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Ploughshares, not swords, are needed

03 November 2010

The time has come for us to turn our back on weapons, says Alan Storkey

THE Western Church is not good at conveying who it is. It often seems to be introverted, merely giving clearance for landing to flying bishops. Yet it need not be so.

People generally understand a clear message. The gospel is a gospel of peace, and peace is good news, worldwide. If there were peace, the people of Wootton Bassett could gratefully end their homage to the dead. Christian peace is peace with God and neighbours, the end of war and bloodshed, and the absence of threat, control, and aggression. If the peace of God that passes human understanding arrived, we would all seven billion of us recognise it.

At present, the Churches have bungled Christ’s peace. We bicker. We sometimes discuss “just war” or “individualist pacifism” to no practical effect, and accept the militarist status quo. Yet Christ’s peace is always on God’s terms, not our own. We are to love our enemies until they disappear and become friends. We are not to trust weapons, because those who take the sword will perish by the sword — a sentence that should hit us with shock and awe through its repeated verification. We are to re-engineer swords into ploughshares, and close down the learning of war. That is Christ’s peace: it works, it is consistent, it is good news, and it is to grow until it covers the earth. Christ’s peace is practical good sense.

And yet we Christians have been cowed into accepting militarism. We have believed the arms companies who murmur that they will protect us by selling weapons worldwide. We support politicians who buy weapons that can destroy the planet. We back the culture of Attila the Hun, Machiavelli, Hitler, James Bond, and our main political parties, believing that power will be our saviour. But war has followed war, killing some 200 million people in the past century.

Now, most of the world has been militarised. “Gulf states in $123bn US arms spree” (Financial Times). We “need” two new aircraft carriers, or a Trident replacement. Perhaps the time has come not to be cowed, but to live the triumph of God’s armour over our own, as Paul replaced soldiers’ marching boots with the sandals of peace, and detoothed the Roman superpower.

God’s way works; so arguments for the stupid­ity of militarism mount up. Wars do not work, and cost trillions. Weapons create distrust and lead to arms races and wars. Weapons create military dictators and destroy democracy. We keep selling weapons to our enemies, who kill us with our weapons.

The international morality is dodgy: WMD for us, but not for you. Militarism uses up five to ten per cent of world income and energy — the most appalling waste in world history. Ending militarism would substantially solve poverty, and give us the biggest bonus against global warming. Examined rationally, these arguments are overwhelming. Only the false prophets of militarism keep this monstrosity in place.

It requires a universally agreed policy of cutting military budgets worldwide by ten per cent a year, until full disarmament is achieved. It requires strong verification, a UN police force to ensure disarmament takes place, an end to all arms trading, powerful sanctions for having and using arms — including reparations for damage, and conversion funding for arms producers. Then we could produce an orderly process ending all militarism in a decade.

It is as practical as having an unarmed Lancashire and Yorkshire, or eliminating competing armies from Europe. The policy is a virtuous circle, because if the other side has no weapons, you do not need them, either.

The Anglican Church — if bishops, the Synod, and churches set about conveying the sense of this message — could bring this about, helping to mobilise two billion Christians worldwide, and others of good will.

We could do nothing, or we could see the peace of God’s gentle kingdom bless the earth. The time has surely come.

Dr Alan Storkey is the author of Jesus and Politics (Baker Book House, 2005).

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