Thoughts from the Pastor

Swords Into Ploughshares

Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord! ~ Isaiah 2: 3-5

Isaiah, and other biblical prophets of old, dared to imagine a day when, rather than destroying enemies with weapons of war, humans would find the God-given strength and courage to feed their enemies with the produce tilled and grown in the fields. With the coming of Jesus, we were taught a peace ethic, we were taught to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, and Jesus sternly warned his disciples that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. In the book of Acts, we see early church leaders putting their lives at risk to spread the good news of Jesus without resorting to weapons for self protection.

Beyond scripture, the Church of the Brethren was founded on the principles of peace. At one time, baptismal vows included a commitment not to participate in the ways of violence. While I wouldn’t advocate for “peace as a test of membership” today, I do think it is vital that we recognize our scriptural and faith heritage. Strangely, to speak out against war or certain types of weapons (specifically those designed to take human life) is risky business in the modern church. This is not because we have discovered new wisdom in scripture but because the church has allowed the world around us to hold more power.

I lament that much of what scripture and our faith tradition supports – speaking up for the poor, the immigrant, the marginalized, and yes against tools of violence – have become viewed as “politics from the pulpit” instead of simply being what our God requires. Certainly, we must be cautious that our conversations around poverty, immigration, racism, and guns stay rooted in faith. Even when we do so we are likely to feel “political” to some precisely because the church has often chosen silence.

I really wish I had some inspired answer for what the church should do next. I do believe that people of faith must reclaim the narrative of our faith. Church should not be a place where we hear advocacy for, or silence about weapons that kill and destroy. Our world needs new prophetic voices bold enough to advocate for and image a day when today’s weapons of war and violence are turned into tools that feed and build up. Whether it is comfortable or not, scripture and the prophets of old made a habit of upsetting the norms of the day to call for the people to do better. As you do your own discernment, feel free to come talk to me. I don’t promise answers, but who knows how the Spirit might lead.

If I have any words of hope to give, it is that I still believe in the vision of Isaiah. A world in which our weapons of destruction are turned into life giving tools. For now, my daily prayer is found in the Hymn “God of Grace and God of Glory” (366) in which it asks of God to “Cure thy children’s waring madness; bend our pride to thy control…” May it be so, Amen.

                     ~ Pastor Nathan