This week, President Donald Trump escalated the United States’ violent presence in the Middle East by launching approximately fifty airstrikes against targets in Syria. The move was in response to an apparent attack by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who used chemical weapons against his own people. Trump cited horrific images of children suffering from the effects of sarin never gas to justify the attack.
This moment is a real test of our convictions, which assert that all war is sinful and that violence is never justified or acceptable, especially acts of war. The Brethren have always held this position, but the greatest challenges to our peace stance always come when it seems like the cost of nonviolence is human rights abuses and violent atrocities. Can you really even claim to be a card-carrying pacifist unless someone has glibly cited the Holocaust to undermine your commitment to nonviolence?
But this challenge is faulty in that it assumes a false dichotomy: either intervene violently or do nothing at all. But who can look at the history of the Brethren objecting to war and claim that those Brethren chose to do nothing, simply because they wouldn’t fight? John Kline didn’t fight in the Civil War, but he did ride thousands of miles in the North and South throughout the war, acting as a physician. When Dan West saw the devastation of the Spanish Civil War, he didn’t advocate for a military intervention; instead, he started the Heifer Project. And Ted Studebaker refused to carry a gun in Vietnam, but he went to Vietnam nonetheless to help rebuild destroyed communities. So too must Brethren respond to the violence they see today in Syria and elsewhere throughout the world. We believe that only nonviolent action will create peace that is sustainable.
Peace requires creative, active, and bold thinking. Most of all, it requires us to think like Jesus, to break out of false dichotomies and find a “third way.” The suffering we see in Syria must motivate us to act. But it is anti-Christ to falsely equate the word “action” with the word “violence.” Instead, it is our task to do what we can in Syria and here in the United States to promote peace without resorting to war. We should support policies that promote peace and diplomatic action on the part of our government and the international community.
Most of all, we must be the church–the hands and feet and heart of Jesus acting in the world today. That means supporting, partnering, and volunteering with relief and human rights organizations. That means welcoming refugees. That means working with Syrians to rebuild their communities and pursue political reform. That means praying and being empowered by the holy spirit to commit ourselves to humble, faithful service.
And while we’re on the subject of false dichotomies, it is not enough to oppose acts of war just because they happen to be committed by Donald Trump. Barack Obama ordered more drone strikes and airstrikes than any other president. For the first time in the entire Trump administration, Democratic lawmakers and the media have praised Trump as “presidential.” What a sick standard, that the mark of a president is how willfully they employ military force. Hours before Trump attacked, Hillary Clinton publicly called for exactly the action he took. And Trump’s critics have mostly knocked him for not seeking congressional approval of the attack, rather than for the attack itself.
War is deeply ingrained in the mainstream ideologies of both political parties. In fact, we might even admit that when it comes to waging war, both parties share one ideology: the supremacy and omnipotence of the American empire. When we subjugate our faith to partisan politics, it is always, always our faith that becomes sullied and compromised. When we try to shoehorn our faith into secular categories like “progressive” vs “conservative,” our faith becomes just that: secular. And when we employ our faith to pursue a partisan agenda, we end up cutting our preferred party a whole lot of slack when they do something contrary to Christ. Ultimately, I am convinced that to politicize faith inevitably leads us to condone war, or at least to be complicit in its commission.
Don’t oppose war because you want to resist Trump. Oppose war because you want to follow Jesus. This is our time to be the church. To speak out against violent policy. To fervently denounce military action. To oppose the militarization of our culture and the weaponization of the mantle of “human rights.” To commit ourselves to the hard, sacrificial, and personal work of building peace. To advocate the “third way” of Jesus, which defies both violence and inaction.