The world can be a fearsome place, and it can be tempting to selectively choose the parts of Scripture or the Christian tradition that help us feel stronger and more capable of resisting the things that make us afraid. But we must resist the downward pull of moral erosion that is currently transpiring in our society, and hold fast to the things that are timeless and true, the things that have upheld the faithful for 2,000 years, the things that help us reflect the life and way of our Lord Jesus Christ. We must not allow our worries about events and situations in this world to cause us to forsake the things that are eternal. And when we can, we must humbly and graciously use our voices to resist the moral erosion happening around us, so that, come what may, the way of Jesus Christ will be known.
There is now debate among some Christians over matters long considered firmly resolved, such as the responsibility of the faithful to care for refugees and immigrants, whether lying is acceptable, if there are permissible situations for Christians to degrade or demean others, what our obligation is to the poor, and when violence is acceptable. Just this past week one of my fellow ministers in Dallas was quoted as saying that “God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary, including war, to stop evil,” adding that, in the case of the current tension involving North Korea, God has given our President the moral authority to do whatever it takes to “take out” that country’s leader. “That gives the government to the authority to do whatever, whether it’s assassination, capital punishment or evil punishment to quell the actions of evildoers like Kim Jong Un,” he said.
I recognize the enormous complexity of the situation on the Korean peninsula, and I am thankful that the United States has forces ready to defend and protect free and innocent people there. It is not my job, nor my hope, to tell anyone what specific steps our nation should take to ensure peace in that region. But I do feel called to reject any notion that God has given anyone cart blanche moral authority to assassinate, murder, wage war, or do “whatever it takes” to take out a country or its leader. Christians who defend “just war” must still do quite a lot of work to reach the significant hurdles required by this position. And there is no Christian moral position that could reasonably support the use of nuclear weapons. It takes a willful misreading of the New Testament to arrive at such a position, one based on a desire for worldly power rather than obedience to the one who teaches us unequivocally to love our enemies and pray for those who hurt us. For those who strive to align their lives with Christ’s, there is moral clarity in this situation, and it should lead us away from violence as an easy means to an end.
To return to the foundation of traditional Christian morality, we need to read our Bibles, including the oft-manipulated Romans 13 (though we should read it in tandem with Romans 12, not to mention Matthew 5). We need to question any actions that are likely to cause the harm of other human beings, who we, by our Baptismal Covenant, have promised to respect and love. We must resist any effort to make Jesus into a mascot whom we trot out when convenient, rather than the Incarnation of God who reveals to us the way we are all to live. And we must pray: for peace, for wisdom, and for the courage to be faithful to our Lord in these strange and uncertain days.
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP, 815)