6:30am is not usually a good time of day for in-depth conversations, even over coffee. But, this morning I had a good chat with a couple of friends. We were getting together to talk about a book we are reading together (I think that’s called a book club, but that sounds like something 40-60 year old women do), called “Who Is My Enemy” by Lee Camp. The book is about Christianity and Islam, but that’s not entirely what our conversation was about.
The fourth chapter of the book explores the blanket non-violent position of the early church for the first four centuries of its existence prior to Constantine. The author documents a story of a young man named Maximillian who resisted serving in the Roman army to the point of being put to death. His reason? “My service is to to my Lord. I cannot serve the powers of this world. I have just said that I am a Christian.”
There are quotes from guys with cool names like Tertullian, Dionysius, Athenagoras, and Cyprian. Tertullian said, “The Lord, in disarming Peter, un-belted every soldier.” So we started talking about Christian non-violence and pacifism, and wondering about how and why Christians have such a broad spectrum of views on war and violence when Jesus seemed to be so clear about it (“Love your enemies” comes to mind).
Eric, my friend who works with urban youth here in Peoria, shared about a student he knows who is a Christian and just graduated from high school. This student is moving in two days to go to boot camp. He enlisted in the Army because he didn’t see any other options for himself to get out of his present situation: poor, un-skilled, and under-educated.
Why is this? How is it so easy for young Christians to choose to enlist in an institution that makes war on other nations? Why is this his only option?
We started talking about why poor students are taught a narrative that says that enlisting in the armed forces is their only/best option for breaking the cycle. Granted, the GI Bill is a great thing, and many poor students enlist in order to hopefully attend college someday. But, in the meantime, they have to compromise Christian standards (such as loving your enemy) for however many years until they can receive aid for college.
I wondered aloud, and I am still wondering, if there is a third way in this narrative. Could a young Christian, with a goal of receiving government help for their schooling, enlist in the Army and refuse to learn techniques for killing enemy combatants? Can they be in the armed forces but refuse to bear arms? I don’t know. And I don’t understand why the church isn’t helping young people understand non-violence and helping poor students break the cycle by finding alternative ways to receive education or a better life.
I am aware that many of my fellow Christians believe that non-violence and pacifism are not necessary to being a follower of Jesus. I disagree. And I think we need to have more conversations about how to bring peace to this earth by refusing to make war or support de-regulation of weapons in this country.
What would be different in this world if the whole church, especially the church in America, decided to search for a third way, refused to wield weapons of war or carry concealed weapons (even for “protection”), and worked together to fight for peace at any cost?