This may seem like a non-sequitur, but today I’m thinking about two presidents: the president of the United States and a past president of Ashland University. Bear with me.
President Obama won’t have the United States fund just any old Syrian rebels with $500 million. We’ll only fund ones who have been “Appropriately Vetted.” I wonder what this vetting process involves given the administration’s stated goal of protecting Syrians against both the regime and extremists. We’ve also learned about the president’s announcement, in a speech at West Point, of plans to create a $5 billion counterterrorism fund to be used in the Middle East—$4 billion of which will go to the Pentagon. Meanwhile, the National Security Council maintains that “there is no military solution to this crisis [in Syria].” And of course 300 American military advisors are right now on their way to Baghdad.
I’m struck by how readily military means are edged up to problems that admittedly have no military solution. If we zoom out, I think it’s clear that there was no military solution to the problem of Saddam Hussein over a decade ago, or at least it’s clear that Iraq’s current problems are partly the result of how a military “solution” failed to bring peace. War and peace are strategic issues and we discuss how effectively or ineffectively peace may be achieved through violence.
Now, because Ashland University gets a new president this week, I’m also thinking about what a past president, J. Allen Miller (1866-1935; Ashland College president 1899-1906), thought about war. He wasn’t interested in the strategic questions, but in moral, spiritual questions and matters of conscience. Here’s a quote from a sermon he preached called “The Quest of a Warless World”:
“WE ARE CONSCIENTIOUS NON-RESISTANTS. This is the Historic position of the Church. We insist that MORAL and SPIRITUAL issues can not be arbitrated by FORCE. War is basically a moral issue. An appeal to ARMS is an appeal to brute force. Force can never make a wrong and an injustice, right and just, whether as between man and man or Nation and Nation. We refuse to be partners to the settlement of a moral issue on the basis that might makes right.
And we are conscientious in this matter. WE ARE CHRISTIAN. We take the Bible seriously as the very Word of God; therefore we observe to the letter many of its teachings which are commonly disregarded. . .. We hold literally to the teachings of Jesus .... For the same reason we are Non-resistants. It is our inmost conviction of reasoned thought and an overwhelming sense of divine compulsion that impels us to take our stand against WAR as un-Christian and therefore sinful.”
As a theologian myself and also as a concerned citizen, I’m struck by how we can be pulled in very different directions when we think about war even if, in the end, we're still being pulled by peace. I want to say to president Obama that war is a bad idea, that it’s short-sighted, that it won’t be effective, and that it costs too much. But if I’m honest, that’s not finally what I really think about war. What I really think is what president Miller said: war is un-Christian and sinful; it discloses lack of faith. People have many different reasons for opposing war and loving peace, especially when they are directly affected by the violence—they simply want it to stop. Then again, opposition to war and love of peace can themselves inspire more fighting, if only in hopes that the fighting will cease.
So how does it end? Do we go with one president and hope that we can outwit the use of violence through “non-military” military means?
I go with the other president and stake my moral claim as a Christian who views war as incompatible with God’s quest for a warless world.