I’m having a difficult time forgetting this CNN video of 4 year-old Rena. She was playing on the balcony of her family’s apartment in Aleppo, Syria, when a bullet – not a stray, but one fired at random by a sniper – smashed through the window and into her face, dislodging one of her teeth as it pierced her cheek. The last hours of her short life were spent crying out in pain and fear, the blood gurgling in her throat as she called for her mother.
This is the real story of any modern war – the horrific suffering and death of thousands of innocents. Best estimates so far of civilian casualties in Syria are somewhere around 20,000 men, women, and children in the last year or so. The US is not involved in this war – yet – but we’re responsible for tens of thousands of civilian deaths in other wars since the start of this century – at least 100,000 in Iraq alone. Rena’s tragedy was captured on film, but thousands of others have gone un-reported, un-mourned, forgotten.
I don’t understand why the so-called Moral Majority in this country have been in favor of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; it hasn’t always been this way. The denomination I grew up in, the Assemblies of God, officially opposed participation of its members in any war until 1967. Now it seems that most Pentecostal / Charismatic churches somehow connect God, guns, patriotism, and warmongering as part of our grand American Christian tradition.
I remember a Christian music video I saw when the war in Afghanistan had just got underway. I can’t remember the particular singer – she was a young, busty girl, with big hair and tiny cut-off shorts, dancing in front of tanks and American flags. Her rendition of Our God is an Awesome God was interspersed with sound bytes of George W. Bush saying things like “our cause is just”. The British phrase ‘gob-smacked’ is the only phrase that comes close to how I felt watching that video.
When did getting behind the war effort become a Christian virtue? And why is it that pacifism is viewed as un-American, un-patriotic, and somewhat socialist?
What does it mean to be pro-life? In Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, he promised to “protect the sanctity of life” yet he clearly thinks that it’s a mistake to scale back our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, and would certainly side with his good friend Benjamin Netanyahu should Israel decide to start a war with Iran – or perhaps even involve American troops in such folly. When Christians talk of the sanctity of human life, is that simply code for an anti-abortion stance?
Let’s face it – many Christians get all riled up about the rights of an unborn child – but don’t seem to care much about what happens to that child after it is already born. The hypocrisy is breath-taking. According to what I hear from pulpits across the nation, the current Christian ‘pro-life’ stance goes something like this:
If you get pregnant, you must carry the baby to term, because the life of that unborn child is sacred to God. The Bible makes it clear that God forms a child in the womb, and God’s plan for that child’s life is already drawn at conception – both Samuel and John the Baptist were destined to do God’s work when they were still unborn. The fact that you can’t afford a baby is inconsequential – it’s a sin to end the pregnancy. Once that baby is born, however, you should expect no help whatsoever from society or government in feeding, clothing, housing, or educating God’s little gift; that would make you some kind of pariah, one of Romney’s 47 percent of Americans who see themselves as victims, and are dependent on government. In fact, most Christians seem to be in favor or Paul Ryan’s plan to eviscerate government programs for the weak and poor – not while they might need them, of course, but for those others who refuse to take responsibility for themselves.
It seems that being pro-life is limited to being pro-fetus only, not to believing in the sanctity of any life that manages to emerge from its mother’s womb.
A century ago, most church buildings were simple structures, and much of the tithes brought in were distributed to the needy. Now, Christians busily build cathedrals, gymnasiums, and television studios, contributing very little to the community as a whole. So, while the church has become more miserly in their contributions to society’s most vulnerable, they have also grown dogmatic in their belief that government shouldn’t assist them either.
And in reality, pro-lifers seem to be mostly concerned about Caucasian fetuses, not so much about other varieties. The Far Right wants to make abortion illegal – but worries about Black women having more babies so they can get bigger welfare checks, or Mexican women having babies on Americans soil so they can avail themselves of government handouts. They fear that Muslims and Hindus are trying to out-breed White Americans and Europeans.
If you claim to be pro-life, then you have to be for the sanctity of all human life, not just the unborn. You must do something about the 30,000 children who die every day due to malnutrition and preventable disease. You must do whatever you can to end wars that cause the suffering of untold thousands of innocents. You must be concerned about the sky-rocketing suicide rates among enlisted American soldiers. You must insist that every child in America get at least one decent meal every day, and an education that will allow him one day to improve his lot. If you can’t do these things, you need to call yourself ‘pro-fetus’ or ‘pro-zygote’ or something else; you can’t call yourself pro-life.
So many of us cannot envision a world without war. We think that wars are inevitable, part of human nature – even necessary, perhaps valiant. Doesn’t the Bible say we will always have wars until Jesus comes back? Didn’t Jesus himself say that there would always be poor people?
It’s this kind of thinking that keeps us from changing the world for the better. It’s this kind of thinking that killed Rena.
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