Monday, July 05, 2010

Blogging the Assembly, Day 2

I heard this story today: in March of 2003, on the eve of the American invasion of Iraq, the session of a Presbyterian church in Iowa was meeting. The pastor asked elders to share their thoughts on the simple question, “what would Jesus do?” As they went around the circle, one elder became increasingly agitated. When it was his turn to speak he said, “if you’re asking me if Jesus would drive a tank into Bagdad, then my answer is no. But Jesus would be wrong!”
That story underscores for me one face of the faithlessness that plagues our nation. We really do not believe in the power of Jesus Christ to transform lives. We really do not trust in the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit to have real power in the real world to bring us even one hour closer to the reign of God’s shalom.
I saw this car yesterday just covered with bumper stickers. One in particular caught my eye. It read, “atheism is the cure to religious terrorism.” Needless to say, I found the sentiment off putting, atheism being its own peculiar brand of religious intolerance.
And I thought, no, for us Christians, the nonviolent way of Jesus is the cure – the only effective response to the violence of terrorism and every other form of violence from the personal and local to the regional or global.
In the Confession of 1967, our Presbyterian forebears spoke a prophetic word calling the church to commend to the nations the way of nonviolence. As the Confession states, “The church, in its own life, is called to practice the forgiveness of enemies and to commend to the nations as practical politics the search for cooperation and peace […] even at risk to national security.”
A lot has changed in the 43 years since that confession, but the timeless charge to be ambassadors for Christ in his ministry of reconciliation has only grown more urgent in a world awash in violence. Just yesterday there was another suicide bombing in Baghdad and a bomb scare that briefly closed New York’s Kennedy Airport. Day before yesterday there was a murder about 8 or 10 blocks from I am right now – the 25th murder this year in Minneapolis.
I can’t help but hear Jesus saying, “enough of this. Put away your swords.”
If we are to be the body of Christ in the world, then it must be us who says, “enough of this. Put away your swords. And your guns. And your bombs.”
To say that with power and authenticity we must learn to live it in our own lives. It is not enough merely to say – or even to sing – we ain’t gonna study war no more, we must also begin to study the nonviolent way of Jesus, and to listen, anew, for Christ’s call to us to be peacemakers.
Our church, through an overture that is under consideration here this week, is inviting the whole church into just such study and discernment. We want to have a conversation similar to that which the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity invited us into a few years back; this time around the practice of nonviolence and its implications for our common life, including asking ourselves challenging questions about our own theology of war and our participation in it.
My church sits less than two miles from the Pentagon, and some of our members are connected to the defense establishment one way or another. We also live and work in Metro DC, often called the murder capital of the world. So this is very real to us.
We do not wish to see the creation of a limited study group that would bring to some future assembly a position paper to be voted up or down and then placed on a shelf to gather kudos and dust. Rather, we encourage the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program to work in consultation with the Presbyterian Peacemaking Fellowship to find or develop low-cost and no-cost ways to engage and facilitate a conversation across the church.
Both programs are already beginning to use social networking and other electronic means to disseminate information, and we believe that is but the first of many possible steps that can be taken.
As our Constitution reminds us, the mission of the church in any generation is to be found in "sharing with Christ in the establishing of his just, peaceable, and loving rule in the world" [G-3.0300c(3)(e)]. We believe GA action endorsing our overture can be a crucial step in fulfilling that mission.
We shall see.

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