The Prince of Peace is not the God of War

This Advent Reflection comes to us from Geoff Browning, a member of the PPF Peace Church working group.

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A group of people seated and preparing to sing in a very ornate church sanctuary

Handel’s Messiah sing-along

Every year I make a point of attending the sing-along Messiah event at the local university. The place is packed to the rafters with believers and non-believers, musicians and hacks, trained vocalists and those, like myself, who can hardly carry a tune in a bucket. And together we sing our hearts out, some even weeping, as we proclaim once again:

For unto us a child is born,
Unto us a son is given,
And the government shall be upon his shoulder
And his name shall be called Wonderful,
Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the
Prince of Peace

Advent is a season of hope and promise in the unlikely person of a child. It is a time of celebrating the birth of the one spoken of by the prophet Isaiah and heralded by Handel as the “Prince of Peace.” Yet religion and war have become so grotesquely interconnected that we can scarcely tell them apart. Indeed, to suggest that war and militarism are antithetical to the message of Christ is to risk in some circles accusations of treason or heresy or both.

Most people are unaware that for the first few hundred years of the Church, Christians were total pacifists. A vein of this ancient ethic has persisted throughout history. In the dominant culture, the reverse is true; religion and war have become so enmeshed that some areas of the military have become evangelistic recruitment centers. ( Politicians and many ministers alike fawn over our military as if war and religion were made for one another.

A recent study reports that the U.S. has spent $6.4 Trillion dollars on post-9/11 wars while killing more than 800,000 people. And yet there are more conflicts and wars and terrorism around the world now than before we began the war on terror. When I read such statistics, I remember the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it…. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

As the season of Advent reminds us, peace on earth and goodwill to all will not be achieved through the machinations of war. It will arrive in the unassuming form of child amidst a clash of empires. This is why many of us have begun promoting and encouraging churches to declare themselves Peace Churches. If you would like to learn more about this effort, please visit our PPF Peace Church webpage.

May the light of God’s love and Prince of Peace dwell in our hearts and lives this season and all through the year.