Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Pastor Heather and I have exchanged additional e-mailed thoughts on my column of March 25, Preachers Aren't Politicians, which was posted here along with our earlier e-mailed dialog.

This is the first opportunity I've had to respond to your last e-mail.

The Martin Niemoller quote is one of my favorites. I have cited it myself when dealing with issues of injustice and prejudice. I deem it entirely irrelevant to discussions about the war, though.

Buy the argument or not, the Bush Administration says that its reasons for pressing the war are twofold: (1) To rid Iraq of the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein committed to destroying at the end of the Gulf War; (2) To rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein's regime. France, Germany, Susan Sarandon, everybody seem to agree that these two goals are appropriate. The disagreement comes as to what is the best way to pursue them.

This raises primarily political and not moral questions, as far as I can see. The progression of events Niemoller cites from his experiences in Nazi Germany has nothing to do with the military action being undertaken in Iraq right now. Each side in the argument over the war can and does advance compelling moral arguments for their positions. But ultimately, whether this war is right or not is a political judgment that we must make in a morally ambiguous situation. We each must look at the facts, pray about them, and then, "sin boldly." [The term "sin boldly" was coined by church reformer Martin Luther in the sixteenth century. Luther observed that sometimes when confronted with decisions, our search of Scripture, consultation with trusted counselors, and prayer may still not yield a clear understanding of God's will. It's then, Luther said, that we "sin boldly," trying our best to do what we think is right and trusting God to be forgiving if with right motives, we prove to do the wrong thing.]

As I say, I have opinions about the war and I have expressed them to public officials. Of course, I hope that my political opinions are informed by my Christian moral convictions.

But I believe that it would be totally wrong for me to say that I have the word from on high that this particular war is contrary to God's will or that it's in line with God's will.

It would make it easy for everyone if we could simply say that all war is contrary to God's will. In an ultimate sense, that's true. All war reflects the inability of peoples to share this planet in peace. But we also know, as Luther highlights in his essay on the two kingdoms, that God institutes civil authority as an emergency measure in a fallen world for the purpose of coercing peaceful, civilized behavior from those who don't voluntarily live that way. Luther said that if there weren't governments to enforce civilized behavior on the disorderly, followers of Christ would live as lambs among ravenous wolves. I don't like it that we need armies, navies, and police forces in this world. But I believe that at present, it is God's will that they exist and as citizens, we are then left with the awful freedom to decide if and when they are to be used.

Publicly, I feel that my call as a Pastor is to speak only that Word that God has given me to speak. There are times when it may compel me to speak against the policies of a government, something I have done repeatedly throughout eighteen years as a pastor. But above all, speaking only the Word that God gives me to speak means lifting up Christ so that the Holy Spirit can work in the hearts of believing and unbelieving people and as a result, a reluctant world can voluntarily live under the Lordship of the Prince of Peace.

I hope that this clarifies what I was trying to say, Heather, even if you find it unconvincing.

God bless you, Heather.

Sincerely in Jesus,

Hello Mark,

If I have learned anything in my first three years as a pastor, it is how little I know. I never intended to imply that I have the answer from "from on high" or to misuse the Niemoller quote.

My point in using the Niemoller quote was in response to the larger idea/struggle of when the church and it's pastors, bishops, and other leaders enter the public discourse on a given issue. I was not using the quote to defend Saddam Hussein's regime. (Which, I realize you know but I make that point for the sake of those who may read this on your blog.)

When I speak on this issue, my one point is to call for peace. In the article I wrote, I called for Christians to always speak a word of peace to each other and the world. It is interesting to see how people interpret this message for themselves. I chaired a small planning committee, for the local ministerial assiocation, that put together an Interfaith Candlelight Vigil for Peace on Sunday night, March 23. We shared readings, prayers, and songs all calling for peace. We were careful to create a space were all people of faith, regardless of how they felt about the military action that began days before, would feel comfortable. It was quite a mix of people and view points. But it was an amazing site to see people with pictures of loved ones in the armed forces and serving in Iraq standing next to ardent anti-war protesters. Both with candles in their hands and both praying for peace. The "mixed message" of this peace vigil is highlighted in an article the local newspaper did on the event. I do think it is the right message and best of what religious leaders can do to bridge the gap between those on boths sides of the issue.

It's not that I find your position unconvincing. (I am not convincied of much these days except that "nothing... can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus".) The issue for me is, is this a time and a place for the church (and it's pastors, bishop, leaders) to speak? For you the answer is no but there has been and might again be a time and a place that will compel you (and the church) to speak. For me this is the time and the place for the church to speak as it has in the past and will in the future.

Thank you for your words and willingness to dialogue on this issue. I am listening (and learning) to you and all the other voices in the church. And I know that we are all praying for peace.


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