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No more palms, please

By on Mar 29, 2017 in The World Together | 0 comments

Most Christians never question where the palms on Palm Sunday come from. It never occurred to me, until my first year pastoring, that someone had to get the palms (and order them well in advance). But as we approach Palm Sunday, we ought to re-examine our theology of palms.

Traditional (read: conventionally harvested) palms are shipped from a handful of countries including Guatemala, Mexico, and Belize. But because palm harvesters are paid by the number of palms, not the quality of them, the most efficient way to get palms is also the most destructive. Cutting as many leaves as possible from each tree damages the trees and the long-term sustainability of palm trees. Not only that, but palm trees grow in the shade of forests, and so sustainably-harvested palms support both the palms and the wider forest preservation efforts. Such noble organizations as the Rainforest Alliance have promoted the eco-palm movement.

Which is exactly what my congregation planned to do that year. Typically, the congregation purchased enough palms for just children from EcoPalms.org, an ecumenical development program that sells palms to congregations in the United States and Europe.

It’s a great system, if you consider palms necessary. But there’s no theologically reason to take the palms literally. In fact, in the King James Bible, the word klados is translated “branches,” and literally means “a young tender shoot, broken off for grafting.” The whole EcoPalm movement is a product of cultural capitalism, where the purchase of a thing includes the cost of the redemption you need.

The problem is, it’s difficult to label any palm eco-friendly if it’s traveled 2,500 miles to reach you. Like many aspects of contemporary church, Palm Sunday is an opportunity to show loyalty to Christ through consumerism. If Christ was welcomed with palms, then we must have palms, the logic goes.

Jesus doesn’t need our palms. There’s nothing extra-sacred about the palm that requires us to purchase them from across the globe and have them shipped to us in order to deepen our connection with Christ.

In fact, the palms aren’t even that critical to Palm Sunday. What the Scripture says is, “a large crowd spread their clothes on the road. Others cut palm branches off the trees and spread them on the road” (Matt. 21:8). Not even all of the crowd was cutting palm branches! But palms are so much more tasteful to the modern church than the thought of throwing our good coats into the aisles and having children stomp all over them as they welcome Christ. So we purchase our palms, and assuage our questions by assuring ourselves that poor farmers in Guatemala and their damaged rain forests are benefiting from our consumption.

No matter that one of the largest causes of rain forest destruction is cattle ranching grown for export. But no church is talking about making Palm Sunday No-Meat-Day.

It’s not enough in church to think one step ahead in our missions giving. We have to think about our giving two, three, even five steps out to consider the bigger impact of our actions. Do we need the palms? No. Is palm-consumption the most efficient way to help the people and plants affected by rain forest destruction? Not at all.

In 2014, the first Easter at my current church, we unsubscribed from EcoPalms and used branches I cut from the evergreen trees on the parsonage property (they needed trimming anyway, and I needed more sunlight for my future-garden). We “saved” about $30, but instead of pocketing the money, we donated it to Heifer International, buying a hive of honeybees for small-scale farmers in Central America.

We eliminated the middle man of congratulatory missions giving, turned the palms into a metaphor, and made our donation the center of our former-palm initiative, instead of a self-righteous byproduct of it.

It’s not a perfectly happy story. The following year, we had evergreens again. In 2016, I had cut all the low-hanging, subtle branches I could reach on the church property, so we used boxwood from the bushes in the same parsonage lot. A congregation member informed me that boxwoods are invasive non-natives in North America.

I haven’t removed the boxwoods from the parsonage from the parsonage yet (it’s in the long-term landscaping plan). We may use them again this year. We may use the (also invasive) honeysuckle, early to leaf, instead. Our most seasonable option in this part of the Midwest is probably using dry, bleached winter prairie grasses. It’s a work in progress, but our palms are becoming more sustainable and more connected to our own lives and livelihoods. You can’t get more eco-friendly palms than from the tree behind the church building.

The palms, like the bread served at communion, are a metaphor for a spiritual moment. We don’t ship our communion bread from Guatemala; why would we import our palms? Across North America, there are many local substitutes for palms. And of course, there’s always the option to just lay our coats down for the Messiah and his donkey to walk on, as they come into our midst.

Hillary Watson is a full-time Mennonite pastor in suburban Chicago. She blogs at gatheringthestones.com, where this first appeared.

Bodies found in Congo; U.N. worker dead

By and on Mar 28, 2017 in Featured, Latest Issue, News | 1 comment

Michael J. Sharp, a Mennonite worker with the United Nations kidnapped in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was found dead March 27.

Multiple media outlets reported Congo communications minister Lambert Mende said March 28 the bodies of two U.N. experts were found. The U.N. confirmed it later that day. One of the bodies, a female, had been decapitated.

“It is now a certainty,” Mende said. “It is the two investigators. We identified the third body in the grave with them as their Congolese interpreter.”

Michael J. Sharp addresses the U.N. Security Council in August 2016. — Sharp Family

Michael J. Sharp addresses the U.N. Security Council in August 2016. — Sharp Family

Sharp, 34, was one of six people abducted by an unidentified militia group while traveling by motorcycle near the village of Ngombe in Kasai Central prov­ince, the Congolese government said March 13.

He was accompanied by U.N. colleague Zaida Catalan, of Swedish citizenship, and four Congolese people — interpreter Betu Tshintela, driver Isaac Kabuayi and two other unidentified drivers.

The group was investigating human rights violations and armed groups. Mounting deaths, including targeting of civilians, women and children, have been attributed to clashes between government security forces and Kamuina Nsapu militia members in Kananga, the capital of Central Kasai.

Human Rights Watch, France and Belgium had called on Congo and its security forces to do more to help the search.

“We are extremely worried about the missing U.N. team,” Ida Sawyer, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said March 27. “The Congolese government should cooperate fully with the U.N. and other international investigators to do all they can to bring the team back safely.”

HRW criticized the “lack of cooperation from the Congolese government.” A week after the group was abducted, Monusco, the U.N. peacekeeping command in Congo, said it was concerned by “restrictions placed on its freedom of movement by security forces in Kananga” that is “restricting [its] ability to exercise its mandate.”

The group was investigating human rights abuses near the village of Bunkonde, south of Kananga.

On March 22, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said its investigators had visited at least two mass graves. The office has confirmed 10 mass graves and reports allegations of at least seven more. Some of the bodies in the graves are believed to be people killed by the Congolese military during fighting in February against the Kamuina Nsapu militia.

Africa Times reports both sides are accused of human rights violations, which is what it says Sharp and Katalan were investigating.

President Joseph Kabila’s government has refused to move forward with elections and democratic reforms. Africa Times reports the Kasai area had been relatively peaceful until August, when Congolese security forces killed Jean-Pierre Mpandi, a critic of Kabila’s government who had begun calling on insurgents to fight Congolese “occupation” and foreigners.

At least 400 people have died in Kasai and surrounding provinces, and 225,000 people have been displaced by the fighting. On March 24, more than 40 police officers were decapitated by rebel fighters. A week earlier, the Congolese military announced seven officers had been charged with war crimes after video showed soldiers shooting civilians in the province, killing at least 13 people.

A former worker with Mennonite Central Committee in Congo and Mennonite Mission Network in Germany, Sharp is a graduate of Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., and Bethany Christian Schools in Goshen, Ind.

Thomson Reuters Foundation reported Congo communications minister Lambert Mende said villagers discovered three bodies not far from where the group disappeared.

“It is probable that it is them, unfortunately,” Mende said.

On March 27, police informed the Kinshasa government of the discovery and a team was sent to identify the bodies of two Caucasians and one Congolese.

This story was updated March 28, 2017.

‘From death to life’

By on Mar 27, 2017 in The World Together | 0 comments

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. — Col. 3:15

On Easter morning in April 1528 in Augsburg, Germany, almost 100 Anabaptists were rounded up by the authorities during worship and told to denounce their faith. Some of those arrested lost their lives for refusing to do so.

Lawyer Hans Leupold, one of the Anabaptists arrested, eventually was sentenced to die, mercifully, they said, by the sword rather than by burning. Said Leupold when he was told he would pass from life to death: “No, from death to life.”

Two years ago, a plaque was placed outside the house where these Anabaptist Christians once worshipped. Lutherans, Catholics and Mennonites celebrated together that Christians no longer faced persecution in Germany. A brother from the global south reminded us that was not true for people of faith in some other countries.

Pilgrim Marpeck, an early Anabaptist thought leader, also lived in Augsburg. Contrary to most other reformation leaders, Marpeck felt that if Christians took up arms defending their faith, it would only lead to protracted war.

Marpeck wanted to bring the various groups of Anabaptists in the region together for common witness and mission. It was a task he ultimately failed to accomplish.

Almost all Anabaptists were expelled from Augsburg by 1530. Conrad Peutinger, the town manager for 40 years, was seen by many as a tolerant leader of the multiple Christian factions present in the city at that time. But about these Anabaptists, he asked, what was he to do with these radicals who didn’t believe in the military and how would the city remain safe?

The city of Augsburg, Germany, is called the city of peace, even though it has seen its share of violence. During World War II, 80 percent of the city was destroyed. Most of the men in the city were killed fighting in the war, and the women were left to rebuild their community.

I was in Augsburg for meetings of the Mennonite World Conference, the global body of almost 1.5 million Anabaptists around the world. About 100 leaders gathered in Augsburg to talk about issues of faith within the Anabaptist bodies.

Our Mennonite World Conference tour leader told us about a gathering of German-speaking Anabaptist leaders who met here in 1527 to decide on a common mission strategy. In a way, he said, MWC meeting here now is the first international gathering of Anabaptists in this city since 1527!

Near the end of our Anabaptist tour in sight of the Catholic cathedral, we saw the sculpture of Max Josef Metzger, a Catholic priest, who gave his life during the war in 1944 resisting the Nazis. Metzger believed that the Christian task was to preach the peace of Christ and to put our weapons down. Metzger said he was ready to give up his life for the unity of the church and for the peace of the world.

Reminiscent of lawyer Hans Leupold more than 400 years earlier, Metzger said before he was put to death, “I go into death, no! I go into life.”

J Ron Byler is executive director of Mennonite Central Committee U.S. He blogs at Thinking Out Loud, where this post first appeared.

Kennel-Shank: Staying awake in Gethsemane

By on Mar 27, 2017 in Columns, Kennel-Shank: Living Simply, Latest Issue | 0 comments

The cemeteries where members of my extended families are buried are truly places of repose, surrounded by the fertile fields of Lancaster County, Pa. When I visit their graves, I sense that they are at rest, being at home with God and having returned to the earth that nurtured them.

Celeste Kennel-Shank

Kennel-Shank

With my strong sense of connection to those burial places, I felt shaken and heartbroken by news that vandals desecrated a Jewish cemetery less than an hour away from where my ancestors lived and died, as well as in other states.

And looking at those incidents in the wider context of acts of intimidation against so many people, both groups and individuals — even children, Lord, have mercy! — causes anger, grief and anxiety to churn within me.

Like Christians from the early church onward, we have an opportunity for self-examination and repentance in these days when we prepare to remember Jesus’ death and celebrate his resurrection.

Now is the time to look at our hearts and to ask God to help us root out any prejudice against any person or group of people. Christ alone knows our hearts fully, and Christ can help us to see what we wouldn’t be able to see on our own. If that weren’t enough, Jesus will help us to turn ourselves around and continue our discipleship journey, striving each day to be more fully free of hate and fear.

“I believe that even our mistakes and shortcomings are not in vain and that is not more difficult for God to deal with them than with our supposedly good deeds,” the German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in 1942, as he stood against the tides of hate engulfing his own country. “I believe that in every moment of distress God will give us as much strength to resist as we need.”

Prayer will illuminate the way forward, to seek God’s will in all of our relationships, even when we see the world in starkly different ways. Though we do not know the way ahead fully, if we keep following Jesus we’ll know which way to go. It may lead us to places we have not been before.

Bonhoeffer wrote in 1944 that “one only learns to have faith by living in the full this-worldliness of life. . . . Then one takes seriously no longer one’s own sufferings but rather the suffering of God in the world. Then one stays awake with Christ in Gethsemane. . . . How should one become arrogant over successes or shaken by one’s failures when one shares in God’s suffering in the life of this world?”

When we take a long, hard look at how we have been living, it can be painful to confront the ways we have fallen short. But we can also remember that we’re all striving to follow Jesus’ example. If any of us have gotten caught up in the scapegoating and fearmongering that are so prevalent in our culture and society today, it’s not too late to live in a new way. Grace and transformation are available to all of us.

Are we asking God to reshape and remold us like clay in a potter’s hands? Are we asking God to take both our shortcomings and our supposedly good deeds and to use them for something glorious that is still unfolding?

Those are my prayers in this season of Lent.

Celeste Kennel-Shank, a former MWR assistant editor, is an editor and community gardener in Chicago.

Plain groups: work-family bond resists worldly ways

By and on Mar 27, 2017 in Latest Issue, News | 0 comments

HURRICANE MILLS, Tenn. — Today’s North American economy presents daunting challenges for building the ideal faith community, according to David Martin of Cheyenne, Wyo.

“Why does there seem to be among us an increase of emotional stress and mental difficulty?” he asked, speaking to about 400 people at the 12th Anabaptist Identity Conference March 16-18.

“How many sisters in your congregation are on depression medication? You’d better understand what that means, and you’d better figure out what to do about it. . . . They’re living a life God didn’t create them to live, and they’re struggling with it.”

Event organizers Nathan, left, and Matthias Overholt, brothers from Sarasota, Fla., and their families lead singing during the 12th Anabaptist Identity Conference in Hurricane Mills, Tenn. — Rachel Stella/MWR

Event organizers Nathan, left, and Matthias Overholt, brothers from Sarasota, Fla., and their families lead singing during the 12th Anabaptist Identity Conference in Hurricane Mills, Tenn. — Rachel Stella/MWR

Martin’s talk on “Mennonites and the Industrial Revolution” was typical of the conference, a gathering of people from plain Anabaptist groups to “awaken the conscience and arrest the alarming desertion of our people from radical Christianity,” according to the event description.

Adults, youth, children and babies from Old Order Amish to people new to Anabaptism packed into tight quarters at The Well of Hurricane Mills, the building of a nondenominational church. The talks were interspersed with singing, book shopping and meals that were organic or free of genetically modified organisms.

Martin shared his own story of growing up in a farming community and finding it impossible to buy his own farm when he got married. Like many of his peers in the same situation, he went to work for someone else.

“In one generation we had, without any fanfare or any notice, completely changed the basis of our lifestyle,” he said. “We went from being a community to being job holders.”

He pointed out that while farming is often considered an ideal occupation in plain communities, most of the early Anabaptists were tradesmen.

“Trades before the Industrial Revolution were family-oriented, and that’s the difference,” Martin said. “Men worked in connection with their families. The idea of occupation was sort of a heritage.”

Martin referred to “creation principles” that the post-industrial economy opposes.

“The industrial society does not have a place for children,” he said. “God made us to get married young and have lots of children. Try that in today’s world; it’s hard to do; it’s difficult. In the plain churches, there’s been a lot of adjusting not toward creation principles but toward industrial principles. Family size gets smaller; marriage gets postponed; children get postponed. There’s something serious going on here.”

Christian communities should find positive ways to encourage the birth of more children, Martin said.

“What if instead of trying to discourage [birth control], we would vigorously celebrate fruitfulness and support families and encourage families and coming under them and lift them up rather than putting them in situations where they don’t have any options?”

Justice for workers

Martin said many of the principles of American capitalism are not biblical.

“Most of the people that generate a great deal of wealth generate it on the labor of other men,” he said. “That’s American capitalism; that’s how it works; that’s how men get very wealthy. . . . It’s up to you to decide in the quietness of your own conscience whether that’s right or not.”

In the ideal godly community, “every man has his own small enterprise,” he said. “We ought to structure our communities as a goal to having every man have his own vine and his own fig tree,” he said, citing 1 Kings 4:25, Micah 4:4 and Zech. 3:10.

He said plain communities needed to deal with economic inequality among them before debating their varying external practices.

“So many of our people are trying to keep the old ways . . . [but] our hearts are worldly, and we’re going after the world’s system and we’re swallowing up the world’s values,” he said.

Martin recommended business owners talk with potential employees to determine their families’ financial needs, including health care, when determining wages.

“If you don’t pay him enough to cover all of it, how’s he going to survive working for you?” he asked. “We have to be honest about what it costs to live when we’re determining a wage.”

Legal challenges

David Bercot of Chambersburg, Pa., spoke from a legal background about preparation for legal hostility to Christian practices.

“The government obviously has a very vindictive spirit against Bible-believing Christians,” he said, referencing fines to business owners for refusing to serve same-sex weddings. “It might be a little better under the present administration, but it’s not going to go away.”

He advised business owners to leave professions where they might be pressured to compromise their convictions.

“We just have to get out of those professions,” he said. “We have been used to it as kingdom Christians for centuries and centuries. There have been a lot of professions we’ve just gotten out of a long time ago, and so I think we’re a little bit more used to this sort of thing than a lot of other professing Christians who are now facing these tests.”

He encouraged the audience to see Muslims as natural allies for religious freedom.

“I hope that, both out of our general Christian charity and out of our wisdom, that we realize the Muslims are our allies in this country,” he said. “Many of our convictions are also their convictions as well.”

History was a prominent theme of the conference, with a four-part series on Dutch Mennonite renewal movements, though only a handful of people in attendance identified with that ethnic background.

Other topics included organic farming, the church planted by the 12 apostles and an appeal for a conservative Anabaptist church plant in Greece.

A live phone line allowed people to listen from home. Recordings of the conference talks were to be posted online at anabaptistslive.org.

Kriss: Pastoring in polarities

By on Mar 27, 2017 in Columns, Kriss: On the Way, Latest Issue | 0 comments

Many who preach regularly are finding it a tough navigation in the pulpit in the United States. Our highly politicized environment means it’s difficult to find ways to speak that are both relevant and respectful of the broad swath of people who might be in our congregations.

Stephen Kriss

Kriss

The first Sunday I preached after the election, someone approached me after I stepped outside the meetinghouse, proclaimed gladness that Trump had been elected and seemed to take issue with something I had said in the sermon. At the same time, our dominantly immigrant congregations in Philadelphia asked to be reassured of care and consideration on the Sunday after the election. Both are the constituency I serve.

In these politicized days, even the choice of Scripture texts can be seen as a political statement. I’ve found myself drawn toward prophetic language more than usual. However, I recognize that, depending on your situation, the text resonates differently. I’ve been relying on the words of Jesus and the words of Scripture to speak even when they make us uncomfortable.

I am also trying to ask more questions. What about the text makes us uncomfortable? I believe Scripture is given both for comfort and discomfort. Neither Scripture nor sermons should always rest easily upon us.

However, I am noticing a trend: a lack of curiosity about others’ experiences and a desire to speak of my own reality. This is a manifestation of self-centeredness. Whether I’m traditional or progressive, I have increasing difficulty getting beyond my own standpoint to actually listen to another person’s perspective. It becomes easy to polarize when we become more declarative than interrogative.

Polarities often arise from fear. Fear keeps us from being curious, empathic or compassionate. Fear rarely helps us make the best decisions. I have continued to reiterate the scriptural invitation to move from fear toward love.

At the same time, I recognize Jesus was not always meek and mild. He did not hedge when religious leaders were hypocritical or when market forces inhibited worship. He called one of his most intimate friends the devil. Clarity and boldness aren’t necessarily antithetical to curiosity.

I intend to doggedly search the Scriptures and model my life in the path of Jesus. I will invite others to join in that two-millennia movement regardless of their political persuasion. This means I will need to cultivate a sense of boldness in the midst of my curiosity and rootedness in the biblical story.

Jesus’ words are difficult for Democrats, Republicans, independents and nonvoters. Jesus told his zealot friend to put away the sword and stay focused on God’s unfolding plan for redemption when he acted in a way that suggested the movement somehow was aligned with politics and force.

At the same time, the yoking of church and state — not by law in the United States but by culture — makes it difficult for me to ignore how we are implicated in the actions of our government. The church remains a prominent player in U.S. politics. I will rely on Scripture to invite political leaders to live into their own declared Christian convictions.

The task of pastors — and all Christians — on Sundays and beyond is to proclaim and embody the Good News. The Good News wasn’t always welcome to those who had much to lose. At its best, it’s still foolishness to those who don’t recognize or allow its transformative power. But the message is healing our disconnect both with the divine and with each other (1 Cor. 1:18).

Stephen Kriss is a teacher, writer, pastor and follower of Jesus living in Philadelphia.

Christ-centered values

By on Mar 27, 2017 in Latest Issue, Letters | 0 comments

I agree with letter writers published in the March 13 MWR who were concerned about reading the Bible in our quest for ethical and moral values. I especially depend on Jesus to focus these values. I have been reading and studying the Bible most of my life. My study of the Bible has led me to participate in rallies and letters opposing President Trump’s policies, especially regarding immigration, health care and the environment. I pray regularly for our leaders and our country.

Elvera Johnson
Topeka, Kan.

Kraybill: Where truth confronted power

By on Mar 27, 2017 in Columns, Kraybill: Holy Land Peace Pilgrim, Latest Issue | 0 comments

Today multiple versions of “truth” compete for attention in politics and media. We ask the same question Pontius Pilate famously put to Jesus: What is truth? (John 18:38).

J. Nelson Kraybill

Kraybill

Truth already had been compromised on the night Jesus stood in Pilate’s judgment hall. At the house of High Priest Caiaphas, Peter had lied by declaring he never knew Jesus. Guards then escorted Jesus to Pilate’s praetorium (official headquarters and judgment hall) where Jesus would be sentenced to death. Seeing calamity close in on his master, and recognizing his own moral failure, Peter went out and wept bitterly.

Pilate was Roman governor of Palestine, suspicious of anyone who spoke of kingship apart from subservience to Rome. “My kingdom is not from this world,” Jesus declared to Pilate. Our Lord was not pointing to an otherworldly or theoretical kingdom. The way of Jesus already was creating alternative communities and transforming lives. Jesus was telling Pilate that authority and power in his kingdom do not come from Rome.

Nor was Jesus going to use conventional political tactics or coercive power to advance his reign. “If my kingdom were from this world,” Jesus said, “my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over.” In Galilee Jesus had taught his followers to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” On earth! Not pie-in-the-sky politics, but a visible new society of people who live in radical obedience to a reconciling God.

What courage Jesus shows in the face of a ruler who could order his immediate execution!

Awed by such audacity, I descend with other pilgrims into what may be the room where the trial drama took place. Archaeologists recently completed excavations of this part of the so-called Tower of David in Jerusalem. This large room perhaps was Pilate’s praetorium. Walls and roof are from the Ottoman era (A.D. 1300-1922), but foundations are from the time of Christ.

Today called the kishle (Ottoman word for “prison”), this is a possible location of the praetorium where Jesus stood trial before Pilate. — J. Nelson Kraybill

Today called the kishle (Ottoman word for “prison”), this is a possible location of the praetorium where Jesus stood trial before Pilate. — J. Nelson Kraybill

“Tower of David” is a misnomer. The structure has nothing to do with David but is the palace of Herod where Pilate resided when in Jerusalem. The minaret is Ottoman, but it marks the place adjacent to the city wall where there are remains of first-century buildings.

Whether or not this is the actual place where Jesus was interrogated, mocked and sentenced, here I consider the relationship between the powers of this world and the reign of God. Someday, by God’s grace, we will celebrate the fact that “the kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah” (Rev. 11:15). But for now, political realities often are a far cry from the kingdom of God. Truth too often is the first casualty, as leaders tell half-truths or outright lies to cover their failures or advance their agenda.

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth and the life” (John 14:6), and the three are closely related. With trustworthy speech that needs no oath for validation, we follow the way of Jesus. In the light of the gos­pel, we learn the truth about God and ourselves. At a time when society pressures us to align with political parties and polarizing ideologies, we find the life abundant of unity with Christ and his body, the church.

J. Nelson Kraybill is a pastor at Prairie Street Mennonite Church, Elkhart, Ind., and president of Mennonite World Conference. See more of his peace reflections at peace-pilgrim.com.

Warring impulses

By on Mar 27, 2017 in Editorial, Latest Issue | 0 comments

War in an age of terrorism reveals the limited effectiveness of armed force. Yet the belief that higher military spending buys more national security remains strong. President Trump’s proposal to add $54 billion, or nearly 10 percent, to the Pentagon budget presents the latest example of chasing this false hope.

The president’s request for a huge arms buildup emerges from one of two contradictory impulses he has shown. On one hand, Trump has criticized the Iraq war, talked about avoiding new conflicts and implied that money spent in Iraq and Afghanistan could have been better used for peaceful projects at home.

In his Feb. 28 address to Congress, the president said: “With the $6 trillion, we could have rebuilt our country twice, and maybe even three times.” Fact-checkers called the $6 trillion figure high, both for the cost of the wars since 2001 and as an estimate of infrastructure needs, but the basic point was right: Wars steal resources from productive, peaceful uses. Rarely has a president raised this idea since Dwight D. Eisenhower said in 1953 that “every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.” Trump at least implicitly questioned the value of recent war spending.

On the other hand, the president has repeatedly claimed the U.S. military is in steep decline and needs a massive infusion of funds. While Pentagon budget increases are routine — the Obama administration recommended a 6 percent raise for fiscal 2018 — analysts have observed that Trump’s spending preferences reveal an outdated view of military power.

New York Times writer Max Fisher has noted Trump’s desire to build up major weapons systems, such as aircraft carriers and nuclear weapons, fits the mindset of 20th-century great-power wars more than the unconventional wars the U.S. is fighting today. Fisher believes Trump is fascinated with “high-priced assets” without clear purposes and may see the weapons as “stagecraft,” or ends in themselves. Further, Trump has complained the U.S. no longer wins wars. But he may find, as his predecessors did, that fighting terrorists doesn’t produce classic battlefield victories and that a “war on terror” may be unwinnable in a traditional sense.

The president will hear a realistic view of the limits of military force if he listens to knowledgeable advisers. These include retired military officers who wrote a letter to congressional leaders warning against cutting the State Department and foreign aid budgets. These military leaders stressed the importance of diplomacy and development aid — the “soft power” tools that prevent conflict. “The crises our nation faces do not have military solutions alone,” the retired officers said. The “drivers of extremism” include “lack of opportunity, insecurity, injustice and hopelessness.”

Force alone doesn’t achieve peace, these military people are saying. Soft power is essential for global stability. But bad policies undercut its positive impact. An attempted travel ban impacting Muslims fuels the perception of Western hostility toward Islam. A drastic reduction in the State Department Food for Peace Program, which Trump’s budget proposes, would damage humanitarian efforts that prevent or ease conflict.

Analysts predict the president won’t get the 10 percent military spending increase he is seeking. We hope that is true. We also hope he will show more flashes of his good instincts. In 2013 Trump said he favored a full withdrawal from Afghan­­istan, where the longest conflict in American history has cost three-quarters of a trillion dollars and the lives of nearly 2,400 U.S. soldiers. But last year he said Americans would keep fighting there, although “I hate doing it so much.” Hold on to that thought, Mr. President.

Dream for the church

By on Mar 27, 2017 in Latest Issue, Letters | 0 comments

I have a dream of seeing the church embodying the love of Christ in all its relationships, being hospitable, compassionate and having friendships with all, regardless of their sexual orientation or level of commitment to Jesus. I have a dream of seeing the church speaking the truth in love and warning of the consequences of sinful life choices, such as sexual activity outside the marriage bond of one man and one woman. I have a dream of a church whose members walk alongside each other, encouraging one another to live holy, righteous and just lives, bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit. I have a dream of a church that welcomes all and proclaims the kingdom of God with joy, compassion and boldness, knowing that through Jesus’ death we can have forgiveness of sin and transformed lives. I have a dream of a church that takes God’s Word as its gold standard for teaching and living. I continue to dream and hope and pray.

Richard Keeler
Harrisonburg, Va.