With the war in Ukraine and Peter Dutton declaring we must prepare for war to keep the peace, Christians might find it hard to know what to do. I was in the Australian army as a younger man but have spent the last ten years doing Christian-based peace activism. My position has changed through prayer and study, and I hope to offer my learnings and experience to help the readers feel some sense of certainty in these times.
When I was young, I joined the Australian army out of a sense of wanting to be strong and do the right thing. I wanted to train to use violence, so I could keep myself and my family as safe as possible. I was an avowed atheist, but I had several spiritual experiences in the army.
Whilst enjoying military exercises one day, the physical thrill at being alive and pushing myself, I looked at my weapon and realised I was training to take this gift of life away from another human. The thought disgusted me. I realised later that this was a time the Holy Spirit had been moving in my heart, helping me grow and question values put upon us in society on the acceptability and necessity of war.
After leaving the army, I became a history high school teacher and converted to Christianity. As a Christian, the teachings of Jesus on money, particularly in Matthew 6: 24-25, moved me. So much, in fact, that I quit full-time teaching and joined a Christian community where we lived side by side with homeless and vulnerable people. It was here I started to become aware of the roots of war and war-making. I used my spare time to learn as much as I could about Australian history and the roots of our recent conflicts. I ended up doing a Masters of Peace and Conflict Studies in Brisbane. Here’s a short summary of what I learned and how it applied to my faith.
Money is at the root of all wars
Many believe that religion is the cause of most wars. History clearly shows that money is the cause of all war. Religion and nationalism are used to deceive masses of people as a reason to fight, but it is always exclusively for monetary gain for people who are usually rich and powerful. It is important to note the links between money and war as Jesus spoke more about money in the gospels than any other earthly topic.
We live in a world that teaches us to accumulate wealth and money. News stories plague us with fear each night of economic troubles that tap into our fear of losing our wealth and going poor. As we take so much to support our Western lifestyles, we deprive our neighbours and build a world of shortages that are the main direct root of all the wars we see around us and the roots of larger wars on the horizon that our political leaders are happy to promote. These calls for war preparation quietly appeal to our fears that the immense wealth our lifestyles have accumulated is under threat.
So, following the teachings of Jesus right now, as wars are about money, we must look at ways to simplify our life. When we look to the gospels, with Jesus telling us to store not our treasures in heaven, we can take faith in making do. Even selling up and finding a way to share what we have with others. By not buying into the accumulation myth, we learn that our needs are easier to meet than we think.
When politicians do call for war, we must test these calls on the teachings of Jesus. Does preparing for war help us to love our neighbour as ourselves? (Mark 12:31). The Australian government spends 30 billion dollars a year on weapons development (on top of our military budget). At a time when food prices are rising, and the environment continues to be destroyed, is this a Christian policy?
Living as though the Kingdom of Heaven is here already
I strive to live by the teachings of Jesus. Though some would say it’s ok to go to war and defend yourself in this sinful world, I believe I should try and live my life as if the Kingdom of Heaven is already here. I believe when the resurrection happened, it arrived, and I want to live that way. Jesus’ teachings on loving our enemy are like a light in a violent world, and what good is that light if we hide it under a bushel of fear and personal interest?
I believe Jesus makes it clear it is never just to go to war. It is never ok to pick up a weapon against another human. People quickly argue, what about self-defence or if Australia was invaded. But the truth is, if a small (or large!) percentage of Christians lived a life in the economics of Christianity, sharing what they have and working for no or minimal money- the fear that fuels wars would abate. And the possibility that Christians in Australia would have to make a choice to pick up weapons and fight their neighbours would subside. And if war does come, we can live a life testifying to the love of Christ in the here and now. What else is worth living for?
To live that way of love of our neighbours and love of Christ – to literally obey what he commands in the Bible – can seem scary. It takes a strength greater than we think we have. But we live in a world where even most Christians ignore the teachings of Jesus. In a world where we may be asked to risk our lives and the lives of others in the violence of war, why not take a risk now – for love and compassion – by trusting the certainty of Christ’s life and teachings for how we respond. In a world of war and uncertainty, it is the only certainty worth investing in.
Greg Rolles is a full-time climate volunteer with Blockade Australia, whose supporters undertake nonviolent direct actions for the climate.