Thursday, September 5, 2013

Non-violence, Just War, and Impossible Questions

Yesterday a church member asked me if I was going to be preaching on the situation in Syria and the President's request that Congress authorize military action against the Assad regime. I told him that I was genuinely unsure of what to say, that I have some very conflicted feelings about what, if anything, can be done to help end the terrible suffering there.

Based on the Facebook and Twitter posts of my friends and colleagues, I seem to be in a minority, at least in the sense that I do not dismiss any possibility of military intervention out of hand. At the risk of getting my liberal credentials revoked, I have to admit that I have considered whether or not notions of "just war" might apply in this case. Not that I have concluded that is the case (as I said, I'm conflicted), but I do find myself wondering whether it is right to stand by as thousands of Syrian civilians die because I believe in peace.

I probably should back up and say that on this last point, the use of chemical weapons is less the "red line" for me. My issue is that some 100,000 have died without America, or anyone else, feeling much need to do anything significant about it. And while there are Christian relief agencies doing difficult and dangerous work with refugees from the Syrian violence, a fair amount of Christian concern only seems to have emerged over the possibility of US intervention.

US intervention might indeed be a fool's errand, one that makes things worse instead of better. But I confess to being a tad suspicious of peacemaking and non-violence that consist of nothing beyond saying "No" to military intervention. Jesus says I must not strike back at the one who strikes me. But that is a witness that I choose to take up. But as a follower of Jesus, what responsibility do I have to those being oppressed and killed by a brutal dictator? Can I appoint them the sufferers who pay the price for my non-violence?

In today's gospel passage, Jesus is led off to be crucified, an event we Christians speak of as being salvific in some way. Jesus, the innocent one, takes up that cross, but what of Syrian children or victims of the Holocaust perpetuated by the Nazis in World War II? And if I have the power to stop such atrocities (by no means a certainty or even likelihood in Syria), is the greater evil to take up military force or to let the deaths continue?

For me these are not rhetorical questions to change the mind of someone reading this. They are the questions I find myself wrestling with, questions for which I have no easy answers, and I am suspicious of those who do. I also have this nagging feeling that my discipleship should be more difficult and costly to me than it is to children in the suburbs of Damascus.

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