Rector's Letter - March 2003
My dear friends,
I made up my mind some time ago that it should never be the place of a Christian Minister to encourage war. My conclusion came after delivering a series of lectures on the role of the Church of England in the First World War. I was ashamed to recount stories of Priests and Bishops who used their platform to rouse the troops to greater blood-thirstyness, greater nationalism and greater violence. All the while, in my mind, I could picture the youth of Germany receiving similar exhortations with Gott mit uns (God with us) engraved on their belt-buckles. "No, this is wrong!" I thought. The Church has no business being an adolescent cheerleader for War.
However, I have also had to reject the option of pacifism. For another lesson from history also tells me that the Peace Movement of the 1930s would have had us reach an accommodation with a very great evil. The rising militarism of Hitler's Germany was met with an averted gaze and ignored with crossed-fingers. The increasingly repressive attitude of its eugenically-inspired government to its own population, Jews, Gypsies and the disabled, was relegated to being "an internal matter for a sovereign government". In the end the evil grew stronger until it boiled-over and consumed the world in a 6-year war that brought death and suffering to scores of millions.
And now, I ask myself, how will students of history judge our own time? Make no mistake, they will hold us responsible for both our action and our inaction.
We so glibly talk of, and pray for, "Peace & Justice" as if they were a single concept when often they are mutually exclusive - when the path to peace is the toleration of terrible evils, and the only road to justice requires confrontation and conflict.
The lessons of Lent will not provide us with a simple solution to our predicament. We may find inspiration for peace in our Lord's passion as he offered-up His own life in self-sacrifice and prayed for the forgiveness of his executioners' sins. Alternatively, we may be inspired to the use of force by Him taking a whip to the backs of the money-lenders in the temple and dashing their tables to the ground?
But no, if Lent is to lead us to a solution for the troubles of our times it will not be found in simple parallels, it will be found in the Lenten traditions of self-examination and prayer. In self-examination we may discover how pride and self-interest distort our judgement and cause us to deviate from choosing what is right and holy and just. And in praying for discernment we may humble ourselves and discover the guidance and wisdom of a greater mind than ours for making the far-reaching decisions we must neither abdicate nor ignore.
Pray for peace and pray for justice but don't think the world will easily find both.
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