THE ONE COMMITMENT HE KEPT
“I WILL NOT START ANY NEW WARS”
In his campaign for election as President of the USA Donald Trump promised that he would not start any wars. He kept that promise, although his attitude to other nations was by no means as peaceable as that of Jimmy Carter, who believed that most issues could be resolved by diplomacy.
Still, it may be important to give Trump some credit for refusing to believe that violent intervention is a good way of keeping the peace, indeed for refusing to believe that it was his country’s duty to keep the peace. Our own Tony Blair defended the idea of moral intervention by force, but his engineering of facts left many wondering if the intervention deserved the name of moral.
As an old man, I think that the disgraceful appeasement of Hitler by the British Government, followed by a necessary war against fascist powers, left many decent people with an optimistic view of military intervention as a national policy. The so-called forgotten wars in Palestine, Burma, Korea, and Cyprus, and the disastrous attack on the Suez canal, showed Britain continuing its imperial role of policing the world, although with very little success. Blair was only reviving a habit that had been all too settled.
From the point of view of my Christian faith, Donald Trump’s achievement in not starting any wars – except almost a civil war at home- is cause for congratulation. I’m not sure that Jesus would have condemned all wars, but it’s clear that he was against violence. He taught disciples to refuse a violent response to violent behaviour by others, including the bullying of the foreign occupying force. As a popular leader he could have led jihad against Rome, but refused to do so, warning that those who used violence often died by it. He may have found that Roman rule was not much worse than that of native kings. He had no nationalist convictions, and was happy to make friends with people who had collaborated with the foreign rulers. These are very important facts about Jesus, which explain the early church’s readiness to suffer rather than to use violent means of protection, and its strong teaching that no believer should be a soldier, non-violent policies which lasted for three hundred years,, until the church became an active partner of the Roman state in the 4th century.
Scots are historically part of more than one violent society: the clans of the highlands were forever killing each other; the lowland families fought amongst themselves and against the English; and the sophisticated society of the 18th century cities was deeply involved in the violence of British imperialism. Our Scottish religious tradition includes the sectarian violence of the 17th century which has echoes in the Old Firm violence of today.
If we want to confront the violence of our culture, it may be helpful if Christian churches confess and repent of their violence towards each other, and to native populations in the British empire. My grandfather who went to China along with Eric Liddell as a missionary, had no criticism of British and American imperialism in China, and actively supported the violence of Chang Kai Shek, because he was a Christian. He loved the Chinese people but could not see how Britain had abused them. Much of our missionary history includes the unadmitted violence of the Empire.
If it was ok to be violent towards the heathen, it was also ok to be violent to our own children. The otherwise inexplicable amount of male violence to women in Scotland is a product of the violent patriarchy that many children experienced.
The fierce non-violence of Jesus should be recovered by his church in the form of a commitment to international peace on the one hand, and to interpersonal gentleness on the other. St. Donald Trump may be an unlikely exemplar of non-violence, but good practice, even by sinners, is always welcome.