I’ve been thinking about how difficult voting with a clean conscience appears to be with this election, and perhaps all elections. I consider myself a single issues voter; my issue is justice. More specifically, I care deeply and have been part of peace movements for almost a decade. Unfortunately, the nominees for President are rather slim pickings when it comes to justice and peace issues. Neither wants to shut down Guantanamo Bay* or side strongly with the Black Lives Matter movement or even consider to decrease/eliminate our military budget.
Since I’m a new Presbyterian I thought John Calvin, a founder of Presbyterianism, might give me some insight into our predicament, but unfortunately I was sidetracked by his affirmative writings on war:
In the Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin declared war to be lawful and right. He reasoned “that in the Apostolic writings we are not to look for a distinct exposition of those matters [i.e. war], their object being not to form a civil polity, but to establish the spiritual kingdom of Christ” (4.20.12). Calvin depoliticizes the Gospels and the letters of Paul, Peter, John, and James. He completely ignores the Imperialist context they were resisting. For example, Paul rebukes Peter of not practicing reconciliation around a meal with non-Jewish Christians (Galatians 2:11-14). James tongue-lashed the rich for condemning and killing the non-violent righteous one (5:6). Or even John’s First Letter, which declares that loving other people and loving God go hand-in-hand (1 John 4:20-21).
For Calvin the Scriptures show “in passing that Christ by his coming has changed nothing [i.e. war and violence] in that respect” (4.20.12). In other words, Christ came to bring a spiritual kingdom, not to change the present one. This kind of logic has made it possible to kill hundreds of thousands of people since Calvin’s time. But then must we ask Calvin: “What does Jesus mean when he prays, ‘May God’s will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven’ mean?” Does nationalism exist in God’s heaven? Will heaven’s borders have tanks, drones, or angelic national security guards? How does someone who’s faith demands of them a respect and love for all people, especially the poor and marginalized, would want to even wield a gun, or even be violent? What say ye, Calvin?
I am reminded of “Garden” by The Collection:
“So I shot a man in Afghanistan, he was bleeding on me
then he said his name was Jesus and he never had an army
as he took his dying breath, the last thing that he thought he’d tell me is
“It’s better to die for nothing than to kill just for your country””
Sure, Calvin does not tickle my fancy when it comes to war, but will this affect my reading of him as I go further into the Presbyterian rabbit hole? I’m not sure.
What I am sure of that is there are many other faithful Christian anti-war/pro-peace advocates whom I adore and look to for inspiration including these two incredible women, Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa:
*Still disappointed that President Obama did not fulfill his promise to shut it down.