Yesterday, MPs voted to take part in air strikes against terrorists in Iraq and Syria. The action was justified on the grounds that the terrorists posed a threat to UK national security, and that they are causing untold misery already in the middle east and must be stopped.
I watched the debate – and the vote – with a heavy heart. People from across the political spectrum, and across the religious spectrum – voted to engage in violent conflict. It is my firm belief that Jesus advocated non-violence, and did so for good reason: violent conflict does not resolve problems. Here I want to set out an outline for why I believe as Christians we should engage in conflict, nonviolently.
First and foremost, I don’t believe violent conflict ever fully resolves the conflict in question. It can often appear to do so. For example, the bombing of the terrorists in Iraq and Syria will inevitably lead to their weakening as a force – but for how long? and who will be upset in the process? It is quite conceivable that being a part of the force attacking them, Britain will be the victim of a terrorist attack in the future. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 arguably got us in to this mess in the first place.
Secondly I believe it is vital for Christians to be engaged in conflict. If the conflict is violent, we can provide respite, care, help and support to those hurt, injured or affected by that conflict. We can also choose to deal with, not shy away from, problems – on a small or international scale. There are a great many things we can, and should, be doing as God’s people.
We can pray for peace. We can pray for those suffering and we can pray for our hearts that they would be stirred to enter into conflict with those we oppose – with a view to a peaceful resolution.
We can dialogue with the other parties involved. As Christians we can encourage and foster a culture of grace, forgiveness, and moving forward – just as God has done for us in inviting us into the Kingdom of Heaven. The Northern Ireland conflict is a great example of this happening. Yes, it isn’t perfect, but it’s so, so much better than it used to be now that both sides are talking, positively.
We can get in the way. Nobody wants to bomb a city full of its own citizens. Radical? Yes. Crazy? Probably. Risky? Almost certainly. But Jesus didn’t ask us to lead long, comfortable, cosy lives. He asked us to risk them. And besides, wasn’t it Paul who said that “the greatest thing a man can do is lay down his life for a friend”? When Paul says “friend”, think “neighbour”. What does Jesus have to say about who our neighbour is? hmm…
We can make a point. It would be wrong for Christians not to engage in conflict. We can see Jesus engaging in conflict all of the time. My favourite example is the adulterous woman – Jesus didn’t just stand there. He got in the way, made a stir, made a point – very, very well. His prophetic act of drawing people’s names in the sand (I forget where I heard that explanation from, sorry) really riled the woman’s accusers and turned the tables on them. Jesus loves turning the tables. We should follow his example.
So I think we can be involved and engaged in conflict – but never violent conflict. For “those who live by the sword will die by the sword”, after all. Jesus asked Peter to put his sword away, and he asks the same of you. He asks the same of our armies. He asks us not to bomb, not to shoot, not to hit, not to even direct our anger at one another – for otherwise we risk our existence being worthy only of being consigned to the garbage dump.
Instead let’s follow Jesus’ example – pray for those who persecute us (or our ‘allies’), work to create understanding, stand in the way of conflict and prophetically proclaim the good news that God came to the earth not as Justifier of War, but as Prince of Peace.