Faith and Treason – 11th November 2011

Faith and Treason

I have been considering what the church has to say to soldiers who are placed in Afghanistan, required to engage in military actions which threaten the people they are supposed to liberate, and exposing the soldiers to threat and sudden death. In recent weeks there have been two reported (and probably more) attacks by Afghanis on Australian troops.

I was reminded of the 1915 Christmas when troops from both sides of the trenches climbed out of their pits and celebrated Christmas together. They were put in uniform and in the trenches by the ideology of nationalism. The ‘nation’ claimed their loyalty and their sacrifice. But for a brief few hours the power of nationalism was broken by the celebration of God Immanuel. The spirit of peace, binding enemies together, prevailed if but for a short time.

What might the church say to young men and women who are now ‘behind the wire’, and who step out in night patrols and raids of suspect houses?  - When drones and other weapons are killing people who are simply at home in their beds?

The theme of ‘obedience to authorities’ has been our main Christian theme. Only when faced with Nazi and Communist regimes did another option present itself: the possibility of resisting ideology and authority in the name of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, those who believed they were fighting on the side of good (democracy/God) against tyrannical regimes (German/Japanese) were permitted to act for the nation in horrific ways: leading to firebombing of cities, Dresden and Tokyo, and finally the atomic bombing of the two Japanese cities.

What if the church decided, in the name of Jesus Christ, and in the mode of pacifism, that it is now time to withdraw support for the military adventures of the nation? What if the church counselled disobedience? [That is not unheard of: in the Vietnam War there were many draft resisters supported by church people.]

If we go to the traditions we find that in Reformed tradition there is permission for resistance to tyrants. It opens up the question of whether violence might be used in that resistance, and whether tyrannicide was permitted. I am drawing from this the permission to regard non-compliance as permissible.

In the Vision of John (Revelation 13) the State is a beast, and must be resisted, and disobeyed. That led to martyrdom, with the white cloaked saints gathering ‘around the throne’ of the ‘slaughtered Lamb’.

Did Jesus practice disobedience? He left open the ‘give to Caesar’ but then in obedience to his Father chose the path of provocation to the worldly authorities, allowing his arrest and torture, and accepting his execution. In all this refusing to comply with the authorities, and provoking them to the limits of their power – which did not compel Jesus but in which he compelled – and exposed them – (Colossians 3).

His followers, by associating with him (executed, condemned, outcast, traitor) took on his status. Did they commit treason? I think they did.

Consider Jeremiah. In the midst of a siege on Jerusalem when it might be expected that all Jewish inhabitants would be at one, Jeremiah – in the name of the Lord God – took the way of giving up power to the enemy, accepting the ‘enemy’ rule. There is much more to be said but it comes to focus in Jeremiah: accepting the power of the enemy’s rule as a word of the LORD. The journalist who sided with communist regimes in the post world war 2 environment was vilified. The female singer who went to North Vietnam was vilified. I had my own experience of this: by refusing to conduct a funeral with the Australian flag on the coffin in the church, I was regarded as unpatriotic and denying a ‘Digger’ his right and honour.

Why is treason so hard to countenance? It is because we have learnt that the nation is our home, and has a supreme power to border us in, and to keep he intruder out. (Consider the resistance to Asylum Seekers). But the church’s ‘home’ is not bounded by national borders. A Christian’s allegiance is not given to one tribe or nation: rather attachment to Jesus though baptism allies a person with all tribes and peoples and nations: we are one family under the one Lord and God.

It is thus a Christian duty to resist the boundary-making which divides language from language and occupation or gender or class from each other (consider Galatians 3: 28) As in the first and second century advice may be given which encourages the church member to live peaceably, to respect the civic authorities as they provide a supportive and liveable environment to its citizens, and as it welcomes the presence of others.  When the State (authorities) begin to compel compliance of their rule, as one of exclusion or oppression of a particular group or minority – aggressively or benignly – it will be required of the Christian to stand against that claim. At the extreme, when the authorities have reached a point whether their activity begins to destroy the social fabric, then the Christian will deny them any credibility and will then ‘betray them to Christ’. That is, their allegiance to Jesus Christ, and his announced reign of God, will require the church with its members collectively to resist and to deny the claim of that regime.

In political terms, then, the person has become a revolutionary – a traitor. Is it time for the church to engage in serious discussion with its people who are involved in military activity concerning the claim of Jesus Christ on them, particularly when they are required to kill the enemy – in contrast to the word of Jesus to ‘love the enemy’?

Wes Campbell 11th November 2011

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