Bombs rained down on three Syrian chemical weapons storage and research facilities.
“Mission accomplished!” exclaimed our explosive president.
But what IS the mission? What WAS accomplished?
Trump says it is to prevent Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from ever again using chemical weapons against his people. That is also what he said a year ago, when he ordered a missile attack on an airfield from which an earlier chemical attack had been launched. Was the mission accomplished then? The Syrian government quickly rebuilt it.
What IS the mission? Is it to protect Syrian civilians? But then why do we not respond to the day-in, day-out slaughter of these civilians by conventional weapons? Is having your leg blown off by a regular bomb and then bleeding to death or dying of infection somehow less cruel than dying from a chemical weapons attack?
What IS the mission? Is it simply an emotional reaction to terrible scenes of children being treated for chemical poisoning? Why does that stir our emotions and lead to bombing, and the much greater numbers of dead kids and parents and aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins lead to nothing?
And if we want to protect Syrian civilians, why do we refuse them at our borders? Why do we not provide them safe haven? Isn’t it hypocritical to tell asylum seekers to go back where they came from, and then express shock and horror when they die a horrible death where they came from?
What IS the mission? What WAS accomplished?
Donald Trump is the chosen president of white Evangelical and Catholic Christians. Tell me, Christians: you follow Jesus, right? The Jesus who called upon his followers to love their enemies (Matthew 5:44); who said that if someone strikes you on one cheek, to not strike back but turn the other cheek to the attacker as well (Matthew 5:39); the one who said that peacemakers are blessed (Matthew 5:9); the Jesus who said to forgive always (Matthew 18:21-22); the Jesus who resisted evil by overturning money tables in the temple but not with actual violence (John 2:13-17); who resisted the dehumanizing Sabbath laws by healing on the Sabbath a man with a withered hand (Mark 3:1-6); who resisted the violent religious law of stoning adulterers (and usually just the women) with righteous words inviting anyone who has not sinned to cast the first stone (John 8:1-6); the Jesus who told Peter to put away his sword and not defend Jesus from his unjust arrest (Matthew 26:52).
There is more. But you get the picture. You say you follow Jesus. Tell me, Christians: Who would Jesus bomb?
Pope Francis wrote a wonderful letter a little over a year ago called “Nonviolence: a Style of Politics for Peace.” The title in itself indicates a perspective at odds with the dominant view in America and perhaps most other places: a perspective in which nonviolence is not passivity in the face of evil, but in fact the only form of resistance that can win more than short-term battles against evil. It also is the only form of resistance that makes sense for anyone claiming to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus. Francis writes:
To be true followers of Jesus today also includes embracing his teaching about nonviolence. As my predecessor Benedict XVI observed, that teaching “is realistic because it takes into account that in the world there is too much violence, too much injustice, and therefore that this situation cannot be overcome except by countering it with more love, with more goodness. This ‘more’comes from God”. He went on to stress that: “For Christians, nonviolence is not merely tactical behaviour but a person’s way of being, the attitude of one who is so convinced of God’s love and power that he or she is not afraid to tackle evil with the weapons of love and truth alone. Love of one’s enemy constitutes the nucleus of the ‘Christian revolution’”. The Gospel command to love your enemies (cf. Lk 6:27) “is rightly considered the magna carta of Christian nonviolence. It does not consist in succumbing to evil…, but in responding to evil with good (cf. Rom 12:17-21), and thereby breaking the chain of injustice”.…
Nonviolence is sometimes taken to mean surrender, lack of involvement and passivity, but this is not the case. When Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, she clearly stated her own message of active nonviolence: “We in our family don’t need bombs and guns, to destroy to bring peace – just get together, love one another… And we will be able to overcome all the evil that is in the world”. For the force of arms is deceptive. “While weapons traffickers do their work, there are poor peacemakers who give their lives to help one person, then another and another and another”; for such peacemakers, Mother Teresa is “a symbol, an icon of our times”. Last September, I had the great joy of proclaiming her a Saint. I praised her readiness to make herself available for everyone “through her welcome and defence of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded… She bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity; she made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crimes – the crimes! – of poverty they created”. In response, her mission – and she stands for thousands, even millions of persons – was to reach out to the suffering, with generous dedication, touching and binding up every wounded body, healing every broken life.
The decisive and consistent practice of nonviolence has produced impressive results. The achievements of Mahatma Gandhi and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in the liberation of India, and of Dr Martin Luther King Jr in combating racial discrimination will never be forgotten. Women in particular are often leaders of nonviolence, as for example, was Leymah Gbowee and the thousands of Liberian women, who organized pray-ins and nonviolent protest that resulted in high-level peace talks to end the second civil war in Liberia.
Nor can we forget the eventful decade that ended with the fall of Communist regimes in Europe. The Christian communities made their own contribution by their insistent prayer and courageous action. Particularly influential were the ministry and teaching of Saint John Paul II. Reflecting on the events of 1989 in his 1991 Encyclical Centesimus Annus, my predecessor highlighted the fact that momentous change in the lives of people, nations and states had come about “by means of peaceful protest, using only the weapons of truth and justice”. This peaceful political transition was made possible in part “by the non-violent commitment of people who, while always refusing to yield to the force of power, succeeded time after time in finding effective ways of bearing witness to the truth”. Pope John Paul went on to say: “May people learn to fight for justice without violence, renouncing class struggle in their internal disputes and war in international ones”.
The Church has been involved in nonviolent peacebuilding strategies in many countries, engaging even the most violent parties in efforts to build a just and lasting peace.
Such efforts on behalf of the victims of injustice and violence are not the legacy of the Catholic Church alone, but are typical of many religious traditions, for which “compassion and nonviolence are essential elements pointing to the way of life”. I emphatically reaffirm that “no religion is terrorist”. Violence profanes the name of God. Let us never tire of repeating: “The name of God cannot be used to justify violence. Peace alone is holy. Peace alone is holy, not war!”
It is not easy to follow Jesus. Christians, like anyone else, have a powerful tendency to want to lash out against evil, to take an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Jesus explicitly condemned that approach. When will we start taking him to heart?