Lesson 7: Unveil Truth

peel back the onionStrange as it might seem, I regard the Apostle John’s program in Revelation as the most coherent statement of the Christian peace movement. Although it uses mysterious apocalyptic language; it clearly lays out only four weapons available to believers: 1) Unveil the truth, 2) Proclaim the Word of God, 3) Pray, and 4) Lay down your life.

Let’s look at the first. Most of John’ Apocalypse was dedicated to exposing the lies on which the Roman Empire was based. It revealed its power was founded not on law but on militarily exploiting weaker nations. Indeed, the prophet says it is satanic. The mysterious book also exposed a truth we discussed last week. Violence is self-destructive. The empire is destroyed when Rome’s allies turn on her in a civil war.

Historical studies reveal that wars are usually based on lies. Governments fabricate events to lure their citizens into war. Certainly that is true in our day. However, it goes beyond particular falsehoods general commonplaces.

One of those commonplaces is that we are always going to have wars, because people by nature are violent. The Bible challenges this when it proclaims humanity is made in the image of God, our true selves crave for love rather than hatred, unity rather than division, peace rather than war.

I think I first began to question this popular belief when I stood before an exhibit of unfired muskets picked up after Pickett’s Charge. Some had as many as seven loads in their barrels. Apparently some soldiers reloaded time and again without ever discharging their weapons. Later I read statistics reporting 24,000 of the 27,574 muskets recovered from the battlefield were still loaded and 12,000 of these had more than one load in the barrel. In fact, 6,000 had been reloaded 3 to 10 times without firing. One had 23 loads in the barrel. Brigadier General SLA Marshall reported similar figures from World War II that revealed approximately only 1 in 5 soldiers on the front lines ever fired their weapons.

Although some find other ways to interpret these findings, I have come to think it reflects our natural revulsion at killing other human beings. My conviction was reinforced when I counseled Viet Nam veterans who reported they refused to shoot unless directly confronted. Others spoke of being on bombing crews who made pacts to drop their arsenal on empty fields rather than civilians. In all of these cases there was no semblance of cowardice. Each spoke of a moral decision for which the perpetrator was willing to pay the price.

Another instance of unveiling truth is facing how much we pervert peace efforts in order to make a profit. Our beloved Mothers’ Day is a perfect example. Most of us associate the annual holiday with Anna Jarvis’ attempt to honor her mother in 1908. Few know she wanted this to be an antiwar movement.

Her mother, Anna Reeves Jarvis, was a social activist who organized Mothers’ Day Work Clubs in the 1850s to improve sanitation in Appalachian communities and thus lower infants’ and mothers’ mortality rates. During the Civil War, these clubs cared for wounded soldiers from both armies. When the fighting ceased, they gathered mothers who had lost sons in the war to fight for peace. You understand how far reaching this was when as many as 1 in 3 mothers had sons killed or wounded in the war.

One participant was Julia Ward Howe, who wrote the beloved “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Ironically, the famous hymn that she meant to be a call for peace has become a patriotic call for war. In 1872, she proposed an annual Mother’s Day for Peace that would gather “a general congress of women without limit of nationality …to promote the amicable settlement of international questions.” You feel her dedication to abolishing war in her proclamation: “Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether our baptism be that of water or of fears! Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says “Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.” Blood does not wipe our dishonor nor violence indicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each bearing after their own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.”

Anna Jarvis was furious when the florist industry turned her antiwar effort into a profit making opportunity. In fact, she was so indignant, she quit her job and spent the rest of her life picketing and suing the flower industry.

Revelation claims the first responsibility of the Christian peace movement is to unveil truth. We can find plenty of ways to do that in our time.

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