Saturday, July 10, 2010

Pacifism, the Bible and the American Founding

Kurt Willems, a Mennonite pastor and seminary student from Fresno Pacific University has caused an uproar concerning an article he wrote for the Sojourners' blog.  His claim is that Christianity and July 4th are Incompatible.  Mark Tooley over at the Institute on Religion and Democracy has responded.  (Unfortunately, I noted at least one error in his article.  Stanley Hauerwas is not an Anabaptist.  He is United Methodist.  He is highly influenced by Mennonite writers, like John Yoder, but he's a Methodist.)

Clearly a pacifist would have a problem with any political system founded upon an act of violence.  Tooley has a point in suggesting that the one who condemns American Independence on the grounds of pacifism should rightfully be condemning Bastille Day or the Bolshevik Revolution.  For that matter, that same person should also condemn the blood spilled to liberate slaves in America or concentration camps in Europe.  Even further, one might even question the use of deadly force by a police officer in the line of duty.  I personally am not a pacifist, and I do not believe that rulers bear the sword in vain.  Nonetheless, I am respectful of the pacifist tradition in Christianity.  Hauerwas and Yoder are respected dialogue partners of mine.

The critique that I find more interesting comes from Mark Noll, a leading evangelical among academics.  Willems' own comments spring from an article that Noll wrote for Christianity Today.  I disagree with Noll when he suggests that America probably would have received independence freely as Canada and Australia later did.  Such conjecture is not possible because independence for other colonies only occurred after the Americans took their freedom by force.  Nonetheless, Noll's critique of the rhetoric at the time of the founding is helpful.  Many used and misused the Bible to further political ends.  He writes,
"An evil precedent was also established in America for later times of national crisis by employing the Bible eccentrically (instead of theologically) and by worrying about classical Christian justifications for warfare hardly at all."
Just because someone finds a slew of Biblical references and allusions does not make a country Christian.  For example, I find Newt Gingrich's "Walking Tour of God in Washington D.C." of only limited use.  Sure, you can find biblical quotes or references to Moses on public buildings, but does that baptize our system of government?  I personally find John Murray's book, We Hold These Truths, to be a more sober reflection on Christian tradition and the American founding than what we usually find on the left or right.

The United States of America is a nation is under God, which does not mean that everything we do is compatible with faith.  Instead, it means that we are always subject to God's judgment.  This country is not perfect, and I pray that God would mend her every flaw.  Our first allegiance must only be to God and only secondarily is our allegiance to nation.  That being said, our political freedoms and our understanding of limited government are wonderful gifts to the world.  Unlike Willems, I do think that celebrating America's founding is compatible with the Christian faith. 

1 comment:

Kurt Willems said...

Not sure if you saw my response to Mark Tooley. Check it out at my blog "Groans From Within."