From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Commentary: Methodists are called to witness for peace

From "NewsDesk" <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Thu, 19 Dec 2002 15:16:06 -0600

Dec. 19, 2002  News media contact: Joretta Purdue7(202) 546-87227Washington  

NOTE: A photograph of Bishop C. Dale White is available. 

By Bishop C. Dale White* 

Once again we are a nation bedeviled by the ancient curse of war hysteria.
Once again in this holy season, the followers of the Prince of Peace are
called to a courageous witness for a just peace. We are stewards of the
cosmic dream of the Creator God for shalom on planet earth.

Surely this is a "kairos" moment for Christian peacemakers. Since the end of
the Cold War, it has proven difficult to arouse anyone's interest in matters
of war and peace. Suddenly a "teachable moment" has been forced upon the
church. Many United Methodists have been asking for guidance from their
leaders. They want to know: What does the church teach about war and peace?
What is the United Methodist heritage?

For the first four centuries of Christendom, Christians were mainly
pacifists. They refused to participate in all killing, military service and
warfare. A strain of pacifism has continued in Methodism.  

The founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley condemned all war as the
prime example of human depravity. For decades, the moral witness of the
General Conference, the denomination's highest legislative body and the only
entity authorized to speak for the church, has been clear and concise: "We
believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ. We
therefore reject war as an instrument of national foreign policy and insist
that the first moral duty of all nations is to resolve by peaceful means
every dispute that arises between or among them."

Now some are saying that pacifism is unrealistic, and that the just war
theory must be the norm for Christians. The General Conference of 2000 for
the first time confessed: "We also acknowledge that most Christians
regretfully realize that, when peaceful alternatives have failed, the force
of arms may be preferable to unchecked aggression, tyranny and genocide." 

Remembering how Jesus said, "He who takes up the sword will perish by the
sword," the Methodist witness is to be profoundly skeptical that any war is
just. Once the beast of war is uncaged, it becomes very difficult to
restrain. Wars in the past century have spawned an excess of barbarism. Moral
restraints have been overwhelmed. Nations have used poison gas, fire raids,
nuclear weapons, and napalm against civilians and military personnel alike.
For five decades the world has lived under the nuclear threat of "mutually
assured destruction."

Christians have a sacred obligation to lead in the search for a just peace.
Our covenantal obligations as members of the body of Christ are clear. We are
the followers of the Prince of Peace. Our Lord's assurance that peacemakers
are especially blessed reassures us. Our Christian compassion motivates us.
Our essential concern for justice and righteousness goads us to act.  The
Holy Spirit guides and empowers us.

Although we may feel inadequate to address complex global issues, we should
remember the charge that Jesus gave to the 12 disciples when he sent them out
on the first missionary journey.  He said: "You will be dragged before
governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles.
When they hand you over, do not worry about what you are to say; for what you
are to say will be given to you at that time." (Matthew 10:18.) Courageous
witness will be guided and blessed by God!

In the pastoral letter "In Defense of Creation," the Council of Bishops asked
United Methodists "to become evangelists of shalom, making the ways of Jesus
the model of discipleship, embracing all neighbors near and far, all friends
and enemies, and becoming defenders of God's good creation, and to pray
without ceasing for peace in our time."

# # #

*White, now retired, was chairman of the Council of Bishops committee that
produced the widely used "In Defense of Creation" letter.

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represent the opinions or policies of UMNS or the United Methodist Church.

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