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11.06.2021

Why Christians Need to Rethink Defence and Security Issues

The world is changing. It’s a cliché I know, but it’s on an accelerated path towards some worrying possibilities on the horizon.  

Ten years ago, our focus was primarily on combatting extremist terrorists. But for many in defence and foreign policy circles, our assumption was that the world was becoming more peaceful, conflicts less deadly, arms control more effective, and a major war between sovereign states unlikely.  

Fast forward to 2021: the terror threat hasn’t disappeared, and new forms of terrorism have been added to threat lists. A new global geopolitical competition among powerful countries has emerged, along with competition among regional medium powers often brutally seeking to advance their own interests beyond their borders.  

There is already a new nuclear arms race unfolding. International law and platforms are undermined, sidelined, and often judged incapable of meeting the current challenges. These are all accelerated by the new industrial revolution we are going through, from drones to artificial intelligence to information flows.  

Today’s world is precarious, full of misinformation, and risks of miscalculation that could easily escalate a crisis between countries.  

As a Christian working on foreign policy, defence, and security issues, I often find myself asking: what do these factors mean for Christians? But, most importantly: does the gospel have anything to offer a world that is seemingly spinning out of control?  

Sadly, there are no easy answers here, and no space for platitudes. Revamping old debates or rhetoric, from ‘just war’ to pacifism, are not of much help; neither are uncritical sentiments towards past wars or today’s militaries. We need new voices and perspectives on global challenges based up on Christian ideals, to discern new personal responsibilities and new frameworks for national and international accountability.  

Yet, what is new is most likely to look like what was always a given: appreciation of a good world intended for peace, not war; a fallen world, full of danger; a way forward centred on crucifixion and resurrection that offers an alternative basis for being human; but also a hopeful vision of the future that refuses to give darkness and pain the last words.  

Every generation is called to grapple with what God’s salvation story means for the particular challenges they face, and every generation faces the temptation to walk away from the implications of such questions. May our generation take up this mantle, and choose well. 

 

Dr Ziya Meral 
Senior Associate Fellow, Royal United Services Institute 

Comments

  1. Thank you Ziya. I sometimes feel that the Christian mindset can lead us to think that the world is bad and our job is to try to gather as many others as possible to the faith with the intention of escaping to heaven after we die. That can leave us turning our back on the world we live in now. I now look at it the other way, our job is to bring heaven on earth for everyone in whatever way we can a soon as we can. Starting from the premise that we have ‘a good world intended for peace, not war’ captures that. You’re right, the nature of the challenges is constantly changing and we have to be vigilant but always optimistic that we are, and will be, equipped to deal with them. May God bless you with the love, wisdom and strength you need to navigate the challenges he has called you to face.

    By Tim Mercer  -  11 Jun 2021
    • Thank you, Martin Tiller. Thank you Ziya Merel. How do the Royal United Services come in, please, Dr Ziya Merel, to the crucifixion and resurrection vision that we need?
      David Maxwell.Christian CND

      By David Maxwell  -  11 Jun 2021
  2. Thank you Ziya. Too many of us Christians avoid engaging seriously with this difficult subject! I agree that we should be holding out “a hopeful vision of the future that refuses to give darkness and pain the last words.” If the UK, or any of the other eight countries with nuclear weapons, ever uses these awful things, darkness and pain really will have the last words, at least for the next few generations. But there is fresh hope, as a large majority of countries support a new United Nations treaty (the TPNW) which bans nuclear weapons; regrettably the UK is currenly refusing to participate. We have been praying for peace for centuries: perhaps we now need to accept the answer to those prayers which God is offering the world?

    By Martin Tiller  -  11 Jun 2021
  3. Amen, Dr Ziya Meral.

    We need an understanding of the mind of God! and that through the Holy Spirit, via Holy Scripture.

    Thank you for the incisive and formative idea. If only Christians would read the Old and the New Testaments with more vigour!

    God Bless

    Gary

    By Gary Stacey  -  11 Jun 2021
  4. We are currently studying the Beatitudes as the picture of the Citizen of the Kingdom. That seems a very goood place to start – Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons (children) of God. You raise a very important and relevant subject. How do you propose to take it forward? Will LICC take it up as an issue to persue for further work?

    By Crispian  -  11 Jun 2021
    • Hi Crispian, Great question! At this stage, LICC is simply opening up and pressing into a number of larger issues facing our world today … while only a few like Ziya need to make these tough decisions on their daily frontline, this milieu impacts us all. Over time we’ll share frameworks to discern the way forward together as wise peacemakers. In the meantime, hopefully pieces like this spark a better conversation.

      Thanks also for your emphasis on the beatitudes. Far from platitudes, these are our kingdom mandate. That said, calls for either ‘just war’ or pacifism are, as Dr Meral pointed out, often rhetorical gestures that do little to inform our present course of action…

      It’s hard to see how ‘just war’ restrained unjust actions during each war, even if one was deemed ‘just’. We desperately need wisdom for how to engage in this kind of world, both individually, and corporately (through church and nation state).

      While I lean toward a peace-witness and, with the early church, generally advise against joining the military (or police?) if one is a follower of Christ, pacifism doesn’t seem to be a probable and faithful response for every believer. Self-defence and harm mitigation aren’t necessarily or essentially sinful in a broken and violent world.

      If our mandate is to restrain sin and maximise shalom, then – like God who we’re called to image – it would seem we need two hands to hold the world … the coercive right hand to hold back the tides of injustice that threaten to sweep us all away; and arguably the dominant left hand that always leads with grace and points to life on the other side of unforced reconciliation. Judgment and concomitant violence may come but only as a last resort when all other avenues of peace have failed … and it still must be justified and proportionate to the offence. Weapons and military technology may thus be a deterrent to our neighbour pre-emptively striking, even mitigating the force with which they strike. It’s quite likely this is what Jesus did, heading to Gethsemane and his betrayal. One sword was enough to give the lynch mob pause, but that didn’t mean Peter was right to cut off Malchus’s ear … which Jesus immediately healed. If we live by the sword we die by the sword … but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong or unwise to possess a sword as a barrier to bloodthirsty rogues taking what they want by force.

      While few may have their finger on the nuclear trigger, we are each faced with situations needing power to restrain a person not prepared to stop in their desire to control or harm or dictate how we all live. For this reason, I’m thankful to parents, teachers, police, politicians, and military personnel like Ziya who are tasked with keeping the order when I’d rather keep my hands clean.

      Dave Benson
      By Dave Benson Culture & Discipleship Director, LICC
      • Hi Dave
        Thank you for your full reply. I had just read a book on the Anabaptists who are pacifists. That was the one part of their theology I would like to question them on. I don’t think anyone would have said we should just let Hitler walk into our country, so what else could we do. I for one am eternally grateful (born in 1956) for the sacrifice my parents and others made so we could have a free country in which we can proctice our faith and proclaim the gospel. So now, what about our help to enable young women have education in Afghanistan etc? Do we or should we just let them sort themselves out? One can guess how that will end and we might yet see it. If we believe we need a military or a police force then can we also say at the same time that we should not join either – even if we ar Christian?
        Lots of questions and rather fewer answers.
        Thanks again for yours.
        Crispian

        By Crispian Oates  -  30 Jun 2021
  5. Nuclear deterrence is psychological. Misperception of intent leads to proliferation, horizontal and vertical. As reagan said any arms reduction and not merely control, must be based on trust but verify. The open skies monitoring agreement which is breaking down is symptomatic of the paranoia becoming a self- fulfilling prophesy. Medium level regional powers with a regional nuclear monopoly such as Israel or the PRC v taiwan become arrogant in behaviour. As waltz recommended low level horizontal proliferation may impede and deter such as the india v pakistan mutual deterrence. Efforts would be better directed at global strategic nuclear reduction.
    Christian ethics obviously play no part in the CCP decision calculus nor in that of India or Pakistan or Iran.

    By James baillie MA theol  -  11 Jun 2021
  6. Thank you Ziya for this timely reminder. The prevailing Church teaching growing up in the 60s and 70s was that Jesus’ Return was imminent so we should separate ourselves from the world into ‘holy huddles’ and wait for Him to sort everything out! Thankfully our theology has moved on to remember the actual words of Jesus including the prayer/call to action: “thy Kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” and “GO into all the world …. making disciples OF all nations….”

    By Peter Riley  -  11 Jun 2021
  7. Thank you for this, and yes, I agree. Moreover I sense that, possibly because it is not perceived as a ‘spiritual’ matter, many Christian do not attempt to engage with all this much at any depth. This in confirmed, in my experience, sometimes when intercessions are being offered during public services. There is of course a place for taking care in such context, but one can go too far with broad generalisations so that they appear to mean very little, or are too vast to comprehend!
    So perhaps an article, or a book or online publication about all this topic could be considered by LICC?

    By Heather Fenton  -  11 Jun 2021
  8. Many Christians and churches won’t/don’t engage with more obvious dangers close to home, such as a new push for euthanasia, imposing abortion on Northern Ireland from Westminster over the heads of its elected representatives, the new push to remove all remaining restrictions on abortion so that there can be babies killed up to birth (only disabled babies after 25 weeks currently), and the whole LGBT brainwashing juggernaut coming to all primary schools soon. These are all issues clearly transgressing God’s absolutes, and Christians and the churches largely silent. It’s a big ask to expect them to engage with more subtle and complex problems of geo-politics with many shades of grey.

    By Trevor Sidnell  -  11 Jun 2021
  9. When I saw the headline for this piece, I braced myself for some rather uninspiring platitudes and the predictably facile nostrums which Christians tend to adopt when reflecting on matters of ‘war and peace’. But, to the contrary, this is a nuanced and perceptive commentary, which evidently draws on practical experience and an honest grappling with the issues. In particular, I appreciated the way it points us to the the bigger narrative presented to us by the Christian vision, while acknowledging that there are no easy answers and plenty of challenges. Thank you.

    By Mark Womersley  -  11 Jun 2021
    • My favourite comment of all, Mark. Glad this was engaging. We’re working hard as an editorial team to up the level of intelligent and nuanced commentary on a range of issues facing Christians in this particular time and place. Your encouragement adds impetus. And many thanks to Ziya for taking us there.

      By Dr Dave Benson, LICC Director of Culture and Discipleship  -  11 Jun 2021
  10. I believe we have a part to play. I think we do first need a better collective understanding of, eg, how social media is being used by nation states (as well as money-makers and attention-seekers) to ‘game us’, divide us and fire us up through dis/misinformation. Understanding this (as helped by, eg, the Social Dilemma, film) will help us start to be more salt & light. When it comes to our (increasingly) online lives, we can be relevant. To counter the hate, confusion and division, we need more of this: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control.

    By Jon Brewer  -  11 Jun 2021
  11. Just wondering if Dr Ziha Meral is aware of the Armed Forces Christian Union and their publications. The AFCU may not provide a forum for discussing defence policies per se, but together with Christian chaplains it supports Christians within the armed forces offering them an understanding of their role and the importance of Christianity in sustaining wise leadership, morale and just war principles. In encouraging Biblical belief it recognises the reality of evil and the need for defence forces able to restrain the wickedness that in the final analysis seeks to destroy God’s kingdom. It recognises that we cannot do that without God’s help. It has links with Christian in the armed forces of many other countries.

    I write as a long retired Naval Officer, who grew up in WW2 aware of both how many Allied war leaders were men of Christian Faith and how National Days of Prayer were answered in tipping the balance of particular battles in the favour of the Allies. God was not on our side, rather through acknowledging our need of his help we were aligning with his cause against the evil of Nazi totalitarianism. While today the battle lines between good and evil are clear to those who hold to a Biblical view of evil, they are complicated by both the sophistication of weaponry and the complexities of terrorism as well as the treat of conventional warfare.

    My personal belief is that a realistic appreciation of the situation should lead us to humbly seek God’s help as Jehoshaphat did in 2 Chronicles 20…”Lord help us, for we do not know what to do” and recalling Revelation 17:14 .. that promise the sure victory of the Lamb over his enemies. As the Lord answered Jehosaphat’s prayer by revealing a counter intuitive strategy, so as we turn to him in prayer today, he will make know his strategies for defending his cause among us.

    By Edmund Phillimore  -  15 Jun 2021
    • Thank you for your comment Edmund and highlighting the work of the AFCU. As you say, we do not necessarily ‘provide a platform for discussing defence policies’, but we do support over 850 serving Christians to live out their faith literally (and figuratively) on the front line. Although it took a while to recognise God’s calling in my early career, I have since seen myself as being a missionary (as we all are) to those with whom He placed me amongst. In my case that was in the Army. Today we pray for all our members, both serving and the almost 2000 non-serving (who support us in prayer and financially), as well as our chaplains, wider armed forces and all those in leadership, especially in government. We started doing this formally in 1851 and still seek to be faithful to God’s calling, wherever He takes us.

      Rhett Parkinson
      Lead Director
      http://www.afcu.org.uk

      By Rhett Parkinson  -  16 Jun 2021
  12. I do not really love the man who might break into our house when we are away and steal our precious and favourite things. I do not really love ‘him’ as I have not met him. If he exists and I meet him and he has done the break-in, I trust, I hope I might find love and forgiveness hiding away somewhere deep in a little corner of my heart.
    Same thing for the subtle and less-subtle thieves who might try to steal my (our) freedoms.

    On the other hand, maybe I do love that potential thief by locking the doors and windows and preventing (there’s the key word) from getting it.
    Same thing with any weaponry, however ancient or super-modern and NBC (no, not them!). Nuclear, biological or chemical. Might we love some people(s) by holding a nuclear arsenal? Just a thought. Might not deserve much love from anyone, however deeply hidden it is in your heart!

    By douglas holt  -  16 Jun 2021
    • Douglas, it’s a good point where proportionate / conventional forms of ‘deterrence’ are concerned, but the argument really breaks down with weapons of mass destruction like Trident. Only nine countries in the world have nuclear weapons, and people who have grown up inside those countries naturally think that this is a normal state of affairs. It isn’t; and this is obvious to the 95% of countries which don’t have nuclear weapons. Would you feel “loved” by them if they developed a ‘continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent’ like ours and started patrolling the world’s oceans with it? Unfortunately the argument that we need nuclear weapons is nothing other than old-fashioned British exceptionalism.

      By Martin Tiller  -  18 Jun 2021

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