"A Forum"

Remarks By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - March 9, 2003

     One of the quotes that many Americans have almost canonized as "sacred" is this one:  "Evil will only triumph when good people stand by and do nothing."  The question in every generation has been, "What kind of response should we make when faced with terror, e.g., rape, suicide bombers or individuals who desire to spread anthrax among the masses?"

     From the Christian perspective, we have the role model of Jesus who lived from a world view that was very uncommon.  He never challenged the Romans for occupying the land of his people.  When he went to the garden to pray on the last night he was with his disciples, he was approached by troops who were intending to arrest him. Peter, one of the disciples, drew a sword and cut off the right ear of Malchus, who was the servant of the High Priest.  With his words, Jesus ended the struggle and his disciples fled in fear for their lives.

     Jesus was taken to the High Priest, endured the mockery of a trial, and later had a discussion with the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate. During that conversation he told Pilate that his world was not the one that people experience with their senses.  Pilate had Jesus whipped, the Romans smashed a crown of thorns on his head, slapped him and spit on him.  After a public debate, Jesus was crucified between two thieves.  From his execution device he said, "God, forgive them because they have no clue what they are doing."

     Jesus had matured from the days when he mirrored a more violent behavior, i.e., kicking over the tables of the moneychangers and declaring that people had turned the Temple into a den of thieves.  He had moved beyond his teaching about dividing the sheep and the goats to where he later said, "If people hear my message and do not believe it, I will not judge them.  I have not come to judge the world, but to save it." (John 12:47)

     He invited people to become the leaven for the loaf.  He inspired the concept that forgiveness should be displayed daily even in the midst of very unpleasant circumstances.  He also taught that each of us can become like a light in darkness.  He taught that God can create through us.  It was with his message of love that he sent his listeners forth into the world.

     We have seen this behavior modeled by Susan B. Anthony, Mahatma Ghandi, Rosa Lee Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr. Lech Walesa and Mikhail Gorbachev.  There is a way to model peace in the face of terror when we act on behalf of love and trust the outcome to God and to the understanding and interpretation of generations not yet born.  We have to stand forth in love and let go of the consequences.

     To create some stimulation for our group discussion this evening, I am going to suggest three opportunities that exist today.  First, we should redefine the authority we give to the Scriptures of all three of our religious disciplines.  Each of them contains material that justifies violence against those whose beliefs differ from our own. 

     Alchemy evolved into Chemistry.  Astrology evolved into Astronomy.  Religion never evolved because it became subject to the interpretation of what others wrote hundreds of years ago. Because of the massive support that Scriptures were "divinely inspired," God was put in a box.  No other discipline on the planet has so handicapped itself.  Thus, religion was never allowed to grow into a more universal Spirituality with which humankind could more easily identify. 

     Secondly, we need to redefine our understanding of God.  God is represented as a Being who on one hand declared that we were created with free will and then on the other hand said that if we did not follow God's commandments we would experience a very violent end to our spiritual lives.  We cannot have an understanding of a God who appears to need it both ways.  The God in our sacred writings also appears to be extremely violent, cruel and judgmental when we stray in the exercise of our "free will." 

     For example, in the Hebrew Bible, I Samuel 15:3, we read, "Now listen to what the Lord God Almighty says, He is going to punish the people of Amalek because their ancestors opposed the Israelites when they were coming out of Egypt. Go and attack the Amalekites and completely destroy everything they have. Kill all the men, women, children and babies, the cattle, sheep, camels and donkeys." 

     From the Qur'an, Surah 17:15-16, we read, "When we decide to destroy a population, we first send a definite order to those among them who are given the good things of this life and yet transgress; so that the word is proved true against them:  Then we will destroy them utterly.  The fact of the matter is, the world is full of sinners everywhere -- people who do not believe that I am God and that I am good, and who do things that I don't want them to do.  In fact, human beings are so evil that I will have to destroy most of humanity, and punish all of it before the final day."

     In the New Testament, Matthew 25:41, we read, "Then He will say to those on his left, 'Away from me, you who are under God's curse!  Away to the eternal fire which has been prepared for the Devil and his angels."  "These, then, will be sent off to eternal punishment, but the righteous will go to eternal life. " (v. 46)  How can we be anything other than violent beings if we have been created in the image of a God who is far worse?

     The third opportunity is to reconsider many of the beliefs that we hold sacred. Our beliefs are the most challenging part of our thinking to change. The fact that many of our beliefs are old does not make their truth timeless.  It was difficult for the Pope to comprehend that the earth was not the center of the universe.  It was a challenge for the members of the medical profession to admit that organisms they could not see with their eyes were responsible for infections.   

     The world is getting smaller.  America is a melting pot for every nationality on earth. There is a wonderful opportunity facing this country at the present time.  By modeling well, we could create a spiritual revolution the likes of which the world has never seen.  The world's people hunger for such a world community.

     Jesus' message can be distilled into three simple words, "Love one another." I can say before you tonight that when I eventually leave my physical body at death, I cannot imagine being in a place where my other two colleagues are not.  The truth is that the reality of God's creation does not depend on what any of us believe about it. We clergy have not been honest about this. Beliefs change, love does not.

     When our beliefs create barriers that prevent the development of a community where authentic caring happens, those beliefs are not working. It is time for religious leaders to put away their exclusivity and declared ownership of the truth and join hands to lead our world into becoming a more wholesome environment where men and women can live together in peace, care for their environment and dream together about our future.

     If we do not provide such leadership, the world may not be here for future generations to enjoy.  We are living in a day where the silence on these matters by the religious community is positively deafening.  All of us need to wake up. 

The Official Position of the United Methodist Church  on War and Peace

Taken from the Denomination's Social Principles

    We believe that war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Jesus.  We therefore reject war as a usual instrument of national foreign policy and insist that the first moral duty of all nations is to resolve by peaceful means every dispute that arises between or among them; that human values must outweigh military claims as governments determine their priorities; that the militarization of society must be challenged and stopped; that the manufacture, sale and deployment of armaments must be reduced and controlled; and that the production, possession, or use of nuclear weapons be condemned.  Consequently, we endorse general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.