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Faith and War
A friend of mine, who is Chair of the Economics Department, invited me to speak to the students and faculty at the University of Dallas (where the Veterans for Peace convention was that I spoke at the day before I went to Crawford on August 6th, 2005), which is a small, non-culturally or non-racially diverse, Catholic college.
Surprisingly, my friend Sam, received little protest over inviting me, but there was a "Support the Troops" rally in the room next to where I spoke. Some Camp Casey friends accidentally went into that room and only heard the speaker call me names like "scum" and he called the rest of the people at my event "peace fairies."
I was heartened to find the first three rows of my speech were filled with young people who were smiling and vigorously nodding their heads at everything I said. Most of the audience clapped or laughed in the right places so I was feeling pretty good. However, I was a little sad when there were some snide snickers when I had the unmitigated gall to call Iraqis "human beings."
During the "Q and A" part, the first question I received amazed me. Now, I was raised Protestant and received an excellent training in the Christian scriptures and I know after being a Catholic for 25 years and a Catholic youth minister for nine of those years, that the average Catholic does not know a great deal about the Bible as most of their religious training is in the tenets of the Catholic faith. Here's how many Catholics quote scripture: "It's somewhere in the Bible," when, in my experience, many times they are actually quoting: "Poor Richard's Almanac."
An emphasis on the biblical support for the teachings of the church was never used as long as I taught in the church using the approved teaching materials of the church, but the depth of ignorance of Jesus of Nazareth exhibited in the first question still had the ability to astonish me.
The question printed neatly on a 3 by 5 index card was: "How do you reconcile your progressive ideals with your faith?" I answered the question that Jesus cared about the poor. He admonished us to "feed the hungry," "clothe the naked," "heal the sick," and "visit those imprisoned." Jesus performed a stunning feat of civil disobedience by over-turning the tables of the moneychangers in the temple and was subsequently executed by the Empire of his time. Jesus was the ultimate progressive radical. Jesus' name is exploited by our materialistic society at Christmas time when he changes from the right-wing Christian warmonger to the "Prince of Peace."
Jesus welcomed the "least of these" to his table. He didn't exclude sinners, lepers or prostitutes who were the pariahs of his day. Today, I am convinced that if Jesus returned he would welcome gays and non-white people (even "illegal" immigrants) to commune with him. The only people I ever heard Jesus speak badly about were the "brood of vipers" (Mt 3:7) that were the Sadduccees (Democrats?) and Pharisees (Republicans?) who in the parable, with hypocritical piety, walked right by the man who had been beaten, robbed and left by the side of the road to die without helping him and they turned his "Father's" house (the Temple) into a "den of thieves." (Mt. 21:12).
My question for the questioner was: "How do you reconcile your faith with supporting war and killing?"
If Jesus came back today and was a politician, I know, because of my faith in the inherent goodness of the Universe, that he would not be a "politician" but a public servant. Jesus would be in favor of single-payer health care, solar and wind energy, unions, free post-secondary education, Social Security, fair trade, free speech, civil rights, and human rights. Jesus would be against the death penalty, torture, extremist religions that exploit His Name for profit, extremist states that exploit His Name to kill innocent people, and the ultimate crime against humanity: war.
Whether one is a Christian, Jew, Muslim, or like me now- nothing, Jesus of Nazareth and his story is still worth studying and emulating. At the risk of sounding judgemental, I have a feeling that these reactionary Christian extremists are going to be shocked when they go to meet their maker and find out that Jesus wasn't kidding when he said "Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God" (Mt 5:9). The converse of that saying is: "Cursed are the warmakers for they are not the children of God." There is a very relevant saying of Jesus in the Bible that these self-proclaimed "Christians" should also pay closer attention to:
You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:43)
Wise words for everybody to strive to live up to: From presidents to college students and everyone in between.
Cindy Sheehan is the mother of Spc. Casey Austin Sheehan who was KIA in Iraq on 04/04/04. She is a co-founder and President of Gold Star Families for Peace and the author of two books: Not One More Mother's Child and Dear President Bush.