. As there can be no peace while criminals run rampant in our streets, there can be no peace while terrorists can threaten nations. Christians must not sever peace from justice, and we must seek both in an attempt to bring into our violent world the eschatological peace promised in the Messiah.
Justice will dwell in the desert
and righteousness live in the fertile field.
The fruit of righteousness will be peace;
the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.
My people will live in peaceful dwelling places,
in secure homes,
in undisturbed places of rest. (Isaiah 32:16-18).
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