“My kingdom,” said Jesus, “doesn’t consist of what you see around you. If it did, my followers would fight so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. But I’m not that kind of king, not the world’s kind of king.” – John 18:36
We’re coming up to a time when we remember the casualties of war. Remembrance Day. I will be involved in the marking of that (especially as a Chaplain in the Air Cadet Organisation, linked to the Royal Air Force), but I do so in a particular way and from a particular perspective.
Every time I get the chance, I make mention of the fact that Jesus claims our allegiance. This is relatively new language for me, but it is language I find myself using a lot for a variety of reasons. Giving our allegiance makes demands upon us. It requires active participation or our allegiance means nothing.
I think there are some pretty strong implications for our allegiance to Jesus in lots of ways, but here are our thoughts about our relationship to the state, conflict and war:
1. That we are continually resident aliens in any nation of the world. Whilst we might want to seek God’s blessing and shalom for our surroundings, our ultimate allegiance is to Jesus and His Kingdom. And so I even hold ‘being Scottish’ much more lightly than I hold the supreme importance of being an ambassador of the true King. Being an ambassador of the Kingdom of God means that we join with a multi-national non-geographic people, brought together under the Kingship of Jesus. In every place where we are, we represent him.
2. We are, as resident aliens, subject to the state. The state has its role, as Paul outlines in Romans 13: 1 – 7 Such as: raising taxes, wielding the sword (as agents of God!….more on that later) etc etc. So, as we reside in the state, we do what the state requires like if we were visiting America or France on an extended visit and did some work there, we’d expect to pay taxes and make a positive contribution to society.
3. Yet, we are to hold 1 and 2 together. Bruxy Cavey, an anabaptist leader, states that if you were visiting another nation and that nation declared war, you wouldn’t automatically go to war with it. If you were required to sign up, you’d automatically say ‘woah, wait a minute, I’m just a visitor.’
Take a look at the text at the head of the blog. Jesus, having been arrested and falsely accused, defends his Kingdom and his Kingship before Pilate. He brings out the stark contrast between a worldly kingdom, a ‘secular state’, and God’s Kingdom. Maybe this is where Paul gets his comments in Romans 12 and 13.
In Romans 12 he paints the call of the Kingdom. In Romans 13, he paints the call of the state. Now, is it possible to take of your Kingdom hat and put on a State hat in these things? Jesus says that his followers belong to a different Kingdom and so aren’t going to take up the sword in his defence or in anything.
Thinking about war and conflict, I believe it is not the business of the followers of Jesus to be wielding the sword of the State. That is the State’s role and privilege. This is the challenge that the political, geographical, social and religious entity called ‘Christendom’ was never able to resolve. Thus, in our day we have a long history in the church of sanctifying war.
That is not to say that there must never be war, I don’t think pacifism is always about that (although I’d often challenge the assumptions upon which wars are entered and conducted). I’ve already said that Romans make the role of the State clear. Its just the case that war is not ‘our Way’. It is alien to our Kingdom. It is not the Way of Jesus.
So, as I come to Remembrance Day, I don’t want to glorify war. Neither do I want to buy in to the glorification of the war dead, which is becoming a real feature of our culture. There is a difference between honour, respect and glorification. I do, however, want to mark with others the lives of those that are lost to conflict, whether it is deemed right or wrong. Soldiers are men and women who are carrying out the functions of state and in doing so sadly lose their lives. This is something to be remembered. I believe the followers of Jesus should be there to help our communities mourn this fact.
Yet, I think we need to go the step beyond. ‘Pasifism’ can never be purely reactive, passive. Its not passive, and thats where the term is misleading. Someone else has coined the phrase ‘Shalom Activist.’ This is to recognise that as ambassadors of a different Kingdom, our agenda in the world is different. We want to see the peace of God, the values and standards of the Kingdom touching all people everywhere. A pledge of allegiance to Jesus is a commitment to the Way of Peace and of peacemaking.
I seek, as in all things, to hold these things in creative tension, yet seeking to honour Jesus in all things whilst ministering compassion and the ministry of reconciliation he gives to his people.