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Christianity and War

Because of the oddness of the following story and the unpopular opinions represented, I feel the urge to say that in order to become a certified candidate for ordination, I had to take a psychological assessment consisting of 500 questions and an hour-long interview. According to this assessment, I was marked psychologically healthy. Now that that’s settled:

Sparingly, throughout my life, I have received visions. I had no idea what to do with them at first because I did not grow up in a church where we talked about that sort of thing, and they happened irregularly enough that I had ample opportunity to ignore them. During my senior year of college, I received the most realistic vision of my life. I saw a muted green military tank through an aerial lens. It was isolated and surrounded by desert sand. I consulted some friends about it, and the general consensus was to take it figuratively: I was fighting for the Lord and I felt alone. While that made a lot of sense given my situation at the time, I felt a nagging indicator that that wasn’t right. Almost exactly a year later, I received another vision. This time, it was a camouflaged duffle bag sitting on top of an aluminum bench. I prayed extensively about it, I got fragments of an answer, and as I attempted to make sense of what the Lord was telling me, I became deeply frightened. It became clear to me that I was meant to deeply consider the morality of war. And as I began to do this, I felt an unavoidable personal realignment towards pacifism.

Early Christians were almost universally pacifists, and they were martyred extensively. Anabaptists during the Protestant Reformation took an oath against the sword and they were killed by both Catholics and other Protestants. In the 1700s, the Quakers became the first denomination in the United States to openly denounce warfare and they were almost universally despised. Martin Luther King’s support dwindled after he started speaking out against the Vietnam war. My opinion is certainly not an original one, but it has never been a popular one.

In a series of articles over the next couple of weeks, I will be detailing what I mean when I say “I’m a pacifist” and why I feel the need to say it now. This will include the Biblical basis, early Christian opinions, an account of church history, and modern implications. I am pointedly aware of the unpopularity of my own opinion, and it is miles outside my comfort zone to talk in depth about such a polarizing issue. In the interest of not offending more people than I need to, I do wish to make something clear now:

I do not hate people in the military. My brother-in-law is a commander in the Navy and I have been amazed at his servant’s spirit and his godliness. My dad was in the Army, and I respect and love him. I believe a lot of people join the military because they want to serve something bigger than them, and that is a respectable and awesome motivation. I am not going to argue that good people cannot be in the military. But I am calling into question the foundations of warfare. Is there such a thing as a just war? Is there a difference between murder and killing in combat? And of course, if not war, then how do we keep ourselves safe? On my own, I would never seriously ask these questions… they daunt and petrify me. But the Lord would not just let me sit in complacency. And so, in reverence and subservience to my God, I am seeing these questions through. And these just might be some of the most important questions a culturally-embedded 21st century citizen of the country with the largest military in the world could ask.

Micah 4:1-4

“In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised up above the hills.
Peoples shall stream to it,
and many nations shall come and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more;
but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid;
for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.

God’s peace,

Brandon Miller

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Brandon Miller

Brandon Miller is currently a student at Duke Divinity School and a candidate for ordination in the United Methodist Church. He and his wife Meredith live in Durham, North Carolina

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