A Lutheran Response to the Drums of War

A Lutheran Response to the Drums of War    

Amy Blumenshine

As the drums beat once more to rev up the nation for war with Iran, the moral, religious, and psychological consequences get little consideration.   The Coming Home Collaborative, in seeking to raise awareness before war is declared in an attempt to prevent tragic and unnecessary losses, thanks our presiding bishop. Bishop Elizabeth Eaton issued a statement on behalf of the ELCA in which she concludes: “For our part, we have a window of opportunity to stop the current conflict before it worsens. We should appeal now to our elected officials to pursue the path of dialogue and diplomacy with Iran — for our sake, for the sake of the people of Iran and for the sake of the world God so loves.” https://www.elca.org/News-and-Events/8018?fbclid=IwAR3-r-tMFtlZ1K92uKefeEiWaBYGo1o8Ktiai2mGEGiF0b5FW8jpiFkVqiw  The Our Saviour’s Bible Study sent her thanks!

War is evil. "War is the greatest plague that can afflict humanity; it destroys religions, it destroys states, it destroys families,” said Martin Luther. From his perspective in 16th century Europe, he proclaimed, “Any scourge is preferable to it."

Christian military chaplain William Mahedy from his perspective in the American War in Vietnam wrote, “War is a moral sewer.”  In war, combatants are encouraged to excel in activities that are crimes in civil society.  In lawful societies, we criminalize these activities because they rupture the harmony of how we live together.  Our capacity to love and trust and flourish is impaired by violence.

In recent years, we have begun to identify lasting moral injury that stems from violating these “laws of the heart.”  I encourage you to read more at https://www.warandmoralinjury.org/faq

While war-making also destroys homes, psyches, and livelihoods, taking life is an irrecoverable consequence. Here I stand in the midst of countless popular fictions to proclaim a counter-narrative: killing is of profound significance.  Rarely does our entertainment community tell the truth about the consequences of taking life; the truth is too painful to be popular.   We pretend as though killing is without consequence in fictions such as Rambo and James Bond.

Countless military veterans have struggled with the aftermath of doing what they were trained and sent to do--as have their families and communities. Indeed, there have been little understood ramifications for all of us.  Having been targets and perpetrators of lethal violence, one of the common ramifications is never feeling safe again. 

As individuals trying to be moral actors in our world, we turn to our religions for guidance for doing what is right.   Clearly there are great differences in our religions and within our religions. As ELCA, we have a long and thorough process of developing social statements: well-researched and thoughtful documents about how our theology applies to daily life that are then voted on by assemblies-- always asking for God’s guidance. 

Additionally, ELCA Lutherans gather in annual congregational meetings and send representatives to our local synod assembly--here the Minneapolis Area Synod--and resolutions are brought forward. As many of you know, Our Saviour’s started a MAS resolution on US war efforts, and our synod assembly voted for these actions.

First, we called on the congregations and people of this synod to a time of communal soul-searching on the moral impact and societal consequences of expanded U.S. war efforts.   Specifically, we pushed to reflection on what reacting to violence with more violence has achieved.

We further made three requests of our Congressional delegation:

  • To follow the U.S. Constitution’s insistence that only the Congress can authorize war;
  • To remove consent for the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), passed by the Congress in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11/01 tragedy, so that it is not applied indefinitely and indiscriminately to all countries and targets;
  • And that Congress hold hearings evaluating the consequences of U.S. military action since 1990 on global violence and instability and issue a report.

I will note that Representative Ilhan Omar’s War Powers resolution, passed by the House of Representatives 1.9.20, is in accord with the requests to require Congressional approval for war and to limit use of the old AUMF’s granted in such different circumstances. Now awaiting approval in the Senate, this is a good time to call your senators to support the Kaine War Powers Resolution.

While no public reports or Congressional hearings on the consequences of our wars have occurred, the Pentagon secretly did its own studies. Their recently disclosed Afghanistan Papers show that the death and destruction brought upon one of the poorest countries in the world has been pointless.  A similar secret Pentagon study of the Iraq war concluded that Iran had been the main beneficiary of the US invasion and continued hostilities. Surely we can still recall how the drums were beaten for that war, and the lies that were told. Those already bereaved and impaired continue to suffer. By paying for war by borrowing, the nation has saddled future generations with debt. The environmental destruction and excessive fossil fuel burning is also a curse on the future.

Overall, the religious issue on war addresses when it might be permissible, moral, to kill--the irrecoverable consequence. The laws of war seek to limit pointless death and destruction. Pointless death and destruction is how some have described the conclusions from the recently disclosed Pentagon studies on Afghanistan and Iraq.

Our synod passed the above resolution before the most recent assassination of an Iranian general -- along with nine other lives and yet undisclosed fatalities in the Yemen assassination attempt. Most would consider those acts of war, which would likely trigger defensive war reciprocation from Iran – and possibly Iraq and Yemen where destruction occurred.  Lutherans long support understanding the context of moral decisions.  Accordingly, we must note that the president ordered this attack as he was being impeached.

 Lutherans also have long supported the primacy of conscience. The large tent of our belief includes supporting those who conscientiously object to all war killing or to killing in particular wars.  (See http://oursavioursmpls.org/conscientious-objection.html for more info on CO and selective CO.)

We need to turn to away from the drums of war in search of better guidance –if we wish to stop pointless killing/senseless violence.

Side note.  We celebrate the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at this time on the calendar. He and his father share the name of the Protestant reformer because after learning more about Martin Luther, MLK Jr’s father legally changed both their names. Both MLK father and son were Baptist Protestant pastors.  Among the preaching of MLK was that the interlocking injustices of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, the war economy/militarism and the distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism all be ended. 

Learn more from the Poor People’s Campaign which seeks to apply his principles www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/about/          

Side side note: While we celebrate our ancestors for their wisdom, we recognize that as humans, they also made errors.

A version of this article is being published in all three of the editions of the February Southside Pride.