For many months, and especially in the last few weeks, we have been seeing the war in the Middle East and its horrible effects being reported almost daily on our TV screens and in our newspapers. I can barely watch the news now. I feel helpless, angry and even guilty at times, since those images of acute suffering are followed so often and so easily by twenty minutes of politics and sport. And even as I write this piece in mid December, the Ministry of Defence is saying that ‘RAF jet pilots are the busiest they have been for 25 years, dropping 11 times more bombs than at the height of the Afghanistan conflict’.
It was therefore a huge privilege to be able to be offer a structured response to the evening lecture (sponsored by Contemporary Christianity) on the futility of war which was given by Alan and Elaine Storkey in memory of Sir Fred Catherwood towards the end of November. Their address is available on the Contemporary Christianity’s website, and may I encourage you to listen and reflect carefully on their passionate plea for Christian people to be much more pacifist in our thinking and much more active in seeking to bring an end to war. They argued eloquently that Christ deconstructs the fear of those who can kill the body, which is the ultimate threat of the militarists, and on the cross faces that threat in reality. The Apostle Paul replaces the Roman armour, the military kit, with the Christian armour of spiritual attitudes and with our feet shod with the Gospel of Peace.
It is striking, and deeply disturbing, that our daily diet of the horrors of war on the news has not energised any substantial discussion amongst Christian people in the UK (or indeed the Western world) about war – even though huge attention has been given this year to remembering World War 1 and the Battle of the Somme. Is that because war is not quite yet on our doorstep, even thought its tentacles have brought death and fear to Nice, Rouen and Brussels this year, after the outrage in Paris in 2015? Is it because we know that jobs and economic prosperity come to us from the making of war and armaments, and that we don’t want unemployment to rise? Is it because we really do believe that a ‘war on terrorism’ war is necessary and justified to try to rid our world of such evil? Is it because we believe that national defence matters a great deal, and so we must encourage our government to take whatever steps are needed to protect us? Is it because we have committed so few of our armed forces to that conflict (unlike our role in Afghanistan)? Or is it because we haven’t thought much about it as Christian people, and find it all too easy to keep it that way.
Even though I find the arguments put forward by Alan and Elaine highly thought provoking, I still struggle with the question of evil when it appears on the world stage on a grand scale. It is no ‘accident’ that murder is the first evil recounted in Scripture after Adam and Eve were ejected from the Garden of Eden. Killing is deeply embedded in the DNA of our fallen human race, and needs to be controlled as far as that is possible – even though the remit to do that is given to governments who so often care so little about the sovereignty of God in the affairs of the nations, or the gift of the peace child at Christmas.
Yet I remain deeply uneasy about the apparent ease with which we find ourselves involved in war, and even more disquieted at the almost total absence of any call from the Christian community to re-examine both our rationale for war in the modern era, and the means by which we engage in it. And that lack of discussion also makes me feel helpless, angry and even guilty at times.
Alan and Elaine Storkey did us a great service in and by their lecture. So, where do we go from here?
Rev Norman Hamilton OBE is a retired Presbyterian minister and is currently chair of the Public Affairs Council of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland