The Ground Truth
The Lancaster District churches of Lancaster Mennonite Conference are sponsoring an important event on Sunday evening at 7 pm. The Ground Truth is a film that features the voices of soldiers who have served in Iraq. I have previewed the film and would agree with the critics that it is riveting and intensely provocative. Out of their own experiences on the frontlines, the soldiers speak an undeniable truth about the human cost of war.
So why is a group of peace churches sponsoring this event? I believe this event at James St. Mennonite Church represents an attempt to bear witness to our theology of peace, while at the same time responding to those who have served in the military with compassion. The witness would be that it is not only innocent civilians who are the casualties of war. Just as we would advocate against the tendency to de-humanize “the enemy” we are seeking to be consistent with this ethic and not de-humanize those who for whatever reason have served in the military.
I believe the film challenges us to consider what it means as Christians to have a consistent ethic of life. To be pro-life covers a whole range of issues from the womb to the tomb. To espouse family values means we will also take into consideration the impact of our international policies and military campaigns on the lives of families in the countries of occupation.
As Christians in the Anabaptist tradition, we seek to apply the life and teachings of Jesus to real life. We are committed to the belief that Jesus’ words and actions are relevant to the real and complex issues of our day. So to be a follower of Jesus means that we will attempt to follow his teachings and example. So we don’t write off the Sermon on the Mount as impractical in today’s world. Jesus’ call to love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us means that our calling as Christians will place us in some real tensions with the systems and powers of the world. Jesus’ life and teachings are relevant to the real issues of terrorism, sectarian violence, and insurgent attacks.
Yet, we do not view those who have sacrificed much—soldiers and other military personnel—as the enemy. As Christians in the peace tradition, I think we experience a real ambivalence when it comes to honoring veterans. We recognize the personal sacrifice and yet do not support the policies and methods of war. We reserve our allegiance for the Kingdom of God, yet we live as citizens of a nation-state which looks to military might as a primary guarantor of the American way of life. So what do we do with those who have left home and family to put their lives in places of dangers to do what their nation’s government says is right? What do we do with their willingness to lay down their lives? I believe this film is one attempt to listen to their voices. I believe the truth they speak of out of their experience should only increase our commitment to be peacemakers in a world gone mad with violence.
If we are going to be peacemakers, we must be committed to truth-telling. If Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, we must take seriously his words that call us to love of enemy and the way of the cross. This is not just an elective part of the Christian Way, it is the essential core curriculum for those who are seeking first the Kingdom of God. The Christendom model of Christianity is bankrupt. Let’s take the cross off our sword and shields (and the contemporary munitions). Let us stop killing in the name of Jesus. Let's take ourselves off the white horse bringing about the apocalypse through our righteous violence against the axis of evil. That narrative must be tested with Scripture and named for what it is--a counterfeit of the Christian understanding of sin and the human condition.
In previous posts I have acknowledged that I don’t expect the kingdoms of this world to appropriate the teachings of Jesus. But as a Church, let us at least recognize that we are called to be a counter-community—salt and light. Nevertheless, as we bear witness to a peaceable kingdom, we will engage the kingdoms of this world in a spirit of love and compassion. And we do not just remain quiet when our silence represents a complicity with failed policies and short-sighted doctrines of war. We renew our commitment to be ambassadors of a consistent pro-life ethic.
Keith Olberman is one voice who is raising questions about the way we read current events and history. Whether or not you agree with his tone, I believe the questions he raises are legitimate. The lessons of Vietnam were costly. Let us not reframe that tragic war in a way that blinds us from seeing the truth of the Iraq war.