He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
This year will be the 101st observance of Veteran’s Day in the United States. For some this poses an ethical dilemma – those who oppose war, but honor, value, and support the brave men and women who selflessly serve to defend their country. It is not always easy to stand against war, while supporting soldiers. Military veterans sometimes feel disrespected when they hear a pacifist opposition to warfare.
Yet, following centuries of bloodshed it is difficult to agree that violence is the best pathway to peace. Our Hebrew scriptures are full of battle, conquest, pillage and violence, but our Savior is the “Prince of Peace.” Blessed are the peacemakers. Christ offers a heavenly and spiritual peace to the community in John. In the face of enemy aggression, we are invited to turn the other cheek.
There is a wide gulf between the ideal and the real. God’s will and vision for all creation may be a “peaceable kingdom,” but our lived reality is regularly one of competition, conflict, and attack. In a day when those who cry “peace, peace,” find no peace, it is reasonable to wonder if it is even humanly possible.
And perhaps it is not humanly possible, but is it possible for God? Do we truly believe that peace is God’s will for God’s people? Careful reading of our gospels and the writings of the Apostle Paul leave little doubt: peace is a central tenet of Christian faith. In the face of injustice, Christians stand for justice. In the face of oppression, Christians call for compassion. In the face of violence, Christians call for mercy. In the face of war, Christians stand for peace.
This will not always be a popular position. But even from a pacifist position, Christians still honor the conscience of the men and women who choose to take up arms in defense of their country, their values, and their liberty. There is no greater love than that a person would lay down her or his life for another.
I am not aware of a single family that cannot share stories of members who served faithfully to defend nation, state, family or way of life. To honor their decision is to honor our God-given right to follow our conscience and to live in alignment with our deepest values and convictions. While we may not all agree on what those values should be, it is not difficult to honor an honest and sincere sense of duty.
So, in the shadow of this Veteran’s Day, I encourage us all to reflect deeply on the values, beliefs, and commitments that guide and shape our lives. We would want nothing more than each of these to be respected by others. And so, we remember how important the Golden Rule is for a strong and civil society: “do unto others as we would have them do unto you.” Some of us may pursue a life in the military, while others adopt pacifism. Some may support technology, some education, some religion, some business. All will determine that which is right for them. Rather than judging, let us adopt a simple prayer: “Lord, may each of us live with integrity, using our gifts and knowledge and resources for good in the world. Help us to do all within our power to create, to heal, to build up, and never to destroy. Amen.”
Grace and Peace,
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).