Archive for prayer
If you go to church at all you’ve probably heard the prayer requests: "Protect our troops in harm’s way," "Shield our men and women overseas from the enemy," "Keep our brave soldiers safe," "Defend our soldiers as they defend our freedoms." And even if you don’t attend church, you’ve seen the signs outside of business and on bumper stickers: "God bless our troops."
But does anyone ever stop and consider whether we should ask God to bless the troops?
The war Afghanistan, like the war in Iraq, is a monstrous evil. U.S. troops are not defending our freedoms, protecting America, upholding the Constitution, keeping us safe from terrorists, preserving our way of life, fighting them "over there" so we don’t have to fight them "over here," or any of the other blather that passes for reality now a days. To those on the receiving end of American bombs, missiles, and bullets in Afghanistan (and Pakistan, Yemen, etc.), U.S. troops are attackers, invaders, trespassers, occupiers, aggressors, and killers. I conclude with Jacob Hornberger of the Future of Freedom Foundation that
after 10 years of invasion, occupation, torture, killings, incarcerations, renditions, assassinations, death, destruction, anger, hatred, and the constant threat of terrorist retaliation, it’s time to admit that the military invasion of Afghanistan, like that of Iraq, was horribly wrong.
And as much as Americans also don’t want to admit it, because these wars and military operations are unnecessary, immoral, and unjust, and U.S. troops have innocent blood on their hands.
Yet, I am sometimes told, even by opponents of current U.S. military actions, that it is the president, the politicians, the ruling class, the neoconservatives, the Joint Chiefs, the military brass, the defense contractors, and/or the Congress that should be blamed for these wars.
My detractors have forgotten one important group: the soldiers that do the actual fighting. They are the ones invading, occupying, torturing, killing, maiming, incarcerating, indefinite detaining, extraordinary renditioning, assassinating, destroying property, stirring up anger and hatred against the United States, and increasing the threat of terrorist retaliation – not the president, not the politicians, not the ruling class, not the neoconservatives, not the Joint Chiefs, not the military brass, not the defense contractors, and not the Congress.
That some joined the military out of a sense of patriotism after 9/11 or that some joined the military because they were deceived by a recruiter or that some joined the military out of ignorance of U.S. foreign policy or that some joined the military because they couldn’t find gainful employment still doesn’t change the fact that it is the soldiers who do the actual fighting.
Yes, they are pawns in the deadly game of U.S. foreign policy, but as free moral agents they are still responsible for their actions.
So, if it is true that current U.S. military actions are morally wrong, then it stands to reason that asking God to bless the troops would not only be an exercise in futility, but downright blasphemous. And if it is true that current U.S. military actions are morally wrong, then it also stands to reason that blessing the troops would be the last thing on God’s mind. I get this idea from reading Proverbs 6:16-19:
These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him:
A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,
An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief,
A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.
We have all heard the slogan, "The Few, the Proud, the Marines." But is there anything the Marines are doing overseas that they or we should be proud of? There are the lies about defending our freedoms by fighting in Afghanistan or being stationed in Japan. There is the innocent blood being shed in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There are wicked imaginations being devised in retaliation against insurgents who killed occupying U.S. troops. There are feet swift in running to mischief that keep open the network of brothels surrounding U.S. bases overseas. There are false witnesses who kill civilians and retroactively declare them insurgents and a threat. There is discord sown among Americans over the actions of the military.
And it’s not just the Marines. Soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines – they all take pride in their service just as Americans take pride in them. Americans greet the troops as conquering heroes in airports. They applaud them on airplanes and in sports arenas just for being in the military. They thank them for their service in the Post Office. They recognize them in church on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Veterans Day, or on the Sunday before. And the troops stand up straight and stick their chest out and take it all in.
When was the last time a soldier who "served" in Iraq or Afghanistan came home and acknowledged that what was going over there was nothing short of criminal? Sure, it has happened. And I have had many current and former soldiers write me and say as much. But when was the last time one of the tens of thousands of soldiers who have returned from a tour of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan publicly stated that he was not proud of his "service"?
Perhaps they are too concerned about their career, their rank, their next assignment, or their image? In today’s economy I almost can’t blame members of the military for remaining in, hanging around, lying low, and staying under the radar until retirement. I suspect that many soldiers come home with serious doubts about what they were doing in Iraq or Afghanistan and are even ashamed of what they did, but come home in such horrible shape – mentally, physically, and emotionally – that they just want to forget about it.
But there is a difference between staying under the radar until retirement and just being another government employee like a clerk at the Social Security Administration and going back to Afghanistan and being put in a position where you might shed more innocent blood, devise more wicked imaginations, engage in more mischief, spout more lies, witness more falsely, and sow more discord. Yet, many willingly return.
I have never said to not pray for the troops. But praying for the troops is not the same as asking God to bless the troops.
Pray that the troops don’t shed innocent blood. Pray that the troops don’t commit suicide. Pray for pastors to stop recommending military service to their young people. Pray for Christian families to stop supplying cannon fodder to the military. Pray that the troops come home. Pray that young people find employment instead of join the military. Pray for the end of military recruiters preying on young, impressionable students. Pray for an end to senseless foreign wars. Pray for an end to the U.S. empire of troops and bases that encircles the globe.
Oh, there are many things regarding the troops to pray for, but God blessing the troops should not be one of them.
Originally posted on LewRockwell.com on July 4, 2012.
Tags: church, culture, ethics, militarism, peace, prayer, statolatry, theology, war
I am a man of peace; but when I speak, they are for war. – Psalm 120:7
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace–but now it is hidden from your eyes.” – Luke 19:41-42
All men desire peace, but very few desire those things that make for peace. – Thomas a Kempis
I recently heard praise among churchgoers for the movie, “Act of Valor”, a movie about Navy SEAL’s funded in large part by the Navy itself. (And, judging by the previews, it’s basically a military recruitment film.) There is even a Bible study that coincides with the movie and is based on the SEAL code of honor. I was unexpectedly overcome with grief when a Christian excitedly described this to me at church.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the terrible contrast I had just experienced. The sermon that very morning was on this verse from the Beatitudes in the book of Matthew:
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”
Blessed are the peacemakers. And yet here Christians had high praise for a code of conduct espoused by an outfit whose entire purpose is to kill ruthlessly and efficiently. And not merely to kill, but specifically to kill whoever they are commanded to kill by the political powers in the United States without question. The very first tenet in the SEAL code of conduct is “Loyalty to Country” which means, in practical terms, obeying the orders of your superiors who are supposed to represent “the country”, however ill-defined the term.
Not only does obedience to the first tenet render obedience to any of the rest impossible, it is unfathomable to me how a Christian could find this a suitable basis for a Bible study intended to make men into better Christians. The first tenet of this code means quite plainly to forsake your own conscience, do not question the morality of your orders, do not seek to understand why you are supposed to be at war with whomever you are told to be at war with, do not investigate whether or not your targets are a genuine threat or deserving of death, but simply pull the trigger.
The Evangelical Church in America today looks very little like a body of Christ followers and more like a body of state and military followers. American flags grace many a pulpit. Veterans Day celebrations are common. Prayers for the success of military ventures are not unheard of. Calls by politicians and pundits for the use of violence in almost any country for almost any reason will almost always gain the unwavering support of the entire Evangelical community. Anything – including torture, assassinations, and “collateral damage” – can be excused and even praised if it is done “for the country” and under the stars and stripes.
How did this happen? Can you imagine Jesus, or Peter or John with Kevlar vests and M-16’s kicking in doors, screaming ,“double-tapping” people in the head before yelling, “All clear!”’ and high-fiving each other? Can you imagine them dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima or Nagasaki? Can you imagine Jesus instructing his followers to study a code of conduct that begins first and foremost with, “Be loyal to the Roman government”?
Not only did Christ and the giants of the Christian faith refuse to aggress against others, no matter how sinful or evil, they even refused to use violence in self-defense and instead chose martyrdom. When Peter tried to defend Jesus with the sword by cutting off the ear of a soldier, Jesus rebuked him and healed the man’s ear.
Jesus did not instruct the disciples to go to the wilderness and train for a few months so they could plan a stealth nighttime assassination of the guards who crucified Him or any who opposed the Way. He told them to forgive. To Baptize. To turn the other cheek. To submit even to death for the sake of the gospel, rather than resort to violence. That is a radical message and they lived it.
And yet the Church finds herself cheering for the military and honoring them without questioning what they are doing, who they are killing, why they are doing it, or if it’s right. Worship of America and the myth of its righteousness have taken the place of any sense of individual moral responsibility on the part of soldiers or those who support them.
I left church with an immense weight on my soul. I wept. I wept because I knew exactly the sentiment expressed by most of the churchgoers that morning. I used to share it. I wept as I remembered my bloodlust after 9/11. I wanted the United States military to kill people. I wanted bombs to drop and guns to fire. I wanted somebody to get it, good and hard. I wanted death. I wanted war. I did not want peace. I felt no love, only hate.
This impulse is the most human of all impulses. It is also the very impulse Christ taught us to overcome and demonstrated how to do so by His own example. Even when others hate, love.
I wept as I saw in my minds eye the blood on the hands of nearly every Christian in this country. How many self-proclaimed followers of Christ have cheered on “the boys in uniform” during every conflict we’ve ever had, including wars of aggression, just because they’re “our countrymen” fighting for “our side”?
What are “the things that make for peace”? The belief that right and wrong trump nationality and patriotism. The belief that killing is only ever permissible as a last resort and in self-defense. An understanding that Congressional or Presidential approval of an action does not make it moral. That obeying orders is not a virtue unless the orders are virtuous, in which case they should be obeyed because they are right, not because they are orders. That voluntarily agreeing to kill whomever you are told to kill is not honorable. That love is better than vengeance.
Before you support any military action, conduct a brief mental experiment: imagine not the US Military, but you as an individual embarking on the mission in question. In the end it is only individuals who can act and bear moral responsibility for their actions. Imagine standing before God and saying, “I was only following orders”.
How many churches cheered for war against Iraq? Yet can you imagine a pastor standing before his church and saying, “For the next six months we are all going to train in explosives and guns, and we are taking a church trip to Iraq to kill bad people and make the world a safer place.” Who would support it? In moral terms, it is no different to support taking money from taxpayers to pay soldiers to do the same. In fact, the latter is in some ways more nefarious and less honest.
Most would argue that there is a difference between unjust violence and just violence – indeed there is. Some argue there is a difference between just war and unjust war – perhaps there is. But never in my years of observing church support for state military action have I witnessed a single discussion of whether the action was just or right. There have been a few discussions of whether it was “Constitutional”, but never whether it was moral. The morality of war is assumed by the mere fact that the war is waged by the United States Government.
Until the Church in America stops blindly supporting violence done in the name of patriotism, our hands are bloody and our witness is tainted. We say we are for peace, but we want war. We say we pray to the Prince of Peace, but we ask him to bless the violence committed by soldiers. We say “the law is written on our hearts” yet we ignore our hearts and only follow the laws of governments and call what they call right good, and what they call wrong bad.
In our ignorance, we support violence. We can cry out, “Father forgive us, for we know not what we do.” But after our eyes our opened and we begin to examine the morality of acts of violence, we will be held accountable for what we know. I pray we will be willing to oppose violence, even when doing so makes us “unpatriotic” or “un-American”; even when doing so may lead to our own persecution.
“He who surrenders himself without reservation to the temporal claims of a nation, or a party, or a class is rendering to Caesar that which, of all things, most emphatically belongs to God himself” — C. S. Lewis.
Tags: church, foreign policy, Jesus, military, pacifism, peace, prayer, war
It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but it is for a good reason. I’ve been carefully writing this article and I really hope you benefit from it. If you are so moved, please share it with someone you care about today.
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
2 Chronicles 7:14
People regularly email me with questions about how to communicate with other Christians about liberty and peace. The greatest conundrum the Christian libertarian has, it seems, is persuading other Christians to stop supporting the immoral wars that governments perpetrate across the globe. It is particularly difficult in the United States, where “supporting the troops” is essentially part of the new orthodoxy in most evangelical Protestant churches. You can publicly criticize a minister that he preaches too long and someone will support you, but say one word criticizing the military (or even the police) and you become anathema.
It is not as though we cannot defend our position adequately; the truth is on our side. We can easily bring forth historical data, ethics, and solid theology to make our case that war is wrong. This is good and right! We must never cease reasoning with those who disagree with us, and we should do so with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). However, we must admit that a large part of the problem is not merely failure to reason, but also a failure to show Christian compassion toward others. Churches all over forget that war really is hell, and neglect the suffering war causes. This is especially reflected in our public prayers.
In the past, even the Southern Baptists took the Word of God seriously and prayed for those affected by war. But when was the last time you heard a church pray for anyone in the Middle East, for instance, other than soldiers? When was the last time you heard a church pray for an end to war?
Recently, I was moved to step out and try something I have never heard of done before: ask the leaders of my congregation to take the lead in praying for those suffering in war. (In the Church of Christ tradition, the elders are the spiritual leaders of the congregation.) After consulting with some of my close friends, I attended the June 2010 elders’ meeting and presented the following letter to them to address the “Prayer for the Church” that we offer every Sunday morning worship service.
To the Elders of the University Avenue Church of Christ,
We have noticed an unusual trend over the past few months during our prayers for the church in Sunday morning worship. On multiple occasions, we have heard people pray for men and women in the military, that they receive “special measures of protection” as they fight to “protect our freedoms” and “serve our country.” While we understand the concerns of church members who have friends and family in the armed forces, and while we sincerely hope for their safe return immediately, we find that these kinds of prayers are neglectful of another group – those victims who suffer wrongfully from this war, to whom we are indeed responsible in part for their suffering. Regardless of one’s opinion of these wars, we think that all can agree upon inspection that this practice can and should change to be more inclusive.
For instance, we never hear prayers for our fellow Christians who live in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since the US invasion in 2003, Christians who were tolerated in the past have been repeatedly persecuted and frequently even killed by indiscriminate warfare or surging extremist groups, and nearly half of the Christian population of 800,000 in Iraq has either fled the country or died. In March 2010 alone, over 4,000 Christians were displaced from their homes following unrest in the northern city of Mosul. Many more have confined themselves to their homes for their own safety.
Moreover, we rarely, if ever, hear prayers for the innocent people in Iraq that die on a daily basis, either from indiscriminate killing by our own military or civil unrest that results from a country torn apart by war. The lowest estimates of non-combatant deaths in Iraq number greater than 100,000. Unfortunately, over time our sensibilities and attitudes toward this war – which is now the longest prolonged conflict in American history – have become desensitized and lackadaisical, and thus we often forget these innocent people.
We appeal to the elders to lead the way toward recognizing this issue with two simple proposals. First, we propose to include in the bulletin prayer requests under “Family Members in the Military” a mention of the innocent and oppressed in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially our Iraqi and Afghan brothers and sisters in Christ, and for an end to these wars. Second, we propose that the elders take the lead in consistently mentioning the same in prayer with the congregation on Sunday mornings. If the prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective, then surely instituting this practice will do good both for these victims and for our own spirits.
We support this appeal with Scripture in two ways. First, if you consider these people as we do, that they are innocent victims and have been wronged by their own leaders, by extremists, and by our own military, then may we pray to God as Jesus taught his disciples: to be “delivered from evil.” If we can pray this for ourselves, surely we can do so for others. But second, if you still consider these people our enemies, then may we do as Jesus said in Matthew 5: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” May this be the beginning of understanding what Jesus said moments before, “Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
Changing our practice to include praying for the oppressed is not a political statement. In fact, this is not a political issue in the least; on the contrary it is a moral and theological issue. If we are to pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” then we should take seriously that Jesus came and died to proclaim peace on earth and to liberate the oppressed. We may expect that “wars and rumors of wars” will always exist, but this does not require a condoning or defeatist attitude of such events. Rather, this understanding should make us more sensitive and more compassionate toward those who suffer.
To conclude, war is arguably the most destructive human activity ever devised, and it is an intensely serious moral and theological issue because of its finality for those involved either directly as soldiers or indirectly as innocents. It is right to earnestly pray for our family members participating in war, but let us not become callous to the suffering of others, especially those to whom we are indirectly responsible for their suffering. Therefore, we should let our congregational prayers reflect our concern for them.
Norman Horn [Others at my church signed this letter as well, names withheld for privacy.]
The response of the elders was, to my surprise, extraordinarily positive. We discussed some of the ramifications of them taking this position. Only one had any concern for it being “too political.” In response, I emphasized that the effects of war are apolitical and intensely real, and therefore to ignore what’s going on is potentially even more political than standing up for what is right.
The next Sunday morning service, during the “Prayer for the Church,” the elder assigned to the task prayed for peace and for the innocent affected by war. This has continued for many weeks on end, with both elders and non-elders doing the same. It isn’t a perfect record at this point, but something is changing.
Now, I have to admit that I have the ear of the eldership already. I am a part-time minister in this congregation, and thus they could have been generally more receptive of my proposal because it came from me. It could be that if you tried the exact course of action I did, it might not work out so well. But I still contend that anyone could work with their church in an analogous manner to change it even a little toward peace. Here are some ideas that might help you:
1) Start by setting the example yourself. When you are asked to pray in public for the congregation and its concerns, include those oppressed by war with any prayer offered for family and friends in the military. Furthermore, make sure that you are praying for peace in your private life.
2) If and when you engage your congregation more directly, initiate it by making a request that requires no justification at all. Don’t be afraid to just ask! Send one of your church leaders a very simple request, something like this: “When we pray for soldiers in Iraq, could we also pray for the Iraqis who are suffering, especially our Christian brothers and sisters there, and that God would bless our enemies and bring them peace.” You don’t even have to justify such a request. That’s straight out of Scripture, right?
3) Find others to make the same request together. Talk to some of your elders/leaders together. Again, keep it simple, but up the ante a little bit each time.
4) Keep it apolitical. You are not trying to “make people into libertarians” or anything of the sort. This message is first and foremost about the people affected by conflict. Our concern is for them, not for our egos or political views.
5) If at first you don’t succeed, try again. You may not get a good hearing initially, but be patient. Gently keep pushing back. If it becomes necessary, use the letter above as a model to give to your church leaders. Keep in mind, I really think this should be a “letter of last resort” to be used if your leaders refuse to listen to simpler reason. I carefully constructed this with feedback from multiple sources, so that it could easily show the self-evident principles involved. It gives no quarter and I don’t apologize for that, but know your audience and appeal to their sensibilities.
Of course, some in your church will respond negatively to this kind of request. They may ask how you can ask a church to pray for this war, for instance, when there are millions of other things for which we could pray. What about apartheid in South Africa, earthquakes in Haiti, or persecuted Christians in China? Could not the list go on forever if we wanted?
Those critics have a point, but our response should be that there is a fundamental difference between, say, praying for apartheid in South Africa – where we are aware of no national influence (and in my church’s case, have none of our church members as missionaries there) – and these wars. The difference is that this country, the United States, claims responsibility for their country now, and hence we are already involved. It is not “our fault” that Haiti had an earthquake or that Christians in China are being persecuted (though we may pray for them anyway), but it is in part our fault that the United States has torn apart the Middle East. Moreover, churches continue to condone and support such aggression with little thought either to the consequences for the Arab peoples or the internal subconscious changes that this has on our own churches. And what better way to change our own hearts than through the power of prayer? And what better way to start that process than through the leadership of the church?
Imagine what would happen if churches across the United States (and internationally!) were to stop praying for the military alone and to begin including those oppressed by war in their public prayers as well. Don’t you think that God will help make our hearts ever more attuned to the oppressed?
If the Bible says that the prayers of the righteous are effective, and if we believe that prayer affects us as much or more than prayer affects God, then let us never cease to pray for and support those who suffer from the horror of war and let us encourage others to do the same.
Think about some ways that you can be a peaceful voice for peace in your church. Maybe emulating the story above is one way you can make a difference. I truly believe this simple idea can change hearts and minds across the world if, with God’s help, we are brave enough to try.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”
A modified version of this text will become a permanent page at LCC as an open letter to all American churches.
Tags: Afghanistan, church, ethics, iran, iraq, peace, prayer, theology, violence, war, war on terror