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Thursday, 3 April 2008

A Review of The Christian at War by Peter Hammond (Newlands, SA: Frontline Fellowship, 1994 [2nd ed.]) Part One

Peter Hammond is a unique breed of missionary. Frontline Fellowship, the organisation he founded and heads, specialises in Christian ministry near, on, and behind the front lines of battlefields in the South and East of Africa. A former military commando, he now serves as a missionary commando, armed not with weapons of physical warfare but with the Word of God. It has been my privilege over the years to support this ministry spiritually, financially, and physically.

Although I have not yet gotten to know Peter personally, we have, over the past 20 years, communicated with each other on numerous occasions by phone, through email, or in person. I respect him as a valiant warrior for his cause and a brother in Christ, but in our discussions we have come to differing conclusions on the subject of biblical non-violence, and for this reason I have set out to review his book on the topic, comparing his conception of reality to what I believe the situation actually to be.

I should add that Peter writes this book from his own Calvinist theological position, and I will admit that the conclusions he comes to are fully in conformance to his theological worldview. That they don't fit the facts of history or current reality is no more a condemnation of the man himself than his theological outlook in general.

Peter begins his book by setting the scene of modern warfare. He says, for example, that “For centuries a code of honour precluded the endangering of innocent lives. Soldiers fought openly–in uniform– against armed and uniformed foes. Non-combatants were respected. Women and children were protected. . . . In modern times, however, warfare has deteriorated dramatically. More and more civilians have been caught in the crossfire as mobile total warfare has devastated whole towns and villages.”

This scenario is simplistic if not outrageously false. At the best of times, in the best of situations, a soldier may strive for this sort of ideal, but face it–war has never been nice. Dr. Hammond grants that modern warfare is replete with atrocities, but he somehow finds important to his point that warfare used to be more civilized. Unable to find a single modern example of warring factions treating each other's civilians with honor and respect, he turns back the clock to a kinder, gentler time that, I am sad to say, exists largely in his own imagination.

Total warfare, devastating whole towns and villages? We have to go no farther than the First Book of Samuel to see so nice a guy as David, the beloved author of Psalm 23, doing just that. Leaving no survivors? This was Joshua’s stated policy when he conquered Canaan. Planting land mines in civilian areas? How about stopping up wells, cutting down orchards, and sowing fields with salt? The concept of terrorizing the civilian population of an enemy nation is unprecedented neither in historical antiquity, nor in biblical practice, a point Dr. Hammond is loathe to concede.

“Lust, liquor, and loot are a soldier’s pay” is a maxim as old as warfare, and the sources of this pay have always been predominately civilian. So Peter starts off his book by perpetuating a myth: a new, modern kind of warfare, unprecedented in history, that draws in the civilian population. On the contrary: In the Western World where most of Peter's readers live, being part of a nation at war has less of an effect on the everyday life of the civilian that ever before. Here in the United States, we are involved in a war that is costing us over 340 million dollars a day; a war that has dragged on longer than our involvement in World War Two; a war in which never a week goes by without our troops killing and being killed. But we have no draft, no ration cards, no black market, no closed borders, no war bonds, no nationalized industry. We are so far removed from the horrors or even the rigours of war that we are reluctant to end the commitment of our forces even to a vague mission on the other side of the world. And as much as we may oppose the war, we still support our troops. With all the opposition to the immorality of the war itself, no one is proposing that our soldiers are therefore murderers and should be executed. Civilized warfare may still be an elusive goal, but the myth of the civil solider lives on.

And perpetuating that myth is central to Peter Hammond's contention that "A Christian at War" is not a paradoxical expression.

-To be continued in next blogpost-

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