September 9, 2011 by Ron Madson
In early 1943, hundreds of German women did the unthinkable—they confronted machine gun wielding Gestapo agents and demanded the release of their Jewish husbands who were part of Hitler’s final roundup of Jews that were to be transported to Auschwitz. Even more remarkable, their Jewish husbands (approximately 1,700 in number) were released.
This incident, now known as The Rosenstrasse Protest, was appropriately dubbed “The Day Hitler Blinked.” This story has, until recently, been largely ignored by Germans because the consensus has been and remains that the average German was powerless against their government and its anti-Semitic policies.
Such thinking appears to be confirmed, as a practical matter, when focusing on individual martyrs such as the German latter-day Saint Helmuth Hubener
and the occasional principled monk, priest or clergyman who defied his government’s policies of war, torture and genocide. However, what set these acts of civil disobedience apart from the Rosenstrasse protest is that these latter individuals were abandoned by their own faith community, and in particular, their church leaders.
Then again, the Helmuth Hubeners of this world were responding to a higher authority and an audience unseen in this world.
After reading some of my anti-war papers, a good friend asked what I consider a highly relevant question: “What is the point of all your anti-war writings and lectures?”
“Or in other words, at the end of the day, what do you or anyone protesting our nation’s wars expect to accomplish or change as a practical matter—within our nation, our church, or even personally?”
“And how does this help build the kingdom? How does it make you or any of us better members of the church?”
I will attempt to answer that by considering our nation’s war policies during the last decade in light of what I believe could have been, what is, and what I believe will be if we do not repent of our current rejection of Christ’s words to us in our generation as it pertains to the use of violence; and how that will play out for each of us individually as well as collectively.
What Could Have Been
Imagine it is now Sunday, September 16th, 2001. It’s been five days since the devastating attacks of what will come to be known as 9/11, and our nation is still in deep shock and in the early stages of mourning over that horrific tragedy.
Holy men who lead our respective Christian faiths search their souls to find the words of Jesus to teach us how to respond to our enemies. While giving comfort, they exhort us to not become the very evil we deplore. Demonstrating a mature faith, they teach us that we must begin to pray for our enemies and even search deep within ourselves for ways to do good to those that hate us.
Week after week, they seek to teach us to not give into our fear and anger which leads inevitably to a desire for vengeance. They exhort us that the price of discipleship is great at such times, but the promises are sure that if we will trust our God enough to follow the example of Christ, He will consecrate such faith and pour out a blessing to us, and even soften the hearts of those who we might believe worthy of our vengeance.
Having laid such a foundation, then when those in our nation insist that we seek vengeance by first invading one nation and its citizens, and then engage in a pre-emptive attack on another nation in order to send a message, how would those tutored on a gospel of non-vengeance respond?
Among faiths that take literally the words of Christ such as the Amish, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Anabaptist sects, and Seventh DayAdventists, there is a top-to-bottom collective belief that they must conscientiously object (ex: how the Amish responded to the massacre of their children recently with charity toward the family of the killer).
But what if all leaders of all the Christian faiths in our nation had renounced any wars of aggression and vengeance as antithetical to one’s claim of a faith in Christ? Could those political leaders -the Neocons and warmongers in high places who insisted on pre-emptive invasions of Afghanistan and then Iraq- have succeeded in marshaling enough public support for such wars?
Not if every pastor and bishop had denounced such attacks, confirmed by an edict from their highest leaders informing that position.
Our nation’s “Decider in Chief,” who had told us during the Presidential debates that Jesus was his greatest hero, would have had to weigh the collective teachings of those entrusted to share the gospel each week against whether there was any popular support for commencing the works of death and destruction among the citizens of two nations who had done us no harm.
Then let’s suppose we, as a nation, get carried away even further with a Christ-inspired model when it comes to our perceived enemies and we spend just a tenth of what we have squandered in these two wars on direct humanitarian relief to these benighted countries we attacked. How would the narrative have changed? How many schools and hospitals might we have built and how many fewer Madrassahs would have sprung up teaching anti-American hatred for the next generation?
|Did the three thousand deaths from this incident…|
|…warrant taking revenge on hundreds of thousands of innocents like these?|
“When moral contempt for a form of violence inspires so explicit a replication of it, there is only one conclusion to be drawn: The moral revulsion the initial violence awakened proved weaker than the mimetic fascination it inspired. – Gil Bailie”
“Therefore, renounce war and proclaim peace…” -Doctrine and Covenants 98:16
“And again, this is the law I gave unto mine ancients [which is still in effect today], that they should not go out unto battle against any nation…save I, the Lord, commanded them…And if any nation…should proclaim war against them, they should first raise a standard of peace unto that people…” -Doctrine and Covenants 98:33-34.
So let’s narrow this script and rewrite history as to our Mormon faith community. Suppose that after 9/11, our priesthood leaders instinctively turned to D&C Section 98 and raised the standard of peace and renounced commencing any wars. By “renounce” I do not mean they simply say that war is not nice and we prefer peace to war. Or worse, proclaim that we are peace loving, and like Jesus we believe in peace, while openly responding to an invitation to march to war.
No! To renounce means to declare an emphatic NO!
It means one unequivocally rejects a war policy that involves retribution—and especially when it involves pre-emptive acts of aggression.
If the President of the Church and the Apostles had stridently and without reservationrenounced our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, then what would have happened in our faith community?
The main body of our faith community would have heard the clarity of the denunciation and added to the chorus rejecting the call to endorse these wars. Believing parents would have discouraged children from enlisting. Section 98 would come alive to the believing saints and they would recognize the voice of the Lord in that immutable covenant.
What difference would this make? As far as immediate effect, how many of the more than one hundred LDS soldiers who have perished in Iraq and Afghanistan would not have enlisted, or in the alternative claimed status as conscientious objectors?
We will never know for sure, but at many of their funerals, friends and family testified that their desire to enlist and “serve their country” had been rooted in their religious faith.
What about those injured physically and mentally? What about the lives of those “enemies”? Do they even count in the equation?
But I believe there is something at risk that goes beyond this sphere of existence. I believe that if we embrace the words of Christ in His revelations, then the heavens are opened for the ministering angels to pour out an even greater blessing as promised not only in Section 98 but in all our revelations.
What is that blessing? Beyond peace and prosperity, there is the promise of further light and knowledge. There is the unsealing of the heavens as we receive even greater revelations and blessings, which I believe are sealed up until we actually live those revelations which we have been given.
So what would happen if, as a people, whether speaking from the Chief Seats down to the smallest primary class, we were to teach the words of Christ with conviction, utterly renouncing all forms of retributive violence?
I believe we would find our voice.
And I further believe the throngs of heavenly beings would join us. And who knows but that we, like the few hundred women at Rosenstrasse, could cause miracles to occur?
And would our united voices renouncing these wars not give courage to other faith communities and like minded people? Then, like the women at Rosenstrasse would there be enough collective refrain that those who sought moral support for their war plans would have not only “blinked” but frozen long enough to arrest what has proven to be so evil on so many levels?
We will never know.
There is no need to rehearse our unfortunate ten year odyssey in Iraq and Afghanistan at length in this submission. We engaged in wars of aggression against two nations, both of which had never come against us, and both of which raised the standard of peace and we rejected it.
We have murdered hundreds of thousands of their civilians over these past ten years, causing an irreparable cost in lives, treasure and the spirituality of our nation.
In our Mormon faith community we have praised, encouraged, and elevated military service in these wars by framing it as a conflict between good and evil when in fact, as the prophet Mormon astutely observed, “it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished.” We have excused and ignored our own wickedness by conflating these wars of aggression into the slogan that by invading and occupying other people’s homelands, we are somehow “fighting for our freedoms.”
Following 9/11, many young LDS men and women enthusiastically enlisted in the military, knowing they had the full endorsement of our church leaders and their faith community.
So what difference did that make? What about those whose lives we placed on our altar of war?
Alyssa Peterson returned from her mission and felt it an extension of her spiritual sacrifice to then enlist in the military, only months later to find herself forced to participate in our government’s own program of torture.
Then there is Sergeant Cawley, one of the first LDS casualties in the Iraq war, who served a mission in Japan, married, and fathered two children. We know of his death because President Hinckley made sure we knew that when Brother Cawley was called to serve his nation he did so “without hesitation.” Of course, how could there have been any hesitation when we as a people had once again rejected Section 98 in both word and deed?
How could there have even been a pause to ponder among those of our faith enlisting to serve in these wars, when our authorities invited Dick Cheney and Condaleeza Rice, co-conspirators in fabricating the evidence promoting both wars (as well as endorsing a program of torture), to speak at “The Lord’s University” while rejecting the Dalai Lama’s request to speak at the same forum?
What has happened -and continues to happen- in regard to these wars, and our institutional silence in not renouncing these wars, is reprehensible; yet it is historically predictable once a church has placed its allegiance to empire above the commandments of God. Once that wall is breached, the practice of a people sacrificing their own children on the altar of war inexorably follows.
So, what are the consequences beyond a few of our children being delivered to the fires of Moloch? No big deal. Let’s move along and stay focused on building the Kingdom of Jesus on earth.
Again, what good does it do to create bad feelings by being critical of our faith community? Of, as some call it, “attacking” Church leadership? What’s the point of spending so much energy diverting us from our “real” mission to share the gospel’s good news, which is that you too can overcome your addiction to coffee, tea, and tobacco. You too can become a holy, chaste, commandment keeper, personally worthy and feeling really, really good about yourself as a member of The All Is Well For You & Me Club.
Yes, you too can know those warm feelings that come from reading the scriptures, praying three times a day, attending church, wearing white shirts, excellent hygiene, home teaching, taking cookies to the new neighbor—all wrapped up in the warm blanket of personal spiritual health.
All these things are nice, but if in the end one’s spiritual development never matures beyond the pharisaical narcissism of “personal” self-righteousness, then what do we have?
What we have are members of a Church, but nothing remotely resembling The Kingdom of God.
One graduates spiritually when one takes off his or her church training wheels and becomes a contributing member of Jesus’ Kingdom by doing as Jesus did -standing in the breach for the least among us, denouncing the evil done to others, giving voice to His words on behalf of the Samaritan, the sinners, the outcasts and yes, even one’s enemies.
That is the price of admission to his Kingdom and the beginning of genuine discipleship, even if it means unpopularity within one’s religious community or national tribe.
And what is the price if we reject His teachings and support the latest “Christian” crusade? Does it really make any difference to us individually or collectively?
It made all the difference in the lives of those individuals who have suffered grievously in these wars—even if we only count those of our own faith such as Alyssa Peterson, Brother Cawley and last week’s obituary. That is enough reason to renounce these wars, is it not?
But there is, in my opinion, something more spiritually cosmic at work here. Latter-day Saints believe that the original church of Christ began to drift into apostasy when they deeded their allegiance to the Roman Empire and engaged in what is referred to as “The Constantine Shift.”
Bishops, priests, and then Popes all began to consistently set aside the words of Christ and endorse nearly every state sponsored war—and in fact taught that it was one’s Christian duty to enlist. Is it any surprise that the heavens became brass, and revelations ceased despite the Catholic church’s claim to legal priesthood pedigree? Why would the Heavens commune with such a church and its leaders lest such manifestations of charismatic gifts be considered lending its imprimatur of approval on such behavior?
Of course the medieval catholic church continued preserving the truths from its origins but preservation is not the same as “true and living.”
Do we really believe that we latter-day Saints are exempt from the sealing up of the heavens if we engage in our own Constantine Shift? Can we pay lip service to the words of Christ found in our sacred texts, but in actual church policy blatantly reject His “immutable” covenant and expect further endorsement from the same God?
When we trust in the “horses” and “chariots” of Egypt (Isaiah 31:1) do we not “err in vision” and “stumble in judgment”? (Isaiah 27:7). If we reject His words found in our “doctrines” and “covenants,” can we then expect the same blessings as a church found in the same body of revelations that includes specifically “receiving angels”, “opening up the mysteries of heaven”, “communion with the Church of the First Born,” and “being in the presence of God”?
How can we expect to lift the condemnation that is upon us if we continue to “treat light the things (we) have received” and do not “do according to that which I have written”? (D & C 84: 54- 57).
More to the point, if we do not repent by renouncing our State sponsored wars, how can we expect the Lord to bless us? If the Lord were to send through our church leadership ministering angels as well as His direct presence, would we not interpret that as approval of our current actions? If the gifts of the spirit were again to pour out upon this church as they had in the early years of its founding, would we not assume from observing these gifts that we were on the right path? Wouldn’t such marvelous gifts and healings as were abundantly experienced by the church in the Missouri-Nauvoo period serve to comunicate His approbation on our church and its current leadership?
What does it then tell us when we look around and us notice the absence of these spiritual manifestations in the Church today?
Does this plunge toward failure we seem to be heading as a nation (not to mention as a faith community) not stand as a witness of God’s disapproval of our new policy of pledging allegiance to empire over His words and teachings as found not only in D&C 98, but throughout the New Testament and Book of Mormon? I believe so.
Like the children of Israel at Mount Sinai, we have rejected the continued presence of God and his ministering angels and have chosen mortal icons to lead us as we seek to conquer Canaan—a conquest that had the audacity to teach that there is spiritual immunity when we kill every man, woman and child who stands in the way of our“freedom”—and that when we commit these abominations, it is God’s will.
Where are we now as a people?
This past year I was with a group of protestors outside the Marriot Center, protesting Condeleezza Rice’s appearance to speak at BYU (essentially the same group that protested Dick Cheney’s speech at the same forum three years earlier). While we were gathered outside, she was in the Marriot Center telling the full-capacity stadium how our nation “had” to engage in pre-emptive wars. To speak plainly, I interpret such doctrine as “let’s get them before they get us”—which includes, if necessary, dubious “evidence” obtained through torture.
Her words were received by what the press called “vigorous clapping”—while our small group of no more then thirty dissidents stood outside in the cold denouncing her message justifying our nations’s unprecedented pre-emptive wars. I believe that the ratio of those applauding her comments to those who protested her remarks no longer reflects the same ratio of those of our faith who endorse our nation’s current pre-emptive war doctrine. In fact, I believe that increasing thousands in our faith community privately believe that it was a great sin to endorse in any way our current State sponsored wars.
I believe that we first need to decide individually where each of us stands as to these State sponsored wars. Then if we believe we must renounce these wars, decide whether we are willing to do so publicly— no matter how few join with us in the renouncement.
For some of us, that personal decision was made a long time ago and it is, in the end, irrelevant as to whether others join in or whether it appears we “made a difference.” We are witnessing to an audience that is beyond this veil—whose approbation means everything in the final spiritual equation.
What is the point of protesting our faith communities’ current relationship to State sponsored wars? What will happen the next time a Dick Cheney is invited to speak or the next time a church leader endorses either our present state sponsored wars or the next wars which will surely come? What if, as the wives in Rosenstrasse, there are hundreds -no, thousands- of outraged mothers in Zion defiantly protesting? What if they, in moral outrage, say “NO MORE of our sons, our daughters, our husbands will be placed on your altar of war.”
And they do not say it in wilting, primary voice tones typical of church meetings. No, THEY SCREAM IT!
Could we as a faith community have an impact? Would we force our leaders (both political and spiritual) to “blink”? Would our refusal to give the Mormon stamp of approval at least cause some of our fellow citizens to pause before offering up any more of their own children to these false gods? In the words of Martin Luther King, “there comes a time when silence is betrayal.”
A decade of relative silence in our faith community is enough. We must choose to obey the Lord’s commandment and publicly renounce these wars in the most emphatic means. I believe it will make a difference.
Ron Madson 9/11/2011