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What Have We Wrought?

We are, we are / The youth of the nation.  –P.O.D.

From Egypt and Tunisia to Bahrain, from Yemen to Libya, the world has watched citizens taking to the streets, shouting, chanting, with banners, signs and flags in massive revolts against dictatorial and autocratic rulers. The uprisings were often (though not always) peaceful, and often were waged by youthful protesters–those in their thirties and younger. They challenged abusive leadership and called for greater participation and power in political processes. And their demonstrations actually changed things.

So…last night, the world watched again as young citizens took to the streets, shouting, chanting with signs and flags… Again, it had to do with the overthrow of a despotic leader. They were my fellow citizens, and they were celebrating the killing of Osama bin Laden. These young Americans reveling in bin Laden’s death, chanting “U-S-A, U-S-A!” had no part in his killing, of course. The celebrations in front of the White House and at Ground Zero in NYC came courtesy of the supermilitary on which the US government spends more money annually than the governments of Britain, China, France, Germany, Japan, and Russia spend. Combined.

I felt a deep unease watching the celebrations streaming online, and again as I watched reactions pouring in on Twitter and Facebook. Many shared the sense of accomplishment and celebration.

Much was made of the fact that this came eight years to the day after president Bush’s infamous “Mission Accomplished” speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln.

Whether I hear the word “mission” being used in a military sense or a religious sense, the results seem much the same: the big guys (good guys) send their special forces to hostile territories to neutralize the bad guys. It leaves me wondering, in both cases, just what we accomplish and who gets harmed in the process and how much cost is worth what we get.

Also, this is obviously not a Christian nation. Not even close.

To be Christian is to follow the Christ–the Christ who said, “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you.” The Christ who said to his followers that took up arms to fight, “That is enough! Whoever lives by means of weapons will die by the same means.”  “If my reign were the worldly sort, my adherents would fight.”

Last night provided another reminder that the prevailing state religion is moralizing bigoted nationalism. No mosque at ground zero-ism. Kill the bastard-ism. U-S-A-ism. Stars and bars-ism.

The street parties over the slaying of Public Enemy Number One reveal how far we are from Christian. This is what unites us as a people? This military effort is what we have to be proud of? I understand the deep and lasting hurt still felt by families and friends of the thousands of innocents killed on That September Day.

What of the thousands of innocents we’ve killed in our foreign missions? What of the terror we’ve wrought?

I think of Adventist faith tradition of my upbringing. It’s first leaders were young. They protested coercive and abusive governmental power. They found the strongest biblical imagery they could–evil beasts of the Apocalypse–to use in protesting such power. And it was their own government they protested.

U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A! U-S-A?

There were other messages on friends’ Facebook walls last night.
Some said they could not celebrate any person’s killing. Others called for restraint. Some pointed out life’s peculiar ironies. Some posted texts:

“Do not gloat when your enemies fall; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice”
(Proverbs 24:17).

“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live” (Ezekiel 33:11).

Youth in the streets shouting, chanting, banners, signs…it’s nothing new. I’m hopeful that the youth of the nation that weren’t partying in front of the White House last night are quietly making their own banners and signs and flags. Because it’s time for us to take something new to the streets: the peaceable, enemy-loving reign of God.

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