Today Jeremy Corbyn will make an important speech. He will point out that the broader Western policy of military dominance and war has contributed to the development of terrorism. This is not to gainsay the evil and grief of the attack in Manchester and other terrorist attacks, or the danger of ISIS, but to see a bigger picture. Western War in Afghanistan, Iran (by proxy using Saddam), Iraq and Libya has created failed states, chaos and trauma which has in part encouraged a terrorist response. Of course, a terrorist attack remains a wicked choice, but it is possible to draw lines from one to the other, from fighting and training in Afghanistan to 9/11 and now from the Civil War in Libya to the tragedy in Manchester. He will bravely suggest that militarism is not the best way.
Corbyn is not original. His point was made foundationally by Jesus two thousand years ago. Jesus words were: “Those who take the sword perish by the sword.” A recourse to arms brings an armed reaction in its wake. The military choice is itself doomed. The weapon route leads to revenge. Militarism is self-defeating. With these words Jesus walked to his pseudo-trial, crucifixion and resurrection, and the Christian faith started. So Corbyn’s warning against “the military solution” is not new.
But there is far more to Jesus’ teaching and insight in this area. He is “the Prince of Peace”. He articulates and blesses “peacemaking”. He deconstructs the mechanisms of quarrels, shows the possible good purpose of suffering and shows that loving enemies can work. More fully he teaches that the government of God, the peaceable Kingdom of God, spreads as peace rests on one and the other. So, as the Bible teaches and shows God’s forgiveness of us spreads as the Lamb is on the throne, the antidote to world-wide historical militarism. Christianity replaces the armour of militarism with the gentle equipment of faith. Some two billion people worldwide know something of this way of peace.
Yet, at this time, and in this election, the Church of England is particularly lost. Its ethicists have wandered through the labyrinths of when war might be just, influencing public policy not at all. Meanwhile it does a good pastoral job with the armed services, scarcely recognising the job is necessary because of PTSD, caused by the trauma of killing. Bishops look vaguely worried whenever a war arises and dress to reinforce the idea that they have nothing to say of import on any contemporary issue. Meanwhile, the West arms in a bonanza of weapons’ deals. Broadly, the Church of England liturgizes the business of war while the world descends into perpetual threat.
This requires no marginal adjustment. “Just War Theory” does not address militarism until it is too late. Trump has espoused the philosophy of the great Leviathan. Everywhere, talk of war is on the rise, and the Church of England and its bishops act mainly as an acolyte to the State rituals of militarism and practise a kind of liturgical angst in a failure of Christian faith. Islam is being dragged into the dilemma of terrorism. The Church of England seems impotent, incapable of acting in faith.
Yet, as Christ has shown, peace is possible and it works. Christians established it in Europe in 1945 and now European War is unthinkable in the EU. Peace is cheaper than War by trillions every year. The policy of militarism and War is the biggest failed experiment on the planet. But peace requires a War against militarism and war. It requires repentance from its present failure, and the recognition that the God of peace requires us to act in faith. It requires the shoes of peace, the breastplate of justice, the shield of faith and the march of salvation. It requires a clear vision of world multilateral disarmament and co-ordination with the Catholic and other churches, already willing to act. It requires some independent courage rather than pusillanimous support of the establishment. It requires, as Christ taught us, unfear of those who could kill us. It requires the deconstruction of enemies. It requires the Church of England and its bishops to wake up from supine slumber. It requires the Lamb on the Throne world-wide.
It is possible, in God’s purposes, that the Church of England could hear this need for reformation now and here. Its present mechanisms, without an Almighty jolt, will do nothing effective, but it can wake up and begin to act to make God’s peace.