Friday, September 6, 2013

Why so wishy-washy on war?

I had a strong reaction to Senator Markey's recent "present" vote on the question of war/peace (life/death) in Syria. It outraged me, really. Why become a US Senator only to punt on the most important question(s) to come your way?

But I've been thinking about Unitarian Universalist ministry.  We UUs (and we UU ministers) pride ourselves on being tolerant; on being reasonable; on being able to see different sides of issues; but ultimately we like to "stand on the side of love", as we say. That is where we try to take our stand, "on the side of love" as we see it.

Which brings us to the question of war.

Where do we stand when it comes to war, or to US military intervention in Syria?

We are all horrified at what al-Assad has done. And no one wants to "do nothing". It's an interesting phenomenon that sending missiles feels like "doing something", whereas diplomacy, humanitarian aid, etc. somehow is "doing less". I believe that our Culture of Violence has brainwashed us that "action" is "kicking ass and taking names"; an "action movie" is filled with violence, not people actively using hearts and minds to create a better world, after all. But I digress!

What should people of faith -- what, specifically, should UUs -- suggest that we do in such a case as this? Is military intervention acceptable?

So often Christians (and those among the UUs who are UU Christians) look to Jesus for guidance, understandably.  What would Jesus do, we ask?  And it can be dubious to put 21st century questions to the Jesus test: What would Jesus say about abortion? about homosexuality? He said nothing about these things, so it is dangerous (and questionable) to try to use Jesus to make our abortion and same sex marriage cases (on either side of the issue).  But one thing Jesus said LOTS about is violence. And it was consistent. He was always against violence.  (I think of the words of Normon Solomon who said, "War becomes perpetual when it is used as a rationale for peace"... and then I get cynical and think that we are turning the "Prince of Peace" into the "Prince of Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace".)

But then we think, Jesus lived 2000+ years ago. He couldn't have understood, or been thinking about, modern warfare... modern politics... chemical weapons... etc.

I still think his stance on violence (against it!) is about as clear as any stance he took (according to the gospel accounts of his life).  But it is true that he lived a long, long time ago.

But what about Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.? Most people of faith I know -- and virtually all the UUs I know -- revere these two men.  Their stances against violence and war -- all violence and war -- could not have been more clear.  And they were men of the 20th century, not so long ago.  They were even contemporaries of some of us (though not quite me; my mother was pregnant with me when Martin Luther King was shot).  These leaders, in their zeal for peace, did not "do nothing". On the contrary, they literally changed the world with non-violence (non-violent resistance).  They both paid for their powerful successes with their lives, tragically.

Why then is war an issue "on which we can reasonably disagree"?  Why do we abandon our faith and moral traditions and get policy-wonky about war? 

We have seven Unitarian Universalist principles, and to me, they all point toward non-violence and the goal of peace. I hope we do not become a people of seven principles and no principle. Let's not punt on the question of war.