Archive for peace

[A shorter version of this essay was presented at the 2015 Austrian Economics Research Conference at the Mises Institute.]

Since the beginning of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, two words that have rarely been seen together are “Baptist” and “pacifist.” We have instead been subject to things like high-profile Baptist leader Jerry Falwell writing a defense of the Iraq war titled “God Is Pro-War,” Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, writing to President Bush that his “policies concerning the ongoing international terrorist campaign against America” were “both right and just,” and the Southern Baptist Convention passing resolutions expressing appreciation for President Bush, U.S. troops, military chaplains, and the war effort.

I have stood against this nonsense from the very beginning. At times virtually alone. I recently discovered a kindred spirit in the Baptist pacifist Joseph Judson Taylor.

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During a breakout session at the 2015 International Students for Liberty Conference, I was part of a panel with Norman Horn, Jason Rink, and Chris Wolske. In brief comments before a Q&A for the panel, I shared a word on why I am a libertarian and a Christian. Below are the notes I wrote down and shared with the audience. 

Being a Christian and a libertarian are not merely two groups with whom I happen to identify. I am not a libertarian who happens to be a Christian, nor a Christian who happens to be a libertarian. The connection between liberty and my Christian faith runs deeper than that.

We live in a world dominated by empire, and I believe the message of Jesus is relevant to and necessary for healing what is wrong in our world.

Whether we are citizens of the empire or citizens of nations dominated by the empire, we have a joint responsibility to communicate the alternative message of peace in an age where violence is an acceptable means to achieve worthwhile goals.

Because I am an evangelical protestant I can only speak of my knowledge in evangelicalism, but there is a major paradigm shift happening that some say happen every 500 years or so. We are experiencing a Great Emergence in society, an emergence away from centralizing authority and concentrated power. This shift presents an opportunity for libertarians in the Church because the Church has yet to build a coherent theology of the State. (There are indeed academic works available that address the issues near and dear to libertarians’ hearts, but the active living out of these ideas is foreign to American Christians.)

This conversational shift typically focuses on issues such as peace, reconciliation, and social justice. Faith communities dedicated to a theology of peace and reconciliation are often either non-participatory in nature (Anabaptism) or gives the State a pass for wielding violence (Progressives). Those who press for social justice are often naive and appear to need of a heavy dose of economics to bring them back to reality. This is not to be an excuse to do nothing, but ought to provide a framework from within which human beings can move forward in cooperation in a pluralist society.

It is often assumed that Jesus was not political, which sort of delegates his role to Secretary of Afterlife Affairs. But the gospel of Jesus is indeed political, but in ways we have not always expected. The gospel of Jesus is the announcement of God’s movement through the world, and is essentially an invitation to join God’s movement. In context this meant a movement away from the violent impulses against the Roman Empire’s occupation of Israel. Jesus picks up on the prophetic tradition that eschews violence and envisions a world where those who are otherwise at odds with one another are no longer in conflict.

As pastor-poet Brian Zahnd has said, “Empires are rich and powerful nations which believe they have a right to rule other nations and a manifest destiny to shape the world according to their agenda. God regards this as a transgression upon his sovereignty… The throne of God and political empire will always be in opposition to one another. God and Satan will always be in opposition to one another.”

If the gospel is the announcement that Jesus is Lord, by implication this means Caesar is not. By further implication it also means, “and everybody else is not.”

This is why I’m a libertarian Christian. I believe God’s nature is such that God gives us the freedom to choose how we act in a world stricken by violence. I believe that God has spoken to us the truth in Jesus. Jesus is what God has to say. The message of Jesus, the gospel, is a counter-script to the oppressing narrative of empire and its demand for allegiance.

I’m very passionate about how to converse with those with whom we disagree, whether they are antagonistic or mildly interested. I strive for discussing the following three basic principles:

1. Anything Peaceful – if our solutions are not predicated upon a commitment to peace, we’re doing it wrong

2. State ≠ Society – a single institution does not represent society, especially the larger the number of persons is supposedly represents

3. Don’t Tread on Anyone – the logical implication for liberty is that it applies equally to all, especially for those who are otherwise unable to defend themselves

For more details about these three principles (and comments I had to leave out due to time), please check out my talk from Christians for Liberty 2014.

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Dec
24

The Christmas Truce, Then and Now

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Today, Christmas Eve 2014, marks the 100th anniversary of the Christmas during World War 1. On that remarkable day, soilders from all sides of the war – French, British, Scottish, and German soldiers – crossed no-man’s land and in the spirit of the Prince of Peace celebrated Christmas together. Yesterday I posted a brief review of the event and a book by Stanley Wintraub about the truce called Silent Night. Today I want to say a few additional words about the truce and what it should mean to all of us.

In the days leading up to Christmas in 1914, British General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien issued a firm instruction to the officers of all British army: “It is during this period that the greatest danger to the morale of troops exists. Experience of this and of every other war proves undoubtedly that troops in trenches in close proximity to the enemy slide very easily, if permitted to do so, into a “live and let live” theory of life… officers and men sink into a military lethargy from which it is difficult to arouse them when the moment for great sacrifices again arises…the attitude of our troops can be readily understood and to a certain extent commands sympathy… such an attitude is however most dangerous for it discourages initiative in commanders and destroys the offensive spirit in all ranks…the Corps Commander therefore directs Divisional Commanders to impress on subordinate commanders the absolute necessity of encouraging offensive spirit… friendly intercourse with the enemy, unofficial armistices, however tempting and amusing they may be, are absolutely prohibited.”

The General reveals something in his orders that is rather shocking: soldiers of one side do not tend to have any real grievance with the soldiers of the other side. Then why must they fight each other? Because the states they work for said so. They are ultimately used as pawns for power grabs rather than protectors of peace. As the saying goes, “War is just politics continued by other means.”

In August 1914, Europe entered World War 1 in a strange fervor. It was not initially considered a life-or-death struggle but almost like a big parade. Most of the soldiers thought of it as a game or contest, and that it would all be over quickly and they would even be home for Christmas. And to get them into the war spirit, every side launched huge propaganda campaigns to demonize the other side. No accusation was too low to be used.

Just a few months into the war, the protracted destiny of the war became clear to everyone on the front lines, and morale was desperate. They were ready to grasp at anything that could help them to feel human again.

Thus, when the spirit of Christmas suddenly rolled through the camps and prompted everyone to lay down their arms and remember that Jesus Christ was born to save, the soldiers began to reevaluate their priorities. What were they fighting for, really? Was the glory of their state really worth it? Many realized that it couldn’t be so. Although we know the ultimate result – the war resumed just as one might expect – the Christmas truce was a spark of humanity in a sea of unconscionable violence.

The incident truly reveals the deceitful nature of the state and the violence it perpetuates. In general, we have no need to start a quarrel with other nations. Wars occur not because every citizen of one nation has been wronged by every citizen of another nation, but because the state apparatus of one nation has decided it needs to wield its will against the state apparatus of the other nation. It takes the state propagandizing citizens to have them believe the enemy is actually every German, or Italian, or Mexican, or Iraqi, rather than the citizen’s own government that daily tyrannizes them.

I highly encourage you to read Silent Night, or to watch the great movie Joyeux Noel which dramatizes the Christmas truce, this Christmas season. You won’t regret it. And finally, remember that Jesus is truly our Prince of Peace, no matter what storm you encounter whether personal struggle or worldwide war.

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christmastruce1914_2

This Christmas Eve marks the 100th anniversary of the Christmas Truce, when French, British, Scottish, and German soldiers unexpectedly laid down their arms and celebrated Christmas together. It was a remarkable event unmatched in its touching display of humanity despite the horrors surrounding them. A few years ago, I wrote about Silent Night, a book by Stanley Weintraub that chronicled the events of this truce. I want to highlight this article again here and encourage you to soak in some of these remarkable details of this incredible event. Tomorrow I will write a little more about the truce and what it should mean to all of us.

Stanley Weintraub’s Silent Night isn’t a book that warrants a long review because the point is so clear. The book is about the World War I Christmas Truce. All over the front lines in Europe in 1914, men laid down their arms and remembered the Prince of Peace. During and afterwards, many wondered why they were fighting in the first place. Weintraub’s book retells the events of “horror taking a holiday” over Christmas on the front lines through soldiers’ personal recollections and other reports.

On June 28, 1914, Bosnian-Serb student Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. The murder triggered a fast-paced series of events that ultimately led to what we now call World War I. On one side were the Entente Powers: France, the United Kingdom, and Russia; on the other side were the Central Powers: Germany and Austria-Hungary. By August 1914, the countries were engaged in total war the likes of which had never been seen on earth – trench warfare. On the front lines, opposing men were separated at times by less than 100 feet, living in filthy trenches dug into the ground. Both sides believed that the war would be over quickly, but as December 1914 approached such a resolution seemed much less likely. Soldiers excited of the prospects of war glory quickly lost their initial enthusiasm in favor of sheer survival. But as Christmas eve approached, an unlikely truce was forged by troops all across the front lines. Much was learned when those who only knew their enemies through propaganda and caricatures actually conversed with their foes. Read More→

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zahnd-on-empire

This is Part 2 of my interview with Brian Zahnd, author of A Farewell to Mars. You can read Part 1 here and my review here.

DS: Most libertarian Christians are highly suspicious of centralized power. We contend that when power becomes increasingly concentrated, it becomes increasingly corrupt and more harmful to society. You strongly oppose the idea of empire in your book, especially when the empire claims to have God on its side. Few Christians (even Christian anarchists) would deny that governance is needed, but at what point does government become empire? Are local governments less likely to become satanic than federal governments?

BZ: I loosely define empires as rich, powerful nations who seek to rule other nations and claim a manifest destiny to direct history. As a Christian I am opposed to empire for the simple reason that what empires claim for themselves, God has given to Christ. God loves nations, but is opposed to empire. So, yes, smaller is better. This is where I think we should all listen to Wendell Berry. If there is a prophet in America today it’s Wendell Berry. Read More→

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