Over these past several weeks my heart, mind and soul have been in conflict. As a pastor, as a United Methodist, as a Christian and as human being how am I or how are we to respond to the war that is being raged on Ukraine by Russia?
As Methodists we believe that we are to do no harm.
Now, I have declared what is happening to the people and the country as a war and I have declared that Russia is trying to evade the Free Democratic Nation of Ukraine. Using this premise how do I as United Methodist respond to such aggression with death, and atrocities being committed in the conflict inflicting pain and anguish on each other. We as United Methodists embrace a social principle that teaches us that war is incompatible with the teachings of Christ, and we profess respect for “Those who support the use of force” under limited conditions. These quotes are from the United Methodist Social Principles 164.I and 165.C. Such tensions are outcomes of United Methodist democratic policy, but they also reflect deeper sources of denominational identity for us as United Methodists. We as United Methodists are on a continuum of denominational optimism and pessimism concerning the Christian’s interaction with the world. We may be in conflict with war and defending ourselves or others when war is waged on us or others unprovoked. As United Methodists we find ourselves mostly in the middle between nonviolence and the use of the sword.
We recognize the nature of sin in the world and our responsibility to avoid, prevent and discourage sin. When we occupy the middle ground on the continuum of Christian optimism and pessimism we look to an inner light of the spirit in every human being. This light leads the Christian to imitating Christ in nonresistance witness.
The witness can be transforming of humanity as we pursue the possibilities of justice in our world by nonviolent action. John Wesley our founder thought of himself as an Augustinian, his emphasis upon God’s grace leads to an optimism about humanity. And as Wesleyans we believe in prevenient grace; The grace which returns to humanity the ability to choose against its sinful inclinations and move towards God. This leaves us as United Methodism’s with a deep sense of optimism about the possibilities for individual and social perfection and a correlated sense of responsibility for bringing such perfection i.e., about in our world. We as United Methodists want justice in our world. Which leads us to want to think through engagement with evil less than the compromise of perfection required by such engagement which comes to appear to be the rule rather than the exception. We as United Methodists do not go as far as the peace church traditional recourse to violence. We as United Methodists look for “Justice with peace and then very reluctantly, except violence when it turns out that justice cannot be achieved by other means.”
This is to say that we understand the just-war approach to be grounded in “A strong presumption against violence.” This of course brings about tension for us as a denomination. When optimism cannot always win out and a grace touched humanity is lost, we must continue to strive for justice in the world. We as United Methodists desire a just and peacemaking practice when an outbreak of injustice or conflict comes about in our world. This means we must first adopt social holiness to avoid conflict. When social holiness cannot solve the problem we must adopt a position of passion for progressive justice, which means that we can support physical action that would bring about justice for those who have incurred affliction through aggressive behavior being waged upon them by others.
This means for us as United Methodists that we see war and violence as evil that entails considerable human costs. We as Christians want to use first a path of action by reconciliation understanding that war and violence are last solutions for conflicts. When reconciliation is not possible, we must stand with others in our world praying for protection, additional reconciliation, and peace. We must whenever possibly become the peacemakers that build the bridge needed to end conflict and war. We can stand strong in deploring violence and always be adamant in prayer for the redirection of military action seeking diplomatic measures to resolve grievances whenever possible. As United Methodists we must support those who have received unprovoked attacks on themselves and or their sovereign nation without any evidence of an impending threat which is immoral and unethical. We as United Methodists along with our Christian brothers and sisters must yearn each day for no more war and to have people live together in peace and justice. Understanding when peaceful alternatives have failed that the force of arms may regrettably be preferable to unchecked aggression, tyranny, and genocide. We as United
Methodists must allow the support and the use of force only in extreme situations and only when the need is clear beyond a reasonable doubt and through appropriate organizations that aggressions cannot be turned away. For we as Christians have a responsibility to provide for citizens of our country and other citizens of the world the right to live in peace. We must support and extend the church ministry to all people. As we care for injustices suffered and advocate for sufficient resources to meet the physical, spiritual, and mental needs of those during and after a conflict. And we must look for forgiveness when such conflicts do arise.
Pray for peace, safety, and well-being of all. We are to do good when and wherever possible.
These remarks and thoughts by me have compiled from several writings including “The United Methodist Book of Disciple,” “The United Methodist Book of Social Principles,” Kevin Carnahan “United Methodism on War and Peace” and the United Methodist Council of Bishops statement on “Appeal for Peace in Ukraine and Russia.”