Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Mohler Lecture considers 'War, God, and Inevitability.'

The 33rd annual Mohler Lecture of McPherson (Kan.) College featured Andrew Murray, professor of peace and conflict studies at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa., where he also founded and directs the Baker Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies. The lecture this year was held as a celebration of the 300th Anniversary of the Church of the Brethren.

Most Brethren know Andrew Murray far better as "Andy," since he and his wife, Terry, have given over 300 concerts and produced seven albums of their own songs of peacemaking and of Brethren faith. He readily admits that he has probably awakened more people to the issues of peace and conflict resolution through his "silly songs" than he has through "erudite" lectures. Nevertheless, he concluded a weekend of sharing his music with attendees at the annual Regional Youth Conference by pursuing the question of "War, God, and Inevitability" in an erudite manner in the Mohler Lecture series.

Murray proposed that the next big task for peace making is a theological one. Pessimism about peacemaking is widespread. This despairing view sees the possibility of an enduring peace for humankind as doomed to failure, either because there is something in our biological makeup or in our divinely created design which drives us to war making and violence, at least until God chooses to redeem reality.

Some 30 years ago, the Seville Statement, issued by 20 scientists from around the world, maintained that there is no scientific basis for the conclusion that war and violence is intrinsic to human nature. In other words, the inevitability of war cannot be demonstrated scientifically. That leaves only a theological basis for pessimism: hence, the "next big task."

Briefly, Murray's argument was this: Augustine and Luther have bequeathed to the theological world of thought the division of the world into two cities (Augustine) or two kingdoms (Luther). The one is the world of the unredeemed, the other the world of the redeemed. Anabaptists pretty much accepted this division. They differed from, say, Lutherans, as to whether Christians (the redeemed) could participate in the world. In the kingdom of the world, the "sword" of worldly armies could have the divinely ordained role of protecting the good and destroying the evil.

Consequently, much discussion over the years has centered on the notion of a "just" war, which would permit the righteous to participate in wielding the sword with divine authority.

Anabaptists in general accepted the two kingdoms but maintained that the redeemed could not wield the sword, could not participate in war. Brethren mostly took the same position, though Murray thinks the Brethren have felt the tension between optimism and pessimism. On the one hand he has been accused of heresy because peace studies are involved with what only God in Christ can do. That sounds like pessimism to Andy. On the other hand, Brethren have had an almost genetic need to do something to make the world a better place. And that sounds like optimism.

Augustine, Murray maintains, linked the inevitability of war to original sin. Therefore, until God redeems all of reality, there will be wars and rumors of war--classic pessimism. If this theological pessimism is to be broken, then the link between sin and war must be challenged.

Does sin inevitably lead to war? Murray suggested, tongue in cheek, that Kansas and Nebraska seem to live together in an enduring peace, even though he has heard that there is sin in Omaha as there is in Wichita. Mindful of his audience, he did allow that sin surely diminishes as one approaches McPherson! Ergo, peace is possible even in the presence of sinfulness. At any rate, he considers the nature of human sin insufficient to prove the inevitability of war. If that be true, then there is neither scientific nor theological support for the inevitability of war. In other words, peace is a realistic possibility, even in a sinful world.

Murray hopes for an assembly of the theologians of all world religions to confront the theological task of separating the inevitability of war from the reality of evil and issue a statement similar to the Seville statement. Once such a statement is made, war and its violence could be neither biologically motivated nor "holy" or "just." Such a conference is made more urgent by the emergence of a toxic mix of fanatical fundamentalism and chauvinistic nationalism. A statement from a mix of the world's theologians might force these fundamentalist groups to reveal their chauvinism, Murray suggests.

In any case we should be free to dismiss pessimism and enthusiastically pursue the ways that make for peace.

--Cindy Dell Kinnamon is promotions coordinator for McPherson College.

Source: 5/07/2008 Newsline Extra

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