Swords into Plowshares


We are one nation under God. To a lot of people, maybe most, that suggests we are a Christian nation. But we are not. The Founding Fathers were not necessarily Christian — Washington may have been an agnostic, and Jefferson was just a Deist, for example. But so many of us living in the Midwest have operated as if we are living in a Judeo-Christian republic that happens to be occupied also by Buddhists, spiritualists, Muslims, Hindus and whatever else the imagination may construct as a way to the Divine.

The real test of whether we are a Christian nation comes after this spree of mass shootings — 355 dead this year in the USA — whose most recent expression was by a Muslim American couple who massacred 14 in California.

After something like this, Peter would want to chop off someone’s ear. But not the Christ. He put the soldier’s ear back on so that the Messiah could fulfill his destiny.

How do we react? Do we give teachers guns to protect their students? No, Gov. Terry Branstad said Dec. 7. We’re not going there. Do we ban some firearms? The US Supreme Court on Dec. 7 declined to hear a challenge of a Highland Park, Ill., ordinance banning certain semi-automatic weapons with ammo clips of 100 rounds or more. This means that the ordinance can stand, and that the Second Amendment is not absolute. We may restrict certain forms of weapons under the Second Amendment, the high court has ruled explicitly in previous cases and implicitly on Monday.

Do we turn Syria into a sheet of glass? Do we turn its refugees back to their hellhole of a homeland to mount an offensive against tyranny and terrorism with guns we tool for them?

Do we create Muslim watch lists in America? Do we kill every last gang banger in Chicago?

As we approach Christmas, the message of Advent is to prepare for the coming of the Prince of Peace. Not the Prince of Power or Prince of Righteousness. The Prince of Peace.

Jesus’ entire life story is one of advancing peace and reconciliation. “I bring to you a new Commandment,” the radical son of a carpenter told the old Conservative Guard. “Love your neighbor.”

That’s radical. He was talking about those pagans in Arabia, those butchers from Rome, and those hypocrite religious leaders working in conspiracy with the government. He posed such a non-violent threat to the heavily armed Romans that they put out a hit on him. Jesus could have fled — he had been fleeing for a long time. He could have taken it all back and got right with the authorities. But He wouldn’t. He could have summoned God’s power and smitten his persecutors. But He did not. Jesus turned the other cheek. He picked up His cross. He made peace with the criminals on either side of Him on Calvary. And when the angel appeared to the people wondering why his tomb was empty, he said, “Peace. Do not be afraid!”

Think what you will about the story of Jesus. If you accept His story, then you must assume His radical agenda: to spread the word that God loves and forgives, and that our mission is to spread peace to the least among us all over the world.

That’s what Mahatma Gandhi, no Christian, died for. That’s what Rev. Martin Luther King took a bullet for. That’s why anti-war candidate Bobby Kennedy died in Los Angeles. They stood up to the face of evil with the shield of peace and non-violence. And, at least we would say, they advanced the cause of peace farther than the greatest army ever could.

If we were a Christian nation we would beat our swords into plowshares. We would embrace homeless children from El Salvador who otherwise are locked in concrete detention centers in the American Southwest. We would seek understanding over conflict with Islam, because Christianity at its base is likewise a “radical” lifestyle that defies contemporary convention. That’s not what we hear in the aftermath of yet more violence, whether committed by Muslim, Jew or disaffected Protestant.

We hear that we need more guns, not less. We hear that we need to kill someone, eyes for eye or teeth for tooth. Jesus waved all that off and instructed people to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. He said if you want to perfect yourself then sell all you have, give to the poor and follow him down the tortuous trail of peace.

Of course we are not that kind of nation. We are organized not to lay down our arms but to pick them up. We are steeped in the idea that where reason fails force will prevail. People vote for strength and security, not peace and reconciliation.

If we were a Christian nation the conversation would be different. Especially this time of year, when the word is supposed to be Peace. Our values are liberty and democracy, not necessarily the main Christian values of peace and reconciliation. That’s okay, as long as we understand what our base values are and what they are not.

This appeared as an editorial in The Storm Lake (Iowa) Times.

From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2016


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