An essay by Paul Jones, Bishop to the Universe, a founder of Episcopal Peace Fellowship
What should a Christian man do when his country is threatened by another, when long established rights are invaded, or when some weak nation is ruthlessly oppressed by a hostile power?
There can only be one answer to that question. The Christian man should get to his knees and pray for divine guidance and then go to the source book of Christian teaching, the New Testament, and try earnestly to find out from it what Christ would have him do.
If he tries to answer the question from the point of view of business, expediency or nationality, he is going to confuse the issue and risk a wrong choice. For the Christian there is but one supreme loyalty and that is to Christ and His Gospel. If anything else conflicts with that so much the worse for that other thing. Duties to country, to home, and to family must always give way to that higher loyalty which alone is capable of taking them up and giving them full significance.
In seeking an answer for myself to the current problem I went back to that source which I have mentioned, and I want to now share the results of that investigation.
The outstanding features of the Gospel of Christ, if we may trust the leading commentators, are summed up in the idea of the Kingdom of God. By that Kingdom Jesus meant “an ideal (though progressively approximated) social order in which the relation of men to God is that of sons, and (therefore) to each other, that of brothers.” Into that conception of the Kingdom practically all of our Lord’s teaching fits, giving the principles upon which we as individuals can act so as to live in the Kingdom and bring others into it. Roughly grouping that teaching, it falls into two parts, that regarding our estimate of ourselves and our possessions and that regarding others.
In Christ’s sight it seems clear that one’s personality, possessions, and even life are a secondary consideration compared with the welfare of others and the progress of the Kingdom.
“Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body what ye shall put on.” “Seek ye first his Kingdom and his righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.” “Whosoever would save his life shall lose it, and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s shall save it.” “How oft shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? … till seventy times seven.” The importance of self is never the test of conduct.
Toward others the only conduct that is allowed or recommended is that of active love and kindness toward both the evil-doer and the righteous man, in order to transform them all into proper members of the Kingdom. Our Lord’s spiritual interpretation of the ten commandments forbids us to hold thoughts of anger, hatred, lust or covetousness against others. “Judge not that ye be not judged” goes with the advice to “cast out first the beam out of thine own eye” before trying to correct a brother’s fault. On the positive side we are directed, “as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also unto them likewise.” “Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself.” “And whensoever ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against anyone.” “Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.”
As I read it, then, the attitude of the Christian is to be one of not harboring bitterness, hate or ill-will on the one hand, and on the other is to be one of putting forth goodwill and love and forgiveness without limit, and thereby breaking down the opposition of evil doers. It is not a passive attitude, but one that is essentially active and aggressive, standing and working for the right against all odds no matter what the immediate consequences might be. Even aside from the words of his teaching, those principles could be learned from the life of our Lord in every act up to the final giving of himself on Calvary.
He taught insistently, never overlooking an opportunity to drive home the truth. In spite of attacks, sneers and criticisms, He maintained His attitude of readiness to help, and even in the agony of the cross still prayed for his enemies: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
After thus studying again His life and teaching, I find it quite impossible to believe that people can be true to the things which He taught and the example which He gave and at the same time take part in war; for war is the organized destruction of our enemies and it is always accompanied by hatred and bitterness, thus necessitating an attitude of mind and course of conduct the opposite of that enjoined by Christ.
However, lest it be thought that in some way I have misread the Gospel, I would refer you to the writings of the four leading Apostles in the New Testament, to see how they understood their Master.
St. Paul says, “Render no man evil for evil.” “Avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place unto wrath.” “If thine enemy hunger, feed him.” “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”
St. James says, “But the wisdom that is from above, is first pure, then peacable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits.”
St. Peter says, “For so it is the will of god, that by well-doing ye should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.” “For this is acceptable if for conscience toward God a man endureth griefs suffering wrongfully.” “Not rendering evil for evil or reviling for reviling; but contrariwise blessing.”
St. John says, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar.” “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer.”
It is unthinkable that these men would have taken any part in war or in preparation for one. And I need only to refer to the example of the Christians of the early centuries who preferred to die rather than to go into the army and cause someone else’s death, to show that they all interpreted our Lord’s teaching in the same way.
As a matter of plain practical conduct fitted to meet a condition and not a theory, I feel perfectly sure that active, aggressive militant goodwill founded on the example and teaching of Christ is the only power that will effectively preserve real spiritual values in the world. That, however, is a question of expediency which does not come within the scope of this paper.
The question with which I started was, What can a Christian man do under the present national circumstances? I have gone in search to the sources of our Christian standards, and in the light of what I find there, as I love my country, I must protest against her doing what I would not do myself, because it is contrary to our Lord’s teaching. To prosecute war means to kill men, bringing sorrow and suffering upon women and children, and to instill suspicion, fear and hatred into the hearts of the people on both sides. No matter what principles may appear to be at stake, to deliberately engage in such a course of action that evidently is un-Christian is repugnant to the whole spirit of the Gospel.
As a Christian Bishop, charged with the responsibility of leadership, I would be deserving only of contempt did I remain silent in the present crisis, when the Christian standards of judgment are apparently being entirely ignored. The day will come when, like slavery which was one held in good repute, war will be looked upon as thoroughly un-Christian. At present it is recognized as an evil which nobody honestly wants, but not yet has it received its final sentence at the bar of Christian morality. Only when Christian men and women and churches will be brave enough to stand openly for the full truth that their consciences are beginning to recognize, will the terrible anachronism of war between Christian nations be done away.