Fables of the Reconstruction, part three

Ok, let’s press on.  We still have a handful of myths that must be exposed before we can begin to examine what are truly the most significant effects of the American Civil War and its aftermath.

Myth:  The Northern States fought to free the slaves.

Of all the myths associated with the Civil War era, this one is the most enduring, and the most easily disproven.  The value of this myth as propaganda is enormous, of course.  In the first place it makes the War neatly allegorical, pitting the liberating North against the slaveholding South.  If the Northern states invaded and subdued the Southern states in order to free the Southern slaves, then who could reasonably deny the moral goodness of their cause?   Of course, if the invasion and subjugation of the South had nothing to do with freeing the slaves; if the invaders were in fact indifferent to the fate of the slaves, or even hostile to them, then the white hat might not fit so well.  

The undeniable historical fact is that the Northern states had no intention of freeing the slaves.

Once Mr. Lincoln’s call to arms had driven the middle south out of the Union, and into the Confederacy, the War commenced in earnest.  Congress, absent the seceeded states, convened in Washington, already a vast armed military camp, to establish the war’s objectives and to assist in raising the funds to wage it.

On July 21, 1861 the fledgling Confederate forces routed the Federal army at the First Battle of Manassas.  It was a humiliating defeat for the Northern States, and it ended the prevailing notion in the North that the war would be quickly won. 

Four days later, on July 25, the federal Congress passed the Crittenden Resolution, with only two votes opposed.   The Resolution specifically declared that the object of the war would be reunification of the states only, and specifically provided that the war was not  being fought to interfere with slavery in any way.  In fact, the Resolution specifically required that the government take no action against slavery, and announced that the war would end when the seceeded states returned to the Union, with slavery intact.

Earlier, in February 1861, Congress, by a 2/3 majority, had adopted the Corwin Resolution, a proposed constitutional amendment that would forbid any future constitutional amendment to abolish slavery (such as the eventual 13th Amendment).  President Lincoln endorsed the resolution in his First Inaugural Address.  The resolution provided:  No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.  If adopted, slavery would be given express consitutional protection, including protection against amendments that might later abolish it.  A very remarkable proposition indeed.

On May 13, 1861, with the War underway, Ohio ratified the proposed amendment, which would perpetually guarantee slavery.  In January, 1862, nearly a year into the war, and with Southern prospects still favorable, Maryland ratified it.  And Illinois, Mr. Lincoln’s home state, ratified the amendment later in 1862.  With their citizens fighting and dying on Southern fields, the Nothern congress and states were actually acting to secure the rights of slaveholders, not to abolish them.

Nor were the non-seceeding slaveholding states acting to abolish slavery.  Wait.  Y’all did know that some of the states in the so-called Union during the Civil War allowed slavery, didn’t you?  That’s right, some of the non-seceeding states, whose soldiers were dying on Southern battlefields, legally allowed slavery.  In fact, many of the soldiers who served and died in the Nothern army were themselves slaveholders (and the vast majority of those who served in the Southern army were not).  But I digress…

During the War, every attempt to abolish slavery in slaveholding non-seceeding states failed; even in Delaware, which had fewer than 2,000 slaves. 

Meanwhile Mr. Lincoln pressed forward on his long-held dream of deporting black people and colonizing them in Africa or Haiti.  He told a delegation of black Americans who called upon him at the White House that they should support his colonization scheme, saying, “there is an unwillingness on the part of our people, harsh as it may be for you colored people, for you to remain with us.”  In his December, 1862 message to Congress, Mr. Lincoln urged Congress to support his colonization plans, while assuring Nothern states that they could continue to legally exclude black people from their states.  In fact, under then-existing state laws, black people, free or slave, were legally barred from entering Iowa, Indiana, Oregon, Kansas or Mr. Lincoln’s home state of Illinois.  Of course, tens of thousands of soldiers from these states risked their lives in battle against the men of the Southern states.  The Nothern states probably could not have prevailed without them.  And while they fought in the South, their states continued to seal their borders from black people.

As the war dragged on, sentiment to abolish slavery began to grow.  I should stop here briefly, to comment on abolitionism.   A sub-myth, if you will, that has established itself in our history, is that there existed in the North a large movement of progressives dedicated to abolition of slavery and equality among the races.  In fact, there were such people, and history has proven them to be enlightened and admirable.  But there were very few of them, and they were almost universally reviled in the North and South alike as dangerous, radical terrorists.  They had no almost no political or moral clout.  They were associated with things like John Brown’s raid, and were as unpopular then as the most radical political subversives would be today.

In any event, in 1864, with the war nearing an end and Northern victory all but certain, the constitutional amendment banning slavery that would eventually be enacted as the 13th Amendment was first proposed in Congress.  When it came up for a vote in 1864, even though there were no Southern representatives in Congress, it was defeated.  It did not pass until January, 1865, with the war weeks from ending. 

Interestingly, the federal government had permitted West Virginia to seceed from Virginia during the War, but on the condition that it abolish slavery in its constitution.  Even though less than 5% of its population was black, the West Virginians initally objected, but eventually acquiesed.  Eventually, although the new consitution did abolish slavery, it also prohibited blacks from voting, attending public school or entering the state.  Congress required removal of the prohibiton on entry, but accepted the other restrictions, and admitted West Virginia.  Ultimately, even after the war had ended, New Jersey, Delaware and Kentucky refused to ratify the 13th Amendment.  Those states, which had contributed signficantly to the Northern victory, preferred that slavery remain legal, even after the Southern states had surrendered.

So we can definitively conclude that the Northern states did not  fight the Civil War to free the slaves.  That is not to say, of course, that there were not soldiers in the Nothern army who fought for that reason.  Certainly there were idealistic heroes who fought for precisely that reason, just as there may have been some soldiers in the Southern army who were motivated by a desire to keep blacks enslaved.  But such folks were the extreme exception to the rule.

One group of Northern soldiers, however, undeniably fought for black freedom and they deserve special mention.  To keep up with then ever increasing need for manpower, the federal Congress eventually passed a law offering freedom to slaves who joined the Union army.  Many slaves who had not been included in the Emancipation Proclamation (what?  you didn’t know there were slaves who did not get the benefit of the Emancipation Proclamation?  that subject is for next time…), took advantage of this offer.  Most came from the Border States, where it was their only route to freedom.   Initially the promise of freedom applied only to the soliders, not to their wives and children.  Later Congress agreed to include their families too.  Nearly 60% of Kentucky’s eligible blacks served, for example.  Many black men served in combat roles, and many gave their lives, but the vast majority were not permitted to hold anything other than menial positions.  In any event, over 180,000 black Americans ultimately served in the Northern army.  These men, whether they saw combat or not, truly did fight for their freedom.

So lets wrap this up for now.  Two questions naturally come to mind.  I’ve argued that the Northern states did not fight to free the slaves, but what about the Emancipation Proclamation?  And if they weren’t fighting to free the slaves, why did  these hundreds of thousands of Northern soldiers fight?

That’s where we’ll pick up next time…

Grace and Peace

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Fables of the Reconstruction, part two

I’ve been slow getting started on this series, but let’s dive right into the first of the historical myths that I want to address.  But first, let me make something clear–this is not going to be some sort of neo-Confederate tirade about Northern aggression or states’ rights or any other of the beaten-dead-horse arguments that unreconstructed Rebels like to trot out.  Instead, I think its important that we expose some of the underlying myths, before reaching the vitally important conclusions regarding how the events of the Civil War era have adversely affected our Republic.  So, if this doesn’t interest you, feel free to check out.  If it does, please be patient, as I work through several of these posts to the ultimate conclusion.  Most importantly to me, please try not to assume that I have some mean or vile underlying motive or agenda.  I fully realize that some of what I’m about to discuss is a favorite topic of some folks with whom I would not want to be associated.  That fact has kept some of these cows sacred for far too long.  Trusting that I have some benefit of the doubt here, lets get started…

Myth Because Abraham Lincoln planned to end slavery, the Southern states seceeded following his election.

Now I realize that there are many different ways I could’ve phrased that myth, and certainly reasonable folks could quibble with the words I chose.  But the point is this:  it is generally assumed in this country that Mr. Lincoln opposed slavery, and the Southern states left the Union because of the threat he posed to it.

First of all, actually Abraham Lincoln was dedicated to preserving slavery in those states that permitted it.  He had no intention of acting to end it, and freely acknowledged that he would have no constitutional authority to do so even if he so desired.  Mr. Lincoln did feel very strongly that those states where slaveholding was not permitted, should not be forced to allow it.  Like most of his day who held those beliefs, they were grounded not in compassion for slaves, or opposition to the injustice of slavery, but rather in a desire to keep black people out of the nearly all-white territories and northern states, and a fear that slave labor would compete with, and demean, free labor.  Thus Mr. Lincoln opposed the extension of slavery into the territories and the so-called Free States, but did not oppose its continuation in all states where it then existed.  He repeatedly made this point while running for President, and it was specifically included as a plank in his party’s platform.  In fact, in his first inaugural address he even went so far as to endorse a constitutional amendment that would have permanently prohibited the federal government from ever interfering in any way with slavery wherever it currently existed. 

Consider this, from Mr. Lincoln’s first inaugural address on March 4, 1861:

Apprehension seems to exist among the people of the Southern States, that by the accession of a Republican Administration, their property, and their peace, and personal security, are to be endangered. There has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension. Indeed, the most ample evidence to the contrary has all the while existed, and been open to their inspection. It is found in nearly all the published speeches of him who now addresses you.

I do but quote from one of those speeches when I declare that “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”

Those who nominated and elected me did so with full knowledge that I had made this, and many similar declarations, and had never recanted them. And more than this, they placed in the platform, for my acceptance, and as a law to themselves, and to me, the clear and emphatic resolution which I now read:

Resolved, That the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the States, and especially the right of each State to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of power on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depend; and we denounce the lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any State or Territory, no matter what pretext, as among the gravest of crimes.

….

I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution, which amendment, however, I have not seen, has passed Congress, to the effect that the federal government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service. To avoid misconstruction of what I have said, I depart from my purpose not to speak of particular amendments, so far as to say that holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.

That stuff never shows up in the school books.

Secondly, the motives of the seceeding states weren’t all the same.   Virginia seceeded, for example, for reasons entirely different from those of South Carolina.  The historical truth is that Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, and, arguably Missouri and Kentucky, did not  seceed because of the election of Abraham Lincoln.  In fact, each of those states had made the affirmative decision to remain in the Union, with Mr. Lincoln as President.  They had each elected not to join the six deep south states that had formed the Confederate States of America.   Not to digress too much, but just think for a moment of how viable the C.S.A. would have been without Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas.  So why did those states reverse their decisions, withdraw from the Union, and go to war against the Northern states?  Because they were essentially driven out by Mr. Lincoln, and forced to fight a war of self-defense against what they perceived to be an invading army.

Keep in mind that following the election of Mr. Lincoln, Virginia and the other states of the upper South had decided to remain in the Union.  They had specifically chosen not  to join the Confederacy.  Of course no state had been more instrumental to the very creation of the U.S.A. than Virginia.  Virginians loved the Union, and despite the fact that very few of them loved Mr. Lincoln, they weren’t about to abandon the Republic over his election.

But following the episode at Ft. Sumter, Mr. Lincoln made a decision that would ultimately cost 600,000 Americans their lives, and transform America for the worse, perhaps irrevocably.  In his capacity as Commander in Chief he called for each state to supply 75,000 soldiers to “put down the rebellion” in the South.  This act shocked and outraged the states of the middle South, through which this army would presumably march, and they all quickly seceeded in protest.  The responses to the call for troops were emphatic.

Governor Ellis of North Carolina responded: “Your dispatch is received, and if genuine, which its extraordinary character leads me to doubt, I have to say in reply that the levy of troops made by the Administration for the purpose of subjugating the States of the South, is in violation of the Constitution and a usurpation of power.  I can be no party to this wicked violation of the laws of the country, and to this war upon the liberties of a free people.  You will get no troops from North Carolina.”

Governor Letcher of Virginia wrote:  “The militia of Virginia will not be furnished to the powers at Washington for any such case or purpose as they have at view….You have chosen to inaugurate civil war.”  He then promptly called on the Virginia militia to assemble to prepare to repel invasion.  This less than one month after Virginia had voted against secession by a 2-1 margin. 

Governor Jackson of Missouri responded:  “There can be, I apprehend, no doubt but that these men are intended to form part of the President’s army to make war upon the people of the seceeded States.  Your requisition, in my judgment, is illegal, unconstitutional and revolutionary in its objects, inhuman and diabolical and cannot be complied with.  Not one man will, of the state of Missouri, furnish or carry on such an unholy crusade.”

And so on.

So the truth of the matter is that Mr. Lincoln’s administration did not plan or intend to end slavery in America.  But he certainly did intend to raise an army to subdue the six seceeded deep South states, and it was his mustering of that army that caused the otherwise loyal states of the upper and middle south to seceed.

By forcing the non-seceeding states to either join that army, or resist it, Mr. Lincoln forced a civil war upon the country.

But surely a war to end slavery is a just and noble cause, and it was wrong to resist an army fighting to liberate the enslaved.   Right?

Next up, the myth that the Northern states went to war to free the slaves.

Grace and Peace

 

 

Wise counsel regarding the Middle Eastern Jungle

On October 20, 1983 a fanatic drove a truck loaded with 12,000 pounds of explosives into a barracks full of U.S. Marines serving in Beruit, Lebanon as part of an international “multi-national peacekeeping force.” The driver detonated the explosives, killing 241 Marines. In 1984, President Reagan withdrew all remaining U.S. forces from Lebanon.

President Reagan wrote about these events in his memoirs.   Poignantly, he confessed that sending Marines into Lebanon was his “greatest regret and greatest sorrow” as President, and that “(e)very day since the death of those boys, I have prayed for them and their loved ones.”

In trying to understand the source of the mistake, President Reagan concluded, “Perhaps we didn’t appreciate fully enough the depth of the hatred and the complexity of the problems that make the Middle East such a jungle.” He then recommended to future presidents, a test to be applied in determining when to deploy U.S. troops abroad. But, he cautioned, “Even after all these other tests are met, our troops should be committed to combat abroad only as a last resort, when no other choice is available.”

As Santayana said, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

How sadly and senselessly tragic it is that future presidents did not heed the wise counsel of Mr. Reagan.

Below is the relevant portion of President Reagan’s memoirs.

Grace and Peace

As 1984 began, it was becoming clearer that the Lebanese army was either unwilling or unable to end the civil war into which we had been dragged reluctantly. It was clear that the war was likely to go on for an extended period of time. As the sniping and shelling of their camp continued, I gave an order to evacuate all the marines to anchored off Lebanon. At the end of March, the ships of the Sixth Fleet and the marines who had fought to keep peace in Lebanon moved on to other assignments. We had to pull out. By then, there was no question about it: Our policy wasn’t working. We couldn’t stay there and run the risk of another suicide attack on the marines. No one wanted to commit our troops to a full-scale war in the middle East. But we couldn’t remain in Lebanon and be in the war on a halfway basis, leaving our men vulnerable to terrorists with one hand tied behind their backs. We hadn’t committed the marines to Beirut in a snap decision, and we weren’t alone. France, Italy, and Britain were also part of the multinational force, and we all thought it was a good plan. And for a while, as I’ve said, it had been working.

I’m not sure how we could have anticipated the catastrophe at the marine barracks. Perhaps we didn’t appreciate fully enough the depth of the hatred and the complexity of the problems that make the Middle East such a jungle. Perhaps the idea of a suicide car bomber committing mass murder to gain instant entry to Paradise was so foreign to our own values and consciousness that it did not create in us the concern for the marines’ safety that it should have. Perhaps we should have anticipated that members of the Lebanese military whom we were trying to assist would simply lay down their arms and refuse to fight their own countrymen. In any case, the sending of the marines to Beirut was the source of my greatest regret and my greatest sorrow as president. Every day since the death of those boys, I have prayed for them and their loved ones.

In the months and the years that followed, our experience in Lebanon led to the adoption by the administration of a set of principles to guide America in the application of military force abroad, and I would recommend it to future presidents. The policy we adopted included these principles:

The United States should not commit its forces to military action overseas unless the cause is vital to our national interest.

If the decision is made to commit our forces to combat abroad, it must be done with the clear intent and support needed to win. It should not be a halfway or tentative commitment, and there must be clearly defined and realistic objectives.

Before we commit our troops to combat, there must be reasonable assurance that the cause we are fighting for and the actions we take will have the support of the American people and Congress. (We all felt that the Vietnam War had turned into such a tragedy because military action had been undertaken without sufficient assurances that the American people were behind it.)

Even after all these other tests are met, our troops should be committed to combat abroad only as a last resort, when no other choice is available.

Worldwide Inflation

The ranks of those who believe official U.S. government figures understate true inflation continue to swell.  Bill Gross of Pimco, for example, has been insisting that inflation is understated for a long time.  John Williams of shadowstats.com has shown that if inflation were measured the same way today that it was in 1980, we’d be reporting Carteresque double digit inflation.  Increasingly, as folks see costs rising and inflation figures staying low, more and more analysts are agreeing with them.

One bit of data that Gross uses to support his contention, is that other countries are reporting much greater rates of inflation that what is acknowledged by the US.  Take a look, for example, at this chart:

pimco-isi-country-inflation-chart1.jpg

The dramatic spike in worldwide inflation seems inconsistent with the US insistence that inflation remains tame. Note that this chart doesn’t even include China and India, where inflation is rampant.

The CPI over the last year, allegedly, reflects US inflation of 4.2%.  Forgetting for a moment that an inflation rate lower than that was deemed sufficiently dangerous by President Nixon to warrant imposition of wage and price controls, the rest of the world would love to have a mere 4.2% inflation rate.  Over the last year Indonesian inflation has doubled, and is now over 10%.  China’s inflation rate is over 8%.  India’s is 11%.  The Phillipines reports inflation of nearly 10%.  Inflation is soaring in Vietnam.  Europe’s reported inflation is now the highest in 20 years.  Even Japan is now reporting inflation, its rate having nearly doubled over the last year.  As the op-ed in the Financial Times said yesterday, “If there were a Central Bank of the World its monetary policy committee would glance at today’s inflation rates and expectations of future inflation, then raise interest rates.”

And as we continue carry an enormous trade deficit, we continue to unload billions of dollars overseas, where their value evaporates away through inflation.

It is essential that we have some monetary sanity.  Printing up money, and borrowing excessively and incessantly, will destroy the value of a currency.  Our fiat currency is not linked to some stable and scarce commodity, like gold.  But unless the Fed treats the dollar as if it is stable and scarce, we will continue to face the danger of hyperinflation that might completely destroy the economic systems that we take for granted.  As long as our central bank and our government behave as if there is no limit to the amount of money that can be created, that risk will continue and intensify.

There is some indication that the Fed has finally gotten the message, and is beginning to reduce the flooded money supply.  Maybe we will even begin to see some increases in interest rates soon.

We can only hope.

Grace and Peace

A Worthy Life

A little more pop theology today…

While in prison in Rome, awaiting his trial and eventual execution, the apostle Paul wrote a letter to the small Christian community in Ephesus.  That letter eventually was incorporated into the New Testament of the Bible, as the book of Ephesians.  Its fair to say that its one of the best-loved books in the Christian Bible.

This letter, relevant to a struggling, persecuted, underground Christian community 2,000 years ago, still resonates powerfully now, even to us comfortably unpersecuted above-ground believers.

Today I just want to focus on one passage in the letter.   Paul offers this advice to the believers in Ephesus:

I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Let’s break that down.  The “calling you have received” is what we now call Christian faith.  So what Paul is offering here, is a simple summary of what one might do to live a life “worthy” of that faith.

Simply put, Pauls says that to live a life worthy of the faith, we should be humble, patient, gentle, loving and peaceful.  Of course, its no mystery where he came up with those qualities.  They are the qualities that Jesus exhibited.  To live a life worthy of the faith, therefore, is to live like Jesus lived.  Because Jesus was humble, patient, gentle, loving and peaceful, his followers should strive to be those things as well.

This advice doesn’t sound radical, but it is.  These words probably just sound like “church stuff” that many of us have heard all our lives.  We believe the words (we think) and probably even assume that we’re honoring them.

But do we really try to be “completely humble and gentle?”  Do we really make every effort to keep unity through peace?

Think about it.  If I asked you to give me one word that describes someone who is “completely humble and gentle”, what might that word be?  I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be “Christian.”  More likely it would be “weak”, or “passive,” or “meek.”  In our culture, just as in the Roman culture 2,000 years ago, weakness, passivity and meekness are not considered admirable character traits.  Its a dog-eat-dog world right?  Nice guys finish last, right? 

So following this advice is a way to get eaten by the big dogs.  A way to be sure of finishing last.   At least that’s what modern culture tells us.

But if, in order to be worthy of Christ’s calling, one must live a life of complete humility, gentleness, love and peace, then isn’t it fair to say that a life without complete humility, gentleness, love and peace, is a life unworthy of the calling?   And that calling, after all, came at a very great price to Jesus.

I once read that in the first 300 years of Christianity, it was very easy to tell who the Christians were.  They were the folks who fed the poor, who visited those in prison, and who were merciful to the undeserving.  They were persecuted, but had no fear of persecution.  They stood out, because they cut against the cultural grain.  They were leading lives worthy of the calling they had received.

Looking at myself in that light, I don’t like what I see.

Grace and Peace

 

Why Sing Praises to God?

Millions of Christians regularly lift their voices, their hearts and their hands, in praise of God.  Singing hymns in praise of God is older than Christianity itself.  I wonder if I’m the only person who’s ever wondered why that is?

Before I launch into this, let me remind y’all that you were forewarned that one of the things that would sometimes appear on this blog is my pop theology.  I am not a pastor.  Far from it.  I have no education or training in these type of things.  It is quite possible that my musings may wander into heresy, and they will almost certainly drift into unorthodoxy.  For anyone who wants to read great blogs by genuine pastors, check out the blogs of our excellent pastors at New Life Community Church (http://www.newlifedanville.org/), or those of Greg Boyd (http://gregboyd.blogspot.com/) or Scott McKnight (http://www.jesuscreed.org/).  OK, you’ve been warned…

A song of praise is a prayer set to music.  The audience is God.  Let’s consider typical lyrics to a praise song.  First, the classic How Great Thou Art:

O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

Or the current contemporary Christian hit, You Reign:


Even before there was a drop in the ocean
Even before there was a star in the sky
Even before the world was put in motion
You were on Your throne
You were on Your throne. 
Glory in the highest You reign
Let creation testify by Your name
Every knee will bow
and every tongue proclaim
that Jesus reigns

What these songs, and the hundreds like them, have in common, is that those who sing them are essentially telling God how great and wonderful he is.  But surely God doesn’t need to hear that from us mere mortals.  God is unquestionably omnipotent and without equal.  He’s not suffering from an insecurity complex. He doesn’t need to be reminded of how awesome he is.  Right?

So why do we do it? 

Well, we know from the Bible that one of the principal things that we’ll do in heaven is join the angels in singing praises to God.  I remember thinking, as a child, that if all one does in heaven is sing songs to God, then it wasn’t going to be much fun there.  It sure didn’t sound like paradise to me.

So why would one characteristic of heaven be that its residents are constantly singing praises to God?  My theory is that singing praises to God is not for God’s benefit, but for our own.  That’s why we feel so good when we do it.  That’s why it makes us happy and joyful.  In fact, I believe that the nearer we are to God, the more we want to sing his praises.  That’s why in heaven, in the very immediate presence of God, we may sing to him for thousands of years at a time, overwhelmed with joy while we’re doing it.

So I don’t think we should think of singing praises to God as some offering to him, or some sacrifice we’re making for his benefit.  Instead, we should recognize that the singing is a natural reaction to his presence, and the joy and peace that comes from it is a gift from God to us.  Its like the feeling of joy we get when we see a beautiful scene in nature.  We may even exclaim “Wow” or something like that.  When we do that we aren’t doing it to make the waterfall or the canyon feel good.  We’re just expressing the joy that the natural beauty has given us. 

When Jesus walked the earth as a man, he lived humbly.  He did not seek praises from men.  In fact, he often tried to hush those who praised him.  But even when Jesus specifically told folks not to praise him, they usually did it anyway.  They just couldn’t help it.  In other words, in his presence praise was irresistible.

I love the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.  The people crowded around him, proclaiming him as the Messiah.  Here is how Luke describes what happened next:

When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
”Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”  

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

At that moment, the height of his earthly ministry, Jesus knew that nothing could stop the praises to God.  If the people were silenced, then the stones would sing.  That’s how powerfully irresistible the urge to praise God can be.  So I say let’s add to the long list of gifts and blessings from God, the wonderful gift of praise. 

As Chris Tomlin says, “How can I keep from singing?” http://www.imeem.com/people/T9xZ8/music/XqFv9VsC/chris_tomlin_how_can_i_keep_from_singing/

Grace and Peace

  

Just and Unjust Wars

If we accept, as all civilized societies have for the past 2,000 years, that wars should be avoided if possible, and only fought if just, then we must have some way to determine what distinguishes just wars from unjust wars.  Entire books have been written on this topic of course, one being Michael Walzer’s Just and Unjust Wars (which I highly recommend).  This humble post is obviously no substitute for a great book.  Rather, it’s intended to be merely a taste of the food for thought.  For a full meal, read Walzer.

Cherie put a bumper sticker on her vehicle that reads:  War is Not the Answer.  My response when I saw it was, “I think that depends on what the question is.”   While I admire those who are comfortable with an ethical opposition to all war under any circumstances, most of us can’t go that far.  Most of us believe that while war is something generally evil, which should be avoided, it is sometimes a necessary evil, which must be accepted.

How then to determine when a war is just (ethical and moral, if you will) and when it is not?

This became a particularly sticky topic when Christianity ceased being an underground sect of persecuted pacifists, and became the state religion of Constantine’s Roman empire.  Christ specifically instructed his followers that they should not resist evildoers and aggressors.  If someone strikes you on the cheek, he said, turn the other cheek so he may strike that one too.  As difficult and challenging as such teaching may be for individuals, if adopted as the national policy of a state, the reasoning went, it would be tantamount to national suicide.   It was necessary, therefore to determine some criteria for when Christianity would permit war.

Before continuing, let me point out that there is not universal agreement among Christians that a state would commit suicide if it followed Christ’s teachings of nonviolence and nonresistance to aggressors.  In fact, many Christians have argued, and continue to argue, that we cannot know that, because we lack the faith as nations to give Christ’s teaching a chance.  If a nation accepted and followed this command, the argument goes, God would bless and protect it.  By refusing to follow the teaching, we refuse to give God the opportunity to bless us.  They may be right.  And if so, we may add this stubborn lack of faith to the many sins and shortcomings for which we need God’s mercy, grace and forgiveness.  Of course, the danger of not defending ourselves is that we’ll be overrun by our enemies.  So, right or wrong, nearly all Christian civilizations have stopped well short of relying exclusively on God for protection, and have chosen instead to wage war to defend and protect themselves, when necessary.

So, returning to the question at hand, a Christian theory of “just war” evolved, which has been generally accepted for close to 2,000 years (although often manipulated and occassionally ignored).  For a war to be just, the theory goes, it must satisfy six criteria:

War should be fought only in self-defense;
War should be undertaken only as a last resort;
A decision to enter war should be made only by a legitimate authority;
All military responses must be proportional to the threat;
There must be a reasonable chance of success; and
A public declaration notifying all parties concerned is required.

I submit that those criteria are as valid today as they have ever been.   A purely defensive war, fought only as a last resort, publicly declared and authorized by a legitimate authority, waged only where there is a reasonable chance of success, and with no more force than is proportionally necessary to meet the threat, is a just war.  A war that fails to satisfy any of these criteria is an unjust war.

Let us resolve to oppose any “wars” that do not satisfy these criteria.  And let us particularly hold accountable those who would seek to have us engage in unjust wars.  Such people are unfit to lead a civilized nation.

Grace and Peace