River Wissey Lovell Fuller

July 2007 Anglican Newsletter

July 2007

Keith faces the dilemma of his faith over military action as do many Christians. But he argues a sensible conclusion.

We have been 'celebrating' the Falklands War over the past few days, but I am not sure what we are celebrating.

Both my grandfathers were long service career soldiers as was at least one of my great-grandfathers. My father and five of my uncles were long service career soldiers also. I was a regular (short service) soldier and was involved with Suez in 1956, when I was serving in the Seaforth Highlanders. My family is steeped in military history.

I was one of those who supported the invasion of Iraq and have not changed my mind. I think that the troops there still have a job to do and would hate to see a sudden withdrawal based on just 'it's none of our business'. I always watch the Trooping The Colour on TV and love the colour and romance of military and naval history.

BUT, I find it increasingly difficult to justify to myself, as a Christian, the deliberate taking of life and the planning of how to do it most successfully. On the other hand, I have no difficulty in understanding the need for occasional violence to prevent worse violence - for example, if someone is about to knife someone else in the street, I would hope I would have the courage to try to stop it, if necessary using as much violence to the attacker as the situation necessitated. By the same token, the police action of British troops in Sierra Leone seems to have been completely justified. Some sort of physical separation of the miserable refugees of Darfur from the indiscriminate killing by the local militia has get to be achieved soon, as a political settlement with the Sudanese government seems unlikely - but how can that be done without sending an army?

What happened in the Falklands? If we had not sent in the troops, the Navy and the Air Force, would any one at all have been killed? Is someone being killed the only criterion in deciding whether to go to war? - that seems a little ridiculous. So, quite honestly, I really do not know the rights and wrongs of that war. Most of us do not question it because it was over so quickly and successfully that we just accept it. I am sure that if the Iraq war had led to an immediate quiet peace, the opposition to it would have found itself marginalized and, by now, long forgotten - and we would be celebrating the anniversary of the war every March. I am not happy that celebration of military action depends on it having been successful, rather than it having been right. Incidentally, these doubts of mine about the rightness of going to war back in 1982 ignore completely the effects of not doing so - possibly the continuation for much longer of the evil junta that was in power in Argentina and the loss of how many more lives in that sad country, even if the Brits on the renamed Malvinas had found themselves relatively unaffected by it all.

It's a real conundrum for me. What really troubles me is that, as a Christian, I find that it is my head that is more opposed to these warlike adventures than my heart. Should my conscience be more disturbed? Certainly I am out of step with the opinions of the powers that be in the Church - our Archbishops and Bishops - and our Vicars and Priests.

Of one thing I am sure. That is that simply being a conscientious objector is not enough - it actually verges on being a cop out. We can only go from where we are. We live in an imperfect world. Certainly, if every German who had opposed Hitler's methods had been prepared to go out on the streets and say so, he would probably not have got away with them. The same could be said of the Iraqis who quietly but not publicly opposed Saddam Hussein. Modern conditions could possibly have changed that - there is so much fire power available to a small group of people that they can impose control on large populations, but probably not indefinitely - not if everyone with a conscience stands up - especially if they can find leaders.

In a better world, evil men would be drawn back before they got going. But given that we do have Ruandas, we do have Zimbabwes, if we have consciences we must try to do something and words so often are totally ineffective. The Christian response should firstly be prayer, but how many of us can honestly say that they have seen answers to prayer in these sorts of situation? To what extent is God saying that we have to clean our own house?

I love the Footsteps story, as I imagine most people do - if they are not bored with seeing it on too many cards. But, like most things there are two sides to it, if you think about it. In the story, the dreamer asks God why, so often, when things were tough, there was only one set of footsteps in the sand and God answers that those were the times when he carried him. But there is a double significance in this. It is not just that when it is too hard, if you travel with God, he will carry you - it is also that, if you travel with God, he expects you to walk for yourself at other times. There were many times when the sand showed two sets of footsteps. The Christian God expects us to work at our own problems and try to resolve them - we don't hand our problems to God and expect him to get on with it while we sit on the terrace in the sun with a cold beer!

So the Falklands, Sierra Leone, Iraq, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan are all places inhabited by people who we believe are like us - made in the image of God - all of whom are our brothers and sisters, for whose care we are all individually responsible, including Mr Hitler, Saddam Hussein and the rest of them. So we are bound to take appropriate (whatever that means) action to protect all our brothers and sisters. Sometimes, we are clearly just not smart enough to care for every single one of them at the same time. Sometimes trying to care for many seems to have to be at the expense of a few. But to shield our eyes from those times and to conscientiously object to having blood on our own personal hands, and thereby sentence many others to shedding their blood should be as difficult a decision to make as deciding to try to put a stop to whatever carnage is going on.

Life is not easy and it should not be. Andrew Marr is just completing his overview of modern British history on TV and he concludes that we are incredibly lucky to be born British. Some of our British luxuries are to be able to be vegan and healthy OR conscientious objectors and free OR evil and merely imprisoned for a short time. Life really is too easy for us.

My God walks beside me during my life and I am very conscious of him carrying me often. I am also very conscious that he often asks me to walk for myself - and that is so hard. Do any of you remember the Irish comic who used to finish his programmes with the words 'May your God go with you'? Well, may your God go with you and may he carry you when things are really tough and may you grapple hard and more successfully than I with the issues when he leaves you to get on with it.

Keith MacLeod

Licensed Lay Minister

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