We have all been reading/listening to the scary news about the danger of another major American war in the Middle East. And there have been a number of helpful pieces by commentators, both Christian and otherwise.
I think the attached piece by my friend David Gushee is especially helpful. Dr. David Gushee is a prominent Christian ethicist and Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University in Atlanta. I print here his January 5 column with his permission.
“What should Christians think of the escalating conflict with Iran, including the targeted US killing of Iranian General Soleimani while he was in Iraq?
Certainly the bias of anyone claiming to be a follower of Jesus should be toward peacemaking and nonviolent resolution of international conflicts. That clearly follows from any attention to the life and teachings of Jesus and the history of at least modern Christian moral thought on war.
This is not to say that the moral questions for Christians related to war are as easily resolved as to say that Jesus taught and blessed peacemaking. But that is where we must start and the grounding point to which we must always return.
The bad blood between the US and Iran goes back a long way. There are profound grievances on both sides. The Iranian move to develop a nuclear program raised the stakes. The US under Obama sought to reopen communication with Iran and negotiated along with others an agreement to at least slow down that nuclear program. The value of the agreement was debated. But a primary value was the creation of an ongoing framework for conversation between the West and Iran.
But President Trump tore up the agreement and replaced it with escalating rhetoric and crippling economic sanctions. Iran has responded with various provocations, including violence. For unclear reasons, President Trump suddenly ratcheted up the tit-for-tat to an entirely new level with the killing of Soleimani.
To me, the main issues at stake right now are the following:
1) stopping the escalation before it claims more lives;
2) reopening a diplomatic process with Iran;
3) calming the rhetoric that is becoming increasingly dangerous and dehumanizing;
4) Congress reasserting its authority over warmaking and funding;
5) US Christian leaders articulating a mainstream dignity, justice, and peacemaking Christian posture rather than a Christian nationalist crusade mentality or, heaven forbid, an apocalyptic celebration of war with Iraq as part of the End Times.
Just peacemaking theory, pioneered by Glen Stassen, proposed ten proven practices to reduce conflict and create the possibility of peace. Three of these strike me as especially relevant right now:
1) Acknowledge responsibility for conflict and injustice; seek repentance and forgiveness.
Wise American leaders would offer a fresh narration of the painful history between the US and Iran that both named the grievances our nation still bears in relation to Iran and also humbly acknowledged our responsibility for wrongs we have done.
If our political leaders will not do this, we need to initiate a citizen-led process.
This would then offer the conditions for:
2) Using cooperative conflict resolution.
The US should offer to enter into conversation with Iran without precondition and toward a resolution of all existing issues between our nations.
But both of these steps will require:
3) Taking independent initiatives to reduce threat.
The US should announce a unilateral end of tit-for-tat vengeance-taking and invite Iran to match that commitment in preparation for peace talks.
For many of us, President Donald Trump and his weakened national security team do not inspire confidence. That is to put it mildly. However, the US has one president at a time and he is it.
This president has shown interest in creative peace initiatives, as with North Korea. He has expressed a desire for ending endless wars in the Middle East.
He should be invited to practice just peacemaking at this perilous moment. Meanwhile, all of us should do our part to make peace and reject the slide toward greater violence.”
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