Clergy and War—a Confused Picture
WHEN Jesus concluded his famous sermon on the mount “the crowds were astounded at his way of teaching; for he was teaching them as a person having authority, and not as their scribes”. (Matt. 7:28, 29, NW) He drew heavily upon the inspired Hebrew Scriptures to give substance to his sermon, and this gave it a ring of godly authority. Unlike the scribes and Pharisees, he did not depend on the traditions and commandments of men for support. Of Christ it is written, “The sheep follow him, because they know his voice.” (John 10:4, NW) His voice echoed the Bible. They heard in his words the righteous principles of the Bible. His speech was plain, his words simple, his meaning clear. No double talk to be variously construed and interpreted, no hairsplitting or ambiguity to smack of a cagey lawyer more than a fearless minister. He did not water down or compromise or abandon his principles in the name of an endless string of “expediencies”. With him it was Bible truth regardless of consequences. It was this kind of talk that astounded ears accustomed to the preaching of scribes and Pharisees who feared men, sought to please men, to be admired by men, to be enriched by men. Jesus pleased God, and spoke with the authority of God.
What about those claiming to speak for God today? Do they do so with an authoritative Bible ring of truth and righteousness? Or do they echo human opinion, as did the scribes and Pharisees? Let us sample some of the views on war, since that is a current theme of their sermons.
On November 29, 1950, the National Council of Churches was officially constituted. It embraces 31,000,000 members of the American Protestant denominations. The council’s own claim is that “it lifts up its voice in behalf of the Christian way of life”. Because of the war peril a commission had been “asked to seek under God for a Christian word that might guide or strengthen our fellow Christians and our fellowmen in the darkness we face together”. The “word” forthcoming was a lengthy report that was very obscure. It condemned pacifism, advocated the United Nations; justified total mobilization, but not total war; declared no methods of fighting clean, but opined some methods dirtier than others. Atom bombs? If used on us first, we could “use them in retaliation with all possible restraint”.
What scriptures were offered to give the ring of Bible authority to the report? None. Two members of the commission refused to sign it, one saying that the statement was involved and confused and had the effect of “making Christians do reluctantly what military necessity requires”, and the other said the report was a “contradiction of terms” and offered no “distinctive moral guidance from the Christian gospel”. Certainly no one could conceive of this mass of confused wordage coming from the mouth of the fearless Nazarene.
OUTSPOKEN FOR WAR
Unmistakable, however, was the position taken by Dr. Billington of the Akron, Ohio, Baptist Temple. He contended that “as a man of God” it looked to him as though “God is not with us”, and advised: “Drop the A-bomb and stop it [Korean war]. God gave it to us. Let’s use it to protect our Bibles, churches, schools and America’s way of life.” The Word of God will endure forever, and that without atom bombs. The same can be said concerning the true church. (1 Cor. 15:50-58; 1 Pet. 1:25) If God gave the atom bomb to the United States, did he also give it to the Soviets? Would we expect Christ to speak as did Dr. Billington? Or would he be more likely to cite as a principle, “Those who take up the atom bomb will perish by the atom bomb”?—Matt. 26:52.
Josef Cardinal Frings, archbishop of Cologne, declared on July 23, 1950, that “war is not only the right but even the duty of a nation” and that “unqualified conscientious objection to warfare as propagated by certain quarters does not coincide with Christian principles”. (AP dispatch published in Albany, N. Y., Times-Union, July 24, 1950) What Christian principles? No scriptures were offered to give this assertion an authoritative ring. Nor were any offered in Osservatore Romano when it gave Vatican approval to Truman’s decision to build the hydrogen superbomb, because “there is no other way out”. (N. Y. Times, February 3, 1950) True Christians still rely on God rather than bombs as the way out.
Adding another facet to the clergy position on war, Roman Catholic Edmund A. Walsh, vice-president of Georgetown University, said concerning atom bombs, if the nation felt it were on the verge of being attacked: “Neither reason nor theology, nor morals require men or nations to commit suicide by requiring that we must await the first blow.” He added that American use of the bomb first would place “an appalling responsibility” on the accuracy of its intelligence sources reporting the imminent attack upon the United States. Then he proceeded to shoulder that “appalling responsibility” by saying: “The protestations of peaceful intent spoken by Vishinsky in the United Nations are only the actors’ lines of a prepared script designed to distract the audience from an approaching Pearl Harbor.”—N. Y. Times, December 25, 1950.
Adding a brilliant polish to this facet of striking the first blow of a third world war, the official newspaper of the archdiocese of Boston, The Pilot, said on September 1, 1950, that a preventive war against Russia may be necessary. It held that offensive wars are moral under certain conditions, if fought for a “morally certain right”, and added: “There is considerable evidence to establish the fact that the Soviet is guilty of real crimes and is contemplating further ones, and we seek merely to defend basic human rights.”
A CHASTISEMENT OR BLESSING FROM GOD?
Moving on to get another view of this many-sided picture of the clergy and war, we come face to face with the frequently expressed position that God brings the wars upon us as a chastisement for our sins. An example of this is found in the New York Times’ report of July 24, 1950: “Our own sins have undoubtedly brought upon us this new chastisement,” the conflict in Korea, Auxiliary Bishop Joseph F. Flannelly, administrator of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, said yesterday. No scriptures are offered to make this position sound authoritative, whereas logic makes it unreasonable. If the war is a chastisement from God, why rail against the Korean and Chinese communists, and the Soviets that lend their backing? Flannelly’s position would require us to recognize these communists as instruments in God’s hands.
A few weeks later, from this same pulpit, an about-face is made. No longer is the war lamented as a chastisement from God, but is proclaimed a blessing from him. From the New York Times, September 11, 1950, we quote: “Sorrowing parents whose sons have been drafted or recalled for combat duty were told yesterday in St. Patrick’s Cathedral that death in battle was part of God’s plan for populating ‘the kingdom of heaven.’ ‘It is a thought not always remembered,’ he [Msgr. W. T. Green] continued, ‘but it is the first responsibility of Christian parents to do what lies in their power to give their children back to God at whatever time, place and circumstances in which he chooses to call them, so that they may become true citizens of the eternal kingdom of heaven.’” If war is a part of God’s plan for populating the kingdom of heaven, why should Catholics try to thwart him? Why should they pray for peace? Why not do all in their power to encourage war, that through it their children may gain the Kingdom? Why have peace, and thwart God’s plan, and keep heaven unpopulated?
Centuries before Christ Israel was God’s holy nation, and was used in wars that were approved by God, and at times he even fought in behalf of his people Israel. Yet even under such favorable circumstances the Israelite soldiers that fell in battle did not go to heaven. (John 3:13) David was a man of war, divinely approved wars, but he did not ascend into heaven. (Acts 2:34) After Christ came, Christians are spoken of as soldiers, but not the usual kind: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not wage warfare according to what we are in the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly.” (2 Cor. 10:3, 4; Eph. 6:10-17, NW) The Christian Greek Scriptures disclose God’s method of populating the kingdom of heaven, but carnal warfare does not appear as a part thereof. Green’s words lack backing.
THE BASEST OF WAR PROFITEERS
Much talk is heard about taking the profit out of war. One of the cruelest forms of war-profiteering is exemplified by a letter written to Catholic parents during World War II. It was from Archbishop Sinnot, of Winnipeg, Canada, and dated March 1, 1944. After the salutation “My dear Catholic Parents”, the first lengthy paragraph reads like an extortion note:
“I have received from the Pastors of the different Parishes a list of those who have boys overseas. Some time ago, as you are aware, I called on Catholic Mothers to enroll their boys as Perpetual Members of the Society of the Propagation of the Faith. I said: ‘What better guarantee for any boy exposed to all the hazards of war! A guarantee, should he be killed, that he will go at once to his Maker, to be with Him for all eternity. A guarantee, should it be God’s will, that he will return to his dear Mother and to those who love him.’ This has been explained to you over and over again, from the pulpit and you have been urged to enroll your boys. A few, who have been personally contacted, have answered the appeal, but all the others have maintained a stolid indifference. If I were to conclude that you were indifferent to the safety of your boy, I would be doing you a grave injustice. You are not indifferent. What then can be the reason for the inaction! Some say, in fact many say, that they cannot afford it. That is not a reason, that is a specious excuse, unworthy of a Catholic Mother. You receive a portion of the boy’s pay, and what better use can you make of it. ‘Oh’, you answer, ‘I am trying to have a nest egg for my boy when he returns.’ When he returns. Wouldn’t it be better to take the best means you know to ensure the boy’s return. If he does not return, what good, under heaven, will the ‘nest egg’ be to him. I am not advising you to take the boy’s money, I would much prefer that you use your own money. But, if you must take the boy’s money, take it as a loan. Surely you will be able to make it up in the years to come. Do you not think, with a little economy and a few less shows, you will be able to set aside one dollar a month, until the full amount is paid up? It is not necessary to pay the $40.00 at once. You can pay any sum you wish, by instalments. You can pay, say, $5.00 a month, or $10.00 every three months. You can take a year, you can take two years, you can even take three years. Three years, that is almost the equivalent of One Dollar per month. The important thing is to ensure the boy’s safety, as far as we can do so,—his safety in time and eternity.”
MONEY BUYS NO FAVORS FROM GOD
It is difficult to conceive of such heartless nagging for money, under any circumstances. When it is done in God’s name, it is the rankest fraud and blasphemy. The humane mind balks at believing God might return safely from war a son with a forty-dollar price tag. Or to take that son to heaven if a forty-dollar ticket is provided. What scripture can possibly be twisted and wrested to even hint at such vicious money lust on God’s part? Not one! The falsity of such extortion done in God’s name is shown at Micah 3:11 (AT): “Her chiefs pronounce judgment for a bribe, and her priests declare oracles for hire, and her prophets divine for cash. Yet they lean upon the LORD, saying, ‘Is not the LORD in the midst of us? No misfortune can befall us.’”
But misfortune can and will befall those who think God’s favors can be bought with money. On one occasion a man offered Peter money for a gift of God. The apostle Peter, very unpopelike, said: “May your silver perish with you.” (Acts 8:18-20, NW) It was Peter who said to those in charge of congregations: “Shepherd the flock of God among you, not under compulsion, but willingly, neither for love of dishonest gain, but eagerly.” (1 Pet. 5:2, NW) This rules out the dishonest use of nonexistent pagan purgatories or burning hells to extort money from the surviving friends of the deceased. The Bible shows the dead are in the grave, asleep in death, awaiting a resurrection to life on earth. (Eccl. 9:5, 10; John 5:28, 29, NW) No clergyman can interfere with this divine purpose, whether he is given or refused money.
From the foregoing it is clear that the clergy offer no consistent, comforting counsel regarding war, no sure guidance backed by the authority of God’s Word, and their leadership in other problems is similarly confused. The majority of those thinking war un-Christian are too weak-kneed to say so in wartime. Others clamor for war to rid them of their enemies, just as the Pharisees forced the Roman military to kill their exposer Jesus. Some support defensive wars, others preventive wars, and still others outright offensive warfare. One says war is a chastisement from God for our sins, another says it is his way of populating heaven. Others hover over their congregations like vultures, opportunists that swoop down in wartime to extort money from grieved parents. War-profiteers of the basest sort.
Sincere Christians turn from these confused men, turn to the clear truths and Christian principles of God’s Word. There they will find words of authority. There the sheep will hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, and will learn the way to follow, and will find the path to life in a new world.—2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1-4.