The teaching of Jesus, the world's greatest teacher, is important, even central, to our topic. He is usually associated with peace, and many of his followers have been people of peace and peacemakers, but often the full weight of his teaching and example is not recognized, even by Christians. Given there are some two billion Christians worldwide, it is clear that if they acted in a concerted way for disarmament and peace, it would be possible fairly quickly to transform this armed and war-torn world.
Here we look at significant events and teaching in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. First we note that Jesus lived in a militarily controlled area at two levels. First the Romans were conquering overlords, and then Herod the Great and then Herod Antipas were in immediate control with garrisons of soldiers down the hill from Nazareth and elsewhere.
Jesus birth, from God, and as a kind of ruler or king, was odd. He was described as "bringing down rulers from their thrones and lifting up the humble" the opposite of most rulers through history. What this might mean became evident in the Third Temptation, which was effectively the central temptation in all of politics. The Devil took him up to a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. The devil promised he could have them, if he would bow down and worship the devil. It was the great offer: Be prepared to do evil and you can have the world, or at least an Empire, control the State, be the dictator. It was the direction taken by Alexander the Great, Caesar and many others down the century. Jesus turns it down. Only worship and serve God. Anything else is temptation, false and destructive. So, already, right at the beginning, the way of truth and goodness was laid out and the pursuit of power is gone..
Furthermore Jesus was insisting that all politics is lived before God. God is sovereign, and therefore no ruler is. All rulers are subject to God's laws and norms of justice, and Christ himself therefore obeyed the law and respecting it in every just way, rather than acting autocratically. Self-rule is out, and Jesus insists on the humility of the ruler before God. This is no different from the Old Testament prophets who held the kings and rulers to account for their behaviour before the laws of God. It explains why throughout history autocratic rulers have fought against Christianity.
More than this Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount requires a certain kind of law-abiding society. It is not the kind where rules are handed down by elites. Indeed, he later challenges the elites who make rules to suit themselves supporting their own interests. Rather he called for all the ordinary people around him to be law-abiding and to act with righteousness with justice, that is to aim for the good of others. Unless their righteousness exceeded the teachers of the law, they would not enter the kingdom of heaven. Being more just that the leaders was a basic requirement of entry. Aside from downgrading the supposed self-righteousness of the Pharisees and Scribes of the law, Jesus requires all of us to live law abiding lives. Thus the Christian understanding of society is radically democratic in that all members of society are asked to live in conscience before God obeying the law and acting justly with one another. Actually, it is the only kind of society that works - where we all do what is right by conscience and do not need systems of control. Traffic can only function this way. But it is laid out as basic to civil life.
But the teaching probes yet more, and each of these points signals the defeat of war and arms. Matthew 5:21. Jesus says, You all know the law, Don't murder, but I tell you that anyone who is angry with his neighbour or treats them with contempt is under judgment. Anger that fixes on the other person, group or state, is the way that enemies emerge. Here again Christ blocks the route towards animosity, fighting and war so that evil will not have the victory. Setting out on the route to hate is not on.
This is followed by another radical move. International affairs and personal relationships are full of situations where one party takes offence, as Austro-Hungary did towards Serbia. Offences are carried often across generations. Yet Christ reverses the normal human focus. think whether you have given offence to anyone. Perhaps your brother, or another state, has been wronged by you and you have not doe anything about it. Do not wait, Do not let the wrong fester. Settle the matter quickly and directly. If the wrong festers, you could be punished for it. So again, Christ is preveniant, stopping things that could go wrong before they start.
Then, of course, there is the Beatitude on peace: "Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God." Peacemaking is elevated to this central place in the purposes of God. Peacemaking becomes something of great consequence. Partly we take this for granted because it has some place within a Christian influenced world, but it does not have much status with the power hungry and those with faith in weapons. Peacemaking involves patience, forgiveness, a desire for justice, respect, the absence of threats and more. It is interesting that within the purposes of the United Nations, peacemaking and peacekeeping forces have often moved from past aggression to preventing aggression. Peacemaking means forgiving past wrongs, bridging the gap between enemies and empathizing with them, disarming fear, removing threat and aggression. It is also proactive; it does not depend on the other side's response, but sets out to establish peace,
As we see shortly, this is an active required Christian agenda. The requirements in Christ's teaching go yet further. throughout human history we have all settled down into the easy bifurcation of friends and enemies. Indeed, that herd pattern, the need for allies, the building of enemies is normal of the first world war and most wars. the process of creating enemies, and holding on to them, goes unexamined, because it is so normal. It took the British more than half a century to get to Fawlty Towers. Jesus addresses this preconception head on. "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward do you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than [email protected] do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5 43-48) Loving the enemy, being for the other, deconstructs animosity. We are not even allowed the glow of self-righteousness, for to do anything less is to be like the social outcasts, or rather, because Jesus rubs our noses in it, like those who were treated as enemies in Jewish society.
Every which way Jesus destroys the paradigm of militarism. It is the meek and not the aggressive. We are not to fear those who can kill us, the edifice on which they militarists build their control. Yet this is not just teaching, important though true teaching and learning are, but practice. This appears in Matthew 10 when Jesus sends his disciples out two by two mimicking the normal patrols of soldiers often practising thuggery. He sends them, and all Christians, out like sheep among wolves, taking peace. "As you enter the home, give it your greeting. if the home is deserving let your peace rest upon it; if it is not , let your peace return to you." So, the norm was to spread and transmit peace that it may spread among us all. It is emphasized yet more strongly after the resurrection when Jesus deliberately said, "Peace we with you." to begin that process of transmission. The arms trade spreads weapons. Far cheaper and more constructive is the spreading of peace.
Finally, Jesus enunciates the principles of non-retaliation and non-violence. "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." (Matthew 5 38-9) This is so controversial that we look at it in depth in another section. This whole paradigm of peace stands against the dominant culture of the militarists over the last two millenia. Of course, we Christians have been compromised in living it. We have engaged in aggression, held on to enemies, sucked up to dominant powers and given in to nationalism. Nevertheless, when you take into account those who have used Christianity, and the fact that many historians miss thing that are done quietly, probably this has been one of the greatest transformations in world history as the way of peace has spread among two billion Christians and beyond.The transmission of the Christian faith has been substantially by acceptance, not by coercion, and it is now represented among every tribe and nation and represents the rainbow people of God. The time has come for Christians to be more consciously and in a more organised way people of disarmament and peace. The biblical injunction to turn swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks should come to fruition, and the time has come for Christians to do it.
But we have not yet delved deeply enough into the teaching, life and significance of Christ.