“They triumphed over him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death.” -Revelation 12:11
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” -John 8:36
Happy International Peace Day, everyone. A day we should all celebrate. In part 5 of the review we looked at the difficult question of how to be or work with policing in a peace community.
Chapter 6 is a message easier for me to accept up front, and is a conclusion I have already drawn. Justin Bronson Barringer asks, “What About Those Men and Women Who Gave Up their Lives so You and I Could Be Free?” A question which he feels “seems an attempt to shame the one to whom it is directed as one who dishonors soldiers.” As if to say that the people who don’t love soldiers are the ones who want them to come home, not the ones who want to send them out to shoot and get shot on the sender’s behalf.
Barringer, like many of us, feels a great inner conflict, as he knows many in his family who have put on uniform and gun in the name of their country. This is why he begins by saying that he “respects and admires the courage it takes to be a soldier and the personal sacrifices they make.” He honors these virtues and those who display them, as we all should. A Christian never wishes to protest the return and/or burial of soldiers. Rather, we must welcome them home in loving arms. But no matter who we point to as our heroes in any context, Christians must first look to Christ and his disciples for inspiration into what true freedom is and how it is presereved. Given that principle, Bronson admits that our true freedoms come from nowhere but Christ, and that they are purchased by dying, not killing.
I’ve heard people use the line “soldiers died for your freedom to speak against war.” In fact, I used it myself once, when I was a child and spoke as a child. This is based on the assumptions that a) I asked the persons to kill/die, b) the only reason I’m speaking out is because they killed/died, and c) If I didn’t have the civic freedom to speak what I believe is true it wouldn’t be worth it to speak it. Bronson deconstructs this and other assumptions.
The freedom to speak and assemble in America: very good things. But if they are purchased in the wrong way, we do not endorse the purchase. If they are preserved through the wrong mechanisms, we do not endorse those mechanisms. We must remember that when you go to war, you are not just putting your life on the line. Your life is on the line in that situation because you are told to kill other men told to kill you because you’re trying to kill them. You are firing bullets as well as potentially taking them. The rationale for us today is that this is done to secure the freedoms to do and say whatever we want (so long as it doesn’t “harm” others), without being molested or persecuted for it. But if we open our eyes we know this idea is perverse. How dare I ask someone to kill people for me so I can live in a state where it seems speech has no consequences or relevance!
I appreciate the freedoms I have, but I do not endorse their price. If they be taken away, so be it. I have gained in Christ a freedom no man can take. If my faith is truly strong, I will live and speak the same Gospel whether I am in a fine house or a rotting jail.
The Gospel is clear that all men are destined to be servants of someone/something. If one serves the Lord, there is true freedom, because it is emancipation from selfishness, from sin, from being trapped and having no hope on earth. Any other offer of freedom ultimately ends in servitude to self, to an empire, to a machine, to Shaitan. Freedom in Christ “transcends circumstance,” in Barringer’s words.
What is true freedom? If we look first at the Gospel, Barringer says we see that it has nothing to do with “protecting our rights” (the language of rights is not the language of the Gospel), but rather being free to the choice to obey God regardless of the consequences man puts on us. “We are not free because of our passport or geographic location,” he says. We are free to submit under all authorities in all the places we go to, yet free to disobey them if need be because our citizenship is beyond all of them. We do not bear witness of Christ by killing, but by suffering. Christians do not kill to avoid suffering, but join in solidarity with the oppressed in order to liberate them, and even liberate the oppressors from their own rule.
In Christ, what is true freedom? Read Hebrew 11 and consider:
1. Speech—Not free to say what you want without consequence; Free to speak no matter what the consequence
2. Assembly—Not worshipping without arrest; worshipping willfully even under threat of death
3. Given—Not given by govt. or army; Delivered through service to the oppressed.
4. Culture—Not having the most power/loudest voice; Having the cross and bearing it.
5. Purchase—Not the blood of earthly soldiers; By the blood of the meek lamb, reflected in the blood of martyrs.
Once again, Barringer reminds us to love soldiers, for they are willing to lay down their lives for us. He is moved by the welcoming home of soldiers, and encourages it. However, he says, what if we gave nonviolent missionaries that same kind of passionate welcome? Why do missionaries sent to dangerous locales not get the attention upon their return that soldiers get? Their mission is far more noble. Courage, loyalty, discipline, sacrifice—these are all noble virtues that soldiers are asked to have that Christians must have. We must not dishonor those virtues just because we do not honor killing in the name of freedom.
As Christians, our understanding of death and violence must be rooted in the Cross:
“And having disarmed the powers and authorities,
he made a public spectacle of them,
triumphing over them by the cross.” -Col. 2:15
The cross, an instrument of execution—instead of being used by Jesus to deliver freedom, he submitted to it to deliver freedom. In doing so he disarmed all power and authority in this world. He embarrassed those who celebrate power through military might. He beat them. By having a well-trained army who bravely take lives? By enduring death and coming out alive. By resurrection. By life everlasting.
Because of this, Barringer asks this of us: “Please do not kill for me.”
I have to say that I ask the very same of you. I am fully aware of what that means, what prestiges and securities and wealths and liberties I may lose as a result. But none of them are to me worth killing another human being over. Not one. It is because of Christ that I see this. You may tell me of the consequences, and if they come, so be it. The kingdom loses nothing. Not if it’s saints are true.
What are your struggles with this? Does your participation in military, or the participation of a friend or family member in military, affect your understanding? How do you reconcile this with what you know of the Gospel?
Do you feel adequately able to discern between a Christian against war who loves soldiers and a disrespectful protester? If they look the same to you, why is that? What knowledge or experience would change that for you?
What freedoms are most precious to you, and why? You may be willing to die for them, but are you willing to kill? Who are you willing to ask to die and kill for you? If you are asking them, why are you not asking yourself?
Happy Peace Day.
[the next chapter is on nations turning the other cheek]