Emerging Church – April Recap

Emerging Church – April Recap

“There are more than 45 armed conflicts of one form or another going on in the Middle East and North Africa right now,” Rev Swee Ann Koh said when he introduced the subject of War vs Peace at Emerging Church on Sunday, 21 April. “Conflicts are occurring in Cyprus, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Turkey, Yemen, and Western Sahara. Most worrying are the Russian-Ukrainian war, now two years old, and the Israeli-Palestine war in the Middle East, which may be on the brink of expanding into a wider conflict.

“Is war necessary?” he asked. “History suggests that in every century war has occurred and that it is inescapable. We know what brings it on: aggression; grievance; scarcity of a commodity such as land, water, minerals, or labour; or a fixation on power, domination, conquest, or ideology.

“There was a time in ancient history leading up to the third century CE when a long period of ‘peace’ occurred. It was known as Pax Romana or Roman Peace, but it was only made possible by enforced Roman violence, so it was not peace in the true sense of the word.

“The Hebrew nation and the Church which grew out of it, have not escaped from being perpetrators of armed violence. In the time of Moses and Joshua the Canaanites had their land stolen by the Israelites, who then went on to subjugate other occupants, or to wage war with armies that invaded them. In the fourth century CE, the Emperor in Constantinople, Constantine, decreed that the Eastern Roman Empire convert to Christianity. Those who objected were forcibly compelled to comply at the point of the sword.

“Christians set up a long period of Holy wars: think of the Crusades against Muslims (‘infidels’) who had overrun the Holy Land. Holy wars had three elements: the achievement of a specific religiously inspired goal; being instigated by a religious leader; and the promise of a spiritual reward for those who carried them out.
Colonialism by so-called Christian empires led to all sorts of abuses in many New World countries. In Australia many thousands of Australian Aboriginies were hunted to death in massacres, as also happened in other countries. A Pope of this time is reported to have sanctioned missionaries to kill native people if it would further the cause of the advancement of Christianity in any area.

“Even today, armies go into battle believing that God is with them, often after prayers and sacrifices to keep God on their side. But can God be on both sides?”, Swee Ann asked.

“Is there such a thing as a just war?”, Swee Ann asked. “The ancient church thought so. Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote about the subject in attempting to find a balance between combat and the ideal that Christians should refrain from killing. They said that a just war was one necessary to defend against oppression; achieve a just cause; or create a status quo between adversaries, and that subduing action should be proportionate to the aggression being encountered.

“Finally, a belief among Christians that is very difficult to shift, is that the wrath of God – a war on everybody – when imposed upon his son, requiring him to die at calvary for the purpose of absolving our sins, gained enormous currency. More than anything else, this notion has held back the advance of Christianity, although initially advancing it. Times have changed but slowly!

“Thank goodness for Jesus, who turned around the concept that those who attack us, verbally or physically should be regarded as persona non grata and punished in some way, possibly by war. Jesus had a contrary notion. He said, ‘Love your neighbour and pray for your enemies.’ This philosophy is hard to grasp, but of those who have employed it, three people stand out: Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King Jr. Look up their stories if you need to,” Swee Ann said.

“I believe that if we steep ourselves in the ethics of Christianity, and see all people as equals, ridding ourselves of all traces of colour, gender, ethnicity, and generational biases, and see God in every person, we have a chance of enacting Christ’s teaching. Because we believe in a non-violent God and know that our choice will be costly and that work will be involved, we cannot advocate for any other position than for the abolition of the notion that war is necessary,” Swee Ann said in conclusion.

We joined in a two-line prayer: “Dear God, we are ready to listen to you now/Show us how to treat our fellow man. Amen”

Throughout the presentation there was a deal of healthy audience participation, as planned for. Some of it was about the non-Christian attitude to war of a good number of USA citizens, possibly engendered by the gun culture of that country.
Fourteen people attended. Our shared supper followed.