Season of Peace Reflection for 9/23

Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

Reflection: The most comprehensive current policy on matters of international violence and war is Peacemaking: The Believers’ Calling (1980).

When the church spoke in 1980, it broadened the Vietnam era concern for individual conscience to affirm that peacemaking was the calling of all believers, particularly to face nuclear and other Cold War dangers, and in ways that would recognize global interdependence and encourage a wide range of church engagement. Peacemaking: The Believers’ Calling provides a broad biblical, theological, and ethical basis for Christian peace mission and also identifies some general directions: to reverse the worldwide arms race, examine “conversion of the economy from military to civilian production,” and relate peace to justice concerns.

Since that time, careful studies and prophetic statements have addressed the nuclear danger, particular military interventions and their rationale, and the relation of religion, violence, and terrorism. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), since 1986, has held a virtual “nuclear pacifist” position, opposing first use and retaliation and calling repeatedly for disarmament. “Just peacemaking” categories were introduced in 1996, designed to advance the ecumenical church’s thinking beyond the traditional categories of just war, crusade, and pacifism. General Assemblies have also called for responsible withdrawals by the United States from Iraq (2004) and Afghanistan (2010); the 216th General Assembly (2004) prophetically and controversially termed the Iraq war “unwise, illegal, and immoral.” The 218th GA (2008) “commended for study” a careful ethical assessment of that war titled “To Repent, To Restore, To Rebuild, and To Reconcile.”

This effort differs from previous studies in seeking broader participation and in focusing more on the example as well as the teaching of Jesus and the early church.

Question for discernment: Should the PC(USA) continue to rely on the just war tradition as its basis for restraining war, or have the conditions of modern warfare and the politics and economics of war rendered our historic stance obsolete? Are there new emphases and different biblical alternatives to consider?

Prayer: Jesus, we hear you calling. We want to follow your example. But it is so difficult to do in a 21stcentury world. We try to prevent war and violence and to promote peace and justice, but too often we fail. We need you to save us from our sins and to heal us from our ills.

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