David Gushee, Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University
On September 14, 2012, in the Copley Formal Lounge on the campus of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., a gathering called Evangelicals for Peace convened. By its self-definition, the event was "A Summit on Christian Moral Responsibility in the 21st Century." The conference was co-sponsored by Peace Catalyst International, the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, Sojourners, Evangelicals for Social Action, and the World Evangelical Alliance.
Earlier this year, in January, I joined Peace Catalyst International as a Consultant for Christian-Muslim Relations. So, in the context of our nation's capital, I found myself personally and professionally engaged and absorbed into this significant initial network of Evangelicals for Peace. What follows here is a personalized version of an extended playback, a way of replaying for a wider audience some of the words and ideas expressed at this one-day summit.
In each post, my form is to describe the moment that became catalytic for reflection. My hope is that these conversations surrounding Christian peacemaking will indeed become catalytic for further reflection and constructive action -- especially in Evangelical America. But perhaps also among my Muslim friends in the U.S. and around the world.
Evangelicals for Peace | Extended Playback | David Gushee: "The U.S. Warfare State and Evangelical Peacemaking"
In Gushee's academic paper, delivered as a series of propositions, he said: "According to former Reagan budget director David Stockman, our $775 billion defense budget is nearly twice as large in inflation-adjusted dollars as the defense budget of Dwight Eisenhower for 1961, during the Cold War.[i] Our FY 2011 defense budget was five times greater than that of China, our nearest competition for this dubious honor; constituted over 40% of the world’s entire military spending; and was larger than the cumulative budget of the next 14 nations in the top 15.[ii] All of this occurs at a time when our infrastructure is crumbling, our schools are sliding, and 1/6 of our population cannot find or has stopped looking for full-time work.[iii]"
Gushee was making the case for what Stockman has termed "a 'warfare state'[i]whose military-spending excesses are one major factor contributing to economic decline and imminent fiscal emergency."
Naturally, Gushee's presentation (albeit very early in the morning) sent my head swirling with numerous, significant, complex questions about the daunting challenges of the peacemaking approach -- of advocating for and advancing peacemaking strategies -- precisely in this entrenched warfare state. Among the considered questions, a very big one goes like this: Given the historical separation of Church and State in the U.S., and given the Christian theological understandings of the differing and appropriate roles or functions of Church and State, how do Christians faithfully address what by any reasonable measurement seems a bloated U.S. Defense Budget?
I believe the Church should and can leverage a kind of influence on this realm of government in both word and deed. In fact, Gushee proposed: "The church can urge peace, we can pioneer peacemaking practices, and we can place ourselves at risk in order to create reconciliation opportunities between peoples and nations." But even here, or especially at this intersection, many Evangelical-influenced denominations and institutions along the vast American Christian landscape surely have failed in these influential regards. Or, worse, we have exacerbated or extended the problem: we have shown up on the opposite side of peacemaking.
Like Moses in his increasingly reluctant prophetic mood, we must eventually come to terms.
When do American Evangelical leaders, for instance, come down from their "Christian" mountain, look at what the political leaders and we-the-people have created with our own hands yet are now worshiping with such strange and zealous devotion, and then put forth the decisive question of ultimate allegiance? In other words: Shouldn't Christians be among the first ones to cry aloud -- in the public square -- that the the U.S. Defense Budget has transformed itself into an awe-inspiring idol, one from which we must now turn aside after we have been complicit in taking such great care to make this thing?
Among other steps in turning aside, Evangelicals in particular must first honestly self-confront these theological-political conversations within our small congregations and mega-churches, our various denominations and faith-based institutions. We must ruthlessly and rigorously ask ourselves and our political leaders: What exactly are we attempting to defend as a nation? At what cost? Are there other ways to defend it, or to provide security for it?
In the end Gushee admonished: "We [Evangelical Christians] need to join the conversation about US foreign and military policy, such as it is. That includes studying US foreign policy goals, our current military presence around the world, our alliance commitments, existing and planned weapons systems, and finally how all of that is reflected in the US defense budget. We also need to become aware of the various political, civic, and economic forces that limit needed budget cuts in defense even when foreign policy and governmental leaders believe those cuts are actually needed. We need eventually to offer our own proposals, or join with those of others, for what kind of foreign policy, use of military force, and size and shape of defense budget that we could support."
For more extended playback from the Evangelicals for Peace summit in Washington, D.C., go here.
[i]Stockman, “Paul Ryan’s Fairy-Tale Budget Plan.”
[iii] Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality (New York: W.W. Norton, 2012), p. 1.