Abraham Lincoln became sixteenth president as an agent of peace, but he confronted a nation separated south from north. "One of them would make war rather than let the nation survive,” concluded Lincoln, “and the other would accept war rather than let it perish.” Thus, the war came! 1
That war crippled America, scarred its national body for generations to come, killing 418,206, leaving 362,130 wounded citizens. Half a century later, American politics were so corrupted that adding pre-emptive strikes to our diplomatic arsenal only added American soldiers as another foreign invader.
War is expensive! By any measure, it is excessive, even wasteful! Iraq cost more than 4,400 American deaths. Thousands more carried wounds. The 2007 surge added 30,000 troops to Iraqi collateral damages--70-76,000 killed (Washington Post, 8-21-07), paid by credit card.
When unveiling America’s new military-industrial phenomenon in 1961, President Eisenhower cautioned us regarding grave implications of the “immense military establishment and a large arms industry.” He accepted it, but agreed it was “new in the American experience, a total influence – economic, political, even spiritual.” (Emphasis added).
Ike cautioned us to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence . . . sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex” (emphasis added). He admitted the potentially disastrous rise of misplaced power, and rightfully feared it. He further insisted, we must never let this endanger our liberties or democratic processes (emphasis added).
From the first, America’s founders gave civilian controls precedence over military powers. Eisenhower warned, take nothing for granted; “only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. . .”2
Decades later, diplomatic efforts stumble in darkened corridors of the War Department while Congress marches meekly to the economic ambivalence of the Pentagon. Arms manufacturers “lobby” hard for jobs in the “growth industry” that now includes an unseen army of unaccountable para-military sub-contractors earning prime profit from weapons of destruction.
Should journalists dare to define the philosophical struggles between diplomacy and defense, few would dare to march by the peacemaker’s drumbeat.3 The teachings of Jesus no longer offer relevance to our national debate; therefore Christians ought to withdraw quietly from public dialogue, privatize personal faith, and allow diplomacy to wear its military uniform.
If true, that the Christian message of the cross has no relevance, let us delete John Wesley from the Internet of human history. Wesley defined himself homo unius libri--“a man of one book.” He proclaimed that book “the sum of all religion,” which he asserted “is laid down in eight particulars, and he described the Sermon on the Mount as an aggregate total of the New Testament message.”4
Jesus challenged humanity to forgive as God forgives.5 Jesus used the cross to interpret God’s indiscriminate love.6 Christian discipleship challenges us to integrate personal beliefs and behaviors with actions and attitudes, which Pastor J. L. Sparks calls “transformation.” Jesus intended for people to negotiate win-win solutions for everyone and eliminate the win-lose system of human relationships.
“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth,” concluded Saint Paul. “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres ... And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 7
Martin Luther King led the Civil Rights Movement by challenging followers to “meet the forces of hate with the power of [Christ-like] love.” Addressing “white brothers all over the South,” King declared, “we will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering … Bomb our homes and we will still love you ... We will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process. 8
During the Cold War, members of one local church began worshiping above a former missile silo. Seeing potential opportunity, they built their new facility on top the Titan II ICBM site. Solid with concrete, the once destructive missile site became a new symbol of hope for converting swords and missiles into plowshares and worship into peacemaking.
Pastor, Stewart Elson, called it a fitting closure to Cold War. He described it as “hope for a world falling prey to its own worst self” and called ending the Cold War and dismantling the nuclear defense system a superpower exercise of control, forever hampered by human frailties and political gaming.
John Bernbaum suggested that Jesus is the consummate peacemaker. He believed the Church of Jesus Christ, by virtue of its multinational character, “should by definition be an agent for world peace!”9
Although new faces present our day with the violence and hatreds of centuries-old wars and broken relationships, we are still confronted with the Old Testament Scriptures that reveal a humanity created in the image of God. We still have the New Testament Scripture that reveals Jesus inviting all humanity to further experience the love of God, and to ultimately share God’s gift of reconciliation and indwelling peace.10
Agent of peace, or war: which are you?
1 Abraham Lincoln, 2nd Inaugural Address, 4 March 1865.
2 Eisenhower's “Farewell Address to the Nation,” January 17, 1961.
3 Stephen Glain, State Vs Defense. New York: Crown Publishers, 2011.
4 The Works of John Wesley, Vol. V, p. 251.
5 Mt. 6:12, 14; 18:32; Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13.
6 Mt. 5:43-48; Luke 6:32-36.
7 I Corinthians Chapter 13:8, 13, NIV.
8 Marshall Frady, Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York: Penguin Putnam, Inc., 2002), p. 5.
9 John A. Bernbaum, Perspectives on Peacemaking. (Glendale, CA: Regal Books, 1984, p. 254.
10 I John 1:5-7; 3:1-3, et al.