A Note from Afghanistan

Vantage Point
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While I agree with Rev. Berghoef’s appropriate frustration over the July 4 church announcement calling for victory with no mention of peace (“Reflection for Independence Day,” June 2009), I do not agree with his call for nonviolence.

I write from Afghanistan, where I am serving a 12-month deployment—training, advising, and fighting alongside the Afghan National Army as they promote peace through security in this war-torn land. Like Berghoef, I, too, have read and been thoroughly challenged by authors Shaine Claiborne and Chris Haw—by their courage and passion for the gospel of Christ lived out.

However, I believe the nonviolence movement is an overreaction to the religious conservative right. Yes, it’s frustrating that the church has not been the voice of our Savior’s call for peace and justice. Yes, it’s frustrating that our identity as “church” is often more loyal to our citizenship in earthly nations than to the kingdom of heaven. But let’s not miss out on becoming an empowered community that can rise above those barriers.

Let me use Korea as an example to explain my point. If you visit the Korean peninsula, please don’t talk to an 80-year-old South Korean woman about nonviolence. While that woman knows firsthand the absolute tyranny and horror of warfare, she also knows that the sacrifices of a generation of Koreans, Americans, and their allies, fighting an incredibly violent war, brought peace to her nation.

When you witness how people in North Korea continue to suffer while people in South Korea thrive, you cannot help but be grateful for the nations that sacrificed violently in the cause of Korean freedom.

My point here is that the plea for national nonviolence does not stand up to the test of history. Yes, there are countless examples of misused violence, but there are too many examples of violence used to obtain peace and justice for us to justify abandonment of the national use of violent force.

On the other hand, does the church in North Korea still exist and, in some cases, flourish? Yes, it does. And to the south, have many been infected with the greed of capitalism? Yes, without a doubt. But the church is bigger than communism. The church is bigger than democracy. It’s bigger than human freedoms. It’s countercultural. It’s organic. It transcends national borders. The church doesn’t need democracy. The church is the church, and a nation is a nation. Nations fight wars. Churches do not.

Yes, Romans 12 says, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. . . .” The church should not be about taking revenge, but maybe there is a time for a nation to do so. The error would be when the church takes on the identity and the mission of the nation, as did the church Berghoef mentions in the beginning of his article.

In Matthew 8, when Jesus healed the servant of a Roman army commander, he had a perfect opportunity to push a nonviolent agenda, but he didn’t. He lauded the centurion’s humility and faith. I think that’s pretty significant. Perhaps Jesus needed that centurion, someone who could live out the message of Christ on the thin line of war and terrorism. Someone who could walk amid the fog, confusion, and horror of war with wisdom, while leading his soldiers to do the same.

It’s time for the church to be bigger than the community that wants victory more than peace, but it’s also time for the church to be bigger than nonviolence and pacifism. It’s time to be a church that calls its people to vocations that engage the world in which we live.

About the Author

Mark Hamstra is a captain in the U.S. Army, currently stationed in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He grew up in the CRC in the Chicago area.
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