For centuries, followers of Jesus have wondered how they should relate to states and governments. Recent documents from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations bring such concerns to the fore, highlighting the cruel collateral damage of many of President Barack Obama's personally ordered drone strikes — strikes that according to the president, are legal and in accord with international law, use technology that is precise and limit unnecessary casualties, eliminate people that are real threats, and prevent greater violence.
Rather than considering the humanity of our (perceived) enemies and seeking reconciliation and restorative justice, we default to catching and killing. In doing so, we give the widest berth possible to Jesus's teachings and examples of self-sacrificial enemy love. In both Matthew 5 and Luke 6, Jesus tells us that to love our enemies is to be children of God, for radical love and kindness are his nature and his perfection. Loving enemies is essential to anyone who would claim God as his or her Father. Jesus said, "Love." Not, "Love unless you happen to be the ones in charge and in possession of firepower. In that case, kill the bastards."
We are charged with loving our world indiscriminately, self-sacrificially, and with great humility, and that should always inform our relationship with the state and government.
As we seek faithful ways to engage governments with the spirit of Jesus's love and reconciliation, it is vitally important for us to reject our country's capitulation to violence and refuse to let it be the norm. The disputes over the legality of the strikes and the accuracy of the human rights reports fail to address the gravity of the violence that has corrupted our country's soul. The White House responds to civilian casualty counts by effectively saying, "It's unfortunate, but on the bright side, it probably wasn't as many civilians as your exaggerated reports claim." Where is the moral outrage that they expressed over the Syrian gas attack victims?
Indeed, it seems we have chosen to feel only selectively remorseful. As Jesus' disciples, we should regard as tragic not only the deaths of all civilians, but even those of the Al Qaeda and Taliban militants, whose assassinations the government has rationalized in the name of global security.
However, even if we denounce our state's violence or regard our government with skepticism, we should never turn our leaders into The Bad Guys or heap abuse on them. Though the New Testament writers give us little straightforward teaching concerning participation in governmental affairs, it is clear that we are to display the goodwill of God toward those who run the state, just as we are to offer our lives for the good of our enemies rather than destroy them. At times we may need to oppose the state's actions; otherwise, if we have the opportunity to influence its rulers to act on behalf of those who suffer, I believe that we should.
The world's ever-present violence, however, confounds our human understanding, and if we are to take the radical steps necessary to counter it, we have to depend on the Holy Spirit, especially when the government refuses to consider nonviolent intervention strategies. In the face of remote-control killings and chemical gas attacks, Christians must embody the nonviolent lifestyle that they proclaim and offer a legitimate alternative to killing. This is no small feat, for it involves far more than signing petitions, voting, or civil disobedience. If the world is to believe in Jesus's reconciliation of all humanity to God and to one another, then followers of Jesus must mirror it; and if we devote to reconciliation the same fervor that our militaries devote to fighting, then we may meet a violent death, as did Jesus. This is the sobering and unpleasant truth of waging nonviolence.
How then do we practice our own peacemaking, protect the vulnerable, resist our government's violence, and encourage our officials toward better alternatives all at the same time? These questions are notoriously difficult to address, and Christians' answers have been labeled naive and unrealistic. The path toward peacefully resolving our current conflicts lies far beyond our clever strategies and our desires for quick fixes. If we want to protect our South Asian neighbors living under oppression, and if we are serious about the love of God triumphing over drones to win the hearts of Taliban militants (and U.S. government officials), then we must employ every resource that God has given us.
Sometimes government leaders may do their part and use their power for peace, but if they do not, Christians must not be afraid to do the task themselves, which could mean traveling to these conflict zones to advocate, to mediate, or to care for refugees. The world awaits a demonstration like this of God's love. Are Christians up to the task? We can take shelter behind drones and our country's mammoth defense budget, or we can walk the hard road of embodying the words of Ephesians:
"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near … "
Danny Mortensen is the resources and circulation assistant at Sojourners.