Word from Winkler — Militarism

Jim Winkler led a workshop on “war and militarism” at the Drew Theological School Oct. 17. The following is an excerpt from the workshop.

The U.S. presidential election is days away. It poses an enormous challenge for Christians and people of faith devoted to the path of peace.

On the one hand, we have a president who trumpets his commitment to militarism and who has proudly engaged in military interventions around the world. He has ordered assassinations as a matter of national policy.

The best that can be said is that the past four years have seen a slight decrease in militarism.

On the other hand, we have a candidate who denounces that president for being too soft.

The best that can be said is that the past four years have seen a slight decrease in militarism. Nevertheless, we continue on the same trajectory as before.

An antiquated word

What do we mean by militarism? It’s almost an antiquated word nowadays much like the phrases “merchants of death” or “unearned income.” Although all of these words and phrases remain accurate, systematic efforts have been made to downplay their use because they hit too close to home for the rich and powerful.

Militarism is a pathological grand strategy.

Let me offer a definition I recently came across from Jonathan Caverley in The Political Economy of Democratic Militarism: Evidence from Public Opinion:

At high levels, militarism is a pathological grand strategy in which a large portion of a society supports the building of an excessively strong military, believes in its superior efficacy as a foreign policy tool, and exhibits a heightened willingness to employ it. Militarism is an over-weighting of military power within the portfolio of investments designed to increase a state's security, its grand strategy. In a highly militaristic state, the use of force becomes increasingly attractive to a large cross-section of the public relative to the employment of other foreign policy tools (or doing nothing).

The United Methodist Church and war

How does The United Methodist Church view war? In the wake of the disastrous Iraq War, the 2008 General Conference, our denomination’s highest policy-setting body, changed the “war and peace” section of the Social Principles so that it began with these three sentences:

We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ. We therefore reject war as an instrument of national foreign policy. We oppose unilateral first/preemptive strike actions and strategies on the part of any government.

These words were retained at the 2012 General Conference. In my opinion, The United Methodist Church is more strongly anti-war than at any time in recent history.

The last time our denomination had such a strong and clear stance against war was in the 1930s. That was when, in the aftermath of World War I and the deaths of some 37 million people, many Christians, including Methodists, felt a strong revulsion against war.

Pledge to reject war

In 1928, the major powers of the world signed the Kellogg-Briand pact in which they pledged to “reject war as an instrument of national foreign policy.” It is from that peace agreement that The United Methodist Church took the same phrase.

Except for the unfortunate decision of the 2000 General Conference to insert the word “usual” in front of “instrument,” our denomination has adhered to the phrasing of the international peace treaty even though the nations of the world have violated their own agreement.

Only two things are deemed incompatible with Christian teaching in our Social Principles: homosexuality and war. Interestingly, bishops and others in the denomination are quick to prosecute clergy who stand for the rights of gay and lesbian people, but I am unaware of a single instance in which they have brought charges against those who have advocated for war.

Which is particularly puzzling when you consider that our Lord and Savior is frequently identified as the “Prince of Peace.”

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