Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor

Morgan Park

 Baptist Church

11024 S. Bell Avenue 

Chicago, IL 60643


Reflection April 8, 2018

"A God of War or a God of Peace? We Must Each Choose!" by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth

     The Path of War is a misguided path for Christians and all people. Yet we must, each of us, choose between the Path of Peace and the Path of War. There are no in-between choices. Only one or the other!

     Yet many difficulties abound in embracing the Path of Peace. Look at what we’ve done to Jesus, the Prince of Peace. We’ve turned the Jesus of Palm Sunday, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, to clearly show he was coming in peace, into the Jesus of Revelation, riding into battle on his white warhorse! I choose Jesus on a donkey!

     We must all choose between these two portrayals. They cannot both be true! Jesus Christ is either the Prince of Peace or he is the Destroyer unleashed upon the world with the so-called “end times.” We cannot have it both ways!

     On Palm Sunday I preached what I felt was a vitally important sermon. Let me add a few thoughts from that sermon in this week’s Advance.

     The Cross of Christ “corrects” much that we find in the Bible. The Cross of Christ is the most important, the most central, revelation of God. It’s the most important Scripture that we have. Everything else we find in the Bible must be filtered through the prism of the Cross of Christ.

     The Cross of Christ teaches us that our God is absolutely and utterly nonviolent. When the Crucified Christ forgives his torturers and his executioners from the cross (Luke 23:34), he reveals the shining inner nature, the true heart, of God. God is Love, Light, Truth, Beauty, Forgiveness, Mercy. There are no threats coming forth from the God revealed in the Cross of Christ.

     The Cross of Christ shows us with blinding certitude that our God never ever uses divine power to destroy. If we don’t grasp this, then we’ve failed to grasp the core of the Gospel of Christ.

     The real revelation of God is not found primarily in a book - the Bible. The absolute revelation of God is found, for us Christians, in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ trumps everything else we find in Scripture.

     This week we’ll remember the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King. We’ll hold a special service this Wednesday evening to “touch” once again that dark day of loss.

     Dr. King was shot down in the prime of his life. We’ve all heard segments of his final sermon delivered the evening before his death in Memphis, Tennessee. Those words, along with the words of his famous “I Have a Dream” speech are forever etched on the hearts of those of us who lived through those terrible times.

     There’s another, less-known, address that Dr. King gave on April 30, 1967 at Riverside Church in New York. In that very gripping sermon (“Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam”) Dr. King had this to say: “I’ve chosen to preach about the war in Vietnam because I agree with Dante, that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality. There comes a time when silence becomes betrayal.”

     “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death … Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to humankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies. This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing, unconditional love for all people.”

     “I’ve long since learned that to be a follower of Jesus Christ means taking up the cross. Good Friday comes before Easter. Before the crown we wear, there is the cross we must bear. Let us bear it - bear it for truth, bear it for justice, and bear it for peace … I haven’t lost faith, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice … I don’t know about you, (but) I ain’t gonna study war no more!”

     One of the serious problems we have as followers of Christ is the many places in the Bible where we encounter a God of War, a God of Wrath. We encounter over and over a God with a very serious propensity to temper tantrums, a God with anger management issues. Do we worship a God of Violence or a God of Peace and Justice? We cannot have it both ways!

     Dr. King was killed on April 4, 1968. My twin brother, Jack, got on a plane just five days later to be transported to the jungles of Vietnam to fight as a member of the 101st Airborne, during what would turn out to be the deadliest year of that long war.  Jack had married his beloved Sue on March 30, 1968 (Happy 50th Anniversary!) less than two weeks before landing in Vietnam. He wanted Sue to receive the payment if he didn’t survive the war.

     My brother fighting in Vietnam turned me against war in all its incredible horror and all its terrors. In the years since that time, I’ve come to believe that most war is supported by a misguided sense that God is a God of War. If this were true, I would have nothing to do with God or with faith. This War-God mentality deeply infects our Christian faith. And the War-God virus can easily be discovered in many other faiths.

     God is NEVER on one side or the other when humans clash in war. To believe God “takes sides” in war is, I believe, among the greatest blasphemies of every faith. We who worship the Crucified Christ are called to work for peace and work for justice.

     As the Scripture scholar, John Dominic Crossan, notes in his latest book, How to Read the Bible and Still Be a Christian: “Justice is the body of love, and love is the soul of justice. Separate them and you do not get both - you get neither … Love empowers justice, and justice embodies love. Keep both or get neither.” 

     Let me end with an old adage from the ‘60’s: Make Love, not War!