In 1962 Thomas Merton wrote the following an an essay in the Commonweal journal entitled ‘Nuclear War and the Christian”:
“We are no longer living in a Christian world……..Today a non-Christian world still retains a few vestiges of Christian morality, a few formulas and clichés, which serve on appropriate occasions to adorn indignant editorials and speeches. But otherwise we witness deliberate campaigns to eliminate all education in Christian truth and morality. The Christian ethic of love tends to be discredited as phony and sentimental. It is therefore a serious error to imagine that because the West was once largely Christian, the cause of the Western nations is now to be identified, without further qualification, with the cause of God. The incentive to wipe out Bolshevism may well be one of the apocalyptic temptations of twentieth-century Christendom. It may indeed be the most effective way of destroying Christendom, even though man may survive. For who imagines that the Asians and Africans will respect Christianity and embrace it after it has apparently triggered mass-murder and destruction of cosmic proportions? It is pure madness to think that Christianity can defend itself with nuclear weapons. The mere fact that we now seem to accept nuclear war as reasonable is a universal scandal.”
Last week, at the Church of England Synod in England, the church accepted that armed intervention is inevitable in the Middle East refugee crisis. The Guardian reports:
“The Church of England has effectively backed military intervention by the UK government in Syria by unanimously passing a motion which implied support for the use of armed force in establishing safe routes for refugees, with the personal endorsement of the archbishop of Canterbury.
Armed action was “almost inevitable” in response to the crisis in Syria, Welby said. The forces that were driving people to become refugees needed to be confronted, he added.
The motion, proposed by the bishop of Durham, Paul Butler, called on the government “to work with international partners in Europe and elsewhere to help establish safe and legal routes to places of safety, including this country, for refugees who are vulnerable and at severe risk”.
Welby told the church assembly that it needed to recognise the implications of the clause. “Let us support the motion, but do so utterly realistically about its implications,” he said.
The motion – passed by 333 votes, with none opposed and three abstentions”
And now Britain is at war with ISIS.
In todays Gospel Luke introduces John the Baptist and his call for repentance and Baptism. This Old Testament style prophet, a ‘replica’ of Isaiah’, recognises the crisis his world was facing and calls for radical action to be taken. What was that radical action? Personal accountability for the state of relationships in the world.
Luke makes it clear just how dysfunctional the world was by taking care to meticulously detail the time (In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius,), the key players who were recognised for the manipulation and brutality of each other and those under them (when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene,) and the complicity of the Jewish hierarchy ( 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas).
He then places John as a prophet, an outsider, who is not in cohorts with the world, but is aware of God and the role God wants each of us to play in bringing peace to the world, as the spokesman for the new world order – (the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. )
Peace in the world is not a world without unrest, but a world in which unrest first finds its answer in our unwillingness to maintain or feed the violence, thus ensuring it continues. If we continue to feed it, the crooked ways of humanity, even the crooked ways within ourselves, will continue to wind there way into the hills and high places of violence, war and hatred.
Peace in the world is not the sole task of God. John continues the voice of the prophets, institutes a radical pattern of repentance and baptism, putting the responsibility on all humans (flesh) in the world and points to The Way (Jesus) this will be achieved.
Peace is not the sole responsibility of Jesus, his birth, life, death and resurrection. Peace is what we do with that. Unfortunately while the church continues to be embroiled in scandals or in visible and damaging conflict and in-fighting at the local level, we do not contribute to peace, but to unrest.
Peace is found in actions bringing down those in high places, unwinding the corruption and power of those committed to violence in all its forms. These actions are to be peace bringing and non-violent. No where does Jesus advocate a violence response, that would simply have ensured violence continued.
Peace requires we seek and find ways to personally untangle ourselves from the patterns and structures which are committed to maintaining unrest in the world – political parties, big business, the weapons industry and more. Perhaps finding out how businesses operate, where they source their products, how they make their money, where is you retirement money invested and more. We then can make decisions on who we support through our purchases for example.
The announcement this week that the founder of Facebook and his wife are giving 99% of his fortune to charity over his lifetime has been applauded. Yet it comes with strings attached and carrying much baggage as Devon Maloney of The Guardian website points out:
Simply by creating and overseeing the world’s largest social network and one of the most influential corporations on Earth – by gathering and selling untold amounts of data under the protection of inscrutable legal jargon, by implementing shaky harassment and reporting policies that permit certain kinds of abuse, by employing 68% men and fewer than 50 black people in a company of more than 10,000 employees (to say nothing of the unholy spectre of gentrification) – Mark Zuckerberg himself continues to reproduce the inequality he and his wife are taking aim at with their pledge.
John the Baptist, and Luke the Gospel writer, make it very plain. What we are waiting for is not a baby but the Way and the Way requires that we engage in deep self reflection, shed our baggage through repentance and become baptised in an active role in building a new world for all. While the repentance is personal, the Baptism is communal and unless we begin to walk this Way, peace will always remain elusive.
Thomas Merton warned in 1962 we were sowing the seeds of future war by our actions in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. We are now reaping what we have sown. It is time to “‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” To ensure “5Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill made low, and the crooked made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;” so “6all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
May Christmas 2015 see the beginning of such peace in our world.