Why World War II was a moral disaster for the United States (Part two)

Ted Grimsrud—May 28, 2012

[This post is a continuation of a two-part set of reflections on the moral legacy of World War II. Part one may be found here. An earlier post in the series, “Was World War II an unjust war?” may be found here.]

The national security state and the quest for world hegemony

The years immediately following World War II were determinative for the moral legacy of that war. The rationale given to the American people for the extraordinary costs paid to execute such an all-out war combined a strong dose of fear with an equally potent emphasis on idealism. As postwar events proved, fear won out.

The idealism found succinct voice in President Roosevelt’s State of the Union address on the “Four Freedoms” in January 1941 and in the Atlantic Charter, drawn up by Roosevelt and Britain’s Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, in August, 1941. Out of these statements came the mantra that the U.S. was fighting this war to provide for the self-determination of people from throughout the world, to defeat tyranny and spread the possibilities of democracy.

The public relations efforts of the American and British governments focused on the ideals of these two purpose statements. The Atlantic Charter was agreed upon by all the nations who allied themselves with the Americans and British in the war effort (including the Soviet Union!). These allies took the name, the “United Nations.” After the War ended in an Allied victory, the Charter provided the core values for the formalizing of the United Nations as an international organization of all the nations of the world for the purposes of peace and cooperative relationships.

Many people who had been anxious about negative consequences of total war for democracy and international peace put a great deal of hope in the newly formed United Nations in the immediate postwar years. Regardless of what was thought about the War itself, it could be seen as serving a good end should it lead to an effective and widely embraced United Nations. And the Atlantic Charter and the Four Freedoms ideals provided bases for such hopes.

At the same time, many among the American leadership class believed that decisive victory in the War provided a not-to-be-missed opportunity for establishing their country’s economic and military domination. They faced a crossroads in the years immediately following the War. Would the U.S. demobilize in the dramatic manner that characterized the country after the Civil War and World War I? Or was this instead an opportunity to sustain the extraordinarily powerful status the country had achieved through its war effort (and, of course, through the devastating losses all its possible rivals had sustained)? Continue reading “Why World War II was a moral disaster for the United States (Part two)”

Why World War II was a moral disaster for the United States (Part one)

Ted Grimsrud—May 27, 2012

World War II stands as the greatest event in the history of the United States. The country poured all its energy into an intense effort that resulted in the defeat of one of the odious embodied political philosophies ever. As the years pass and we learn more and more about Nazi Germany, the more grateful we can be for the ignominious end to the “thousand year Reich.” This war also led to an almost equally ignominious end to the extraordinarily vicious Japanese imperial regime.

World War II also proved to be the catalyst that finally brought the deprivation of the Great Depression to and end in the U.S. and ushered in an extraordinary era of economic prosperity—prosperity for once that reached down into the middle classes and beyond. The U.S. not only contributed impressively to the defeat of these terrible enemies, but the country actually came through the War relatively unscathed. At the end of the War, the U.S. stood with unprecedented economic power and unmatched international prestige as the bearer of the ideals portrayed to great effect in statements such as the Atlantic Charter and the initial declaration of the “United Nations.” These statements rallied people to defeat forces in the world that stood implacably against ideals such as self-determination and disarmament.

World War II as a moral disaster?

So, in what senses, then, was World War II after all a moral disaster for the United States? I will suggest that what World War II actually did for the United States was (1) decisively corrupt the American democratic polity, (2) decisively empower the forces of militarism in the country that have since 1945 led the U.S. into foreign policy disaster after foreign disaster and visited so much violence and destruction on major sections of the world that the term “American holocaust” (William Blum, Killing Hope) may not in actuality not be much of a hyperbole, and (3) decisively shift the economic center of gravity in the country toward the corporate sector, setting the country on a path of long-term corruption, exploitation, and—in a genuine sense—economic self-immolation. Continue reading “Why World War II was a moral disaster for the United States (Part one)”

A basic Christian argument for affirming gay marriage (Part three)

Ted Grimsrud—May 22, 2012

In Part One of these three posts, I suggested that Christians should be disposed to affirm gay marriage—and then noted three arguments that tend to be used to override that positive initial disposition. Then, in Part Two, I focused on two of those three arguments that tend to be used as bases for withholding affirmation of gay marriage in Christian churches: that by the nature of it being between people of the same sex, gay marriage is harmful to the people involved and that gay marriage undermines the sanctity of heterosexual marriage. In this final post, I will look at the third argument: the teaching of the Bible.

The discussion of the Bible’s teaching is probably the most contentious of all three of our “debates.” Here are just a few thoughts.

The Bible, on the one hand, contains a great deal of teaching and many stories that indirectly speak to our general theme of affirming gay marriage (or not). Not least are the teachings and stories that speak about hospitality and God’s special concern for vulnerable people. As well, teachings and stories about human relationality (going clear back to the very beginning when God says of Adam that it is not good for this first human being to be alone). We also have teaching and stories about the importance of fidelity in relationships and the problems of socially harmful actions (such as violence, injustice, adultery, abuse in various forms).

On the other hand, the Bible does not say much directly about homosexuality (which is not surprising given that the term “homosexuality” itself is a modern term that seems to reflect a modern awareness of affectional orientation and sexual identity). What do we make, though, of the several texts that have typically been seen as providing a basis for generalizing about a biblical mandate to forbid same-sex intimate relationships (and, certainly, same-sex marriage)?

We should notice three things about these texts (the main ones that interpreters usually focus on are the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18–19, the teaching in Leviticus 18 and 20 against “men laying with men as with women,” and Paul’s references in Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6 to problems with same-sex sexual behaviors [we could also include 1 Timothy 1:10 which clearly is derivative from I Corinthians 6 and adds no new information to the issues raised in these texts]): (1) the Bible speaks only of male “homosexuality,” (2) the Bible is concerned with various behaviors, not just one “homosexual practice,” and (3) the New Testament contains no direct commands to Christians concerning homosexuality. Continue reading “A basic Christian argument for affirming gay marriage (Part three)”

A basic Christian argument for affirming gay marriage (Part two)

Ted Grimsrud—May 21, 2012

In the first part of this post, I suggested that Christian churches should be disposed toward affirming gay marriage. Two key factors that support this disposition are (1) the sense we have that marriage is a good thing that should be encouraged and supported in the churches and (2) the emphasis the Bible places on hospitality, especially toward vulnerable people, as a central calling of faith communities.

Both of these points speak to a general disposition, that we should be inclined toward affirmation unless there are clear reasons to override this disposition. It would be possible to draw negative conclusions about gay marriage even if one affirms the disposition toward affirmation. We could do so if we were convinced that there is something inherently immoral about the same-sexness of the partnership.

The argument in favor of affirming gay marriage, though, is at its heart an argument in favor of rigorous moral expectations concerning intimate relationships. It is an argument that same-sex couples should be expected to adhere to the moral standards that govern heterosexual marriage. It is not an argument for relaxing those standards or applying different standards to same-sex couples than apply to heterosexual couples.

The challenge for those who would not affirm gay marriage, then, is to show that there is something inherently wrong simply in the partners being of the same sex. I identified three reasons that are often given by those who do withhold affirmation. The relationships are seen to be immoral: (1) if the relationship is harmful to the people involved; or (2) if the relationship undermines the sanctity of marriage; or (3) if the Bible tells us that, even so, this relationship violates God’s will for human beings.

I use the case of the relationship between “Ilse” and “Jennifer” (based on actual people I know) to present the most positive scenario possible on behalf of affirming gay marriage. To withhold such affirmation, one would need to show why this relationship is immoral (and overcome the benefit of the doubt in favor of affirmation based on the positive value we see in marriage and the biblical call for hospitality toward vulnerable people). Continue reading “A basic Christian argument for affirming gay marriage (Part two)”

A basic Christian argument for affirming gay marriage (Part one)

Ted Grimsrud—May 20, 2012

Over the past fifteen years or so, I have given numerous talks and papers in various settings explaining why I believe that Christian churches should take a welcoming or inclusive stance in relation to homosexuality. These talks have evolved over time. The most recent presentation came when I was a guest speaker in a seminary sexual ethics class.

Because it does not seem that this discussion is going to end any time soon (witness the recent juxtaposition of North Carolina’s vote against gay marriage and President Obama’s statement of support for gay marriage), I find it necessary to keep thinking about how to articulate my views. Here, I will offer an expansion of the remarks I made in my seminary class presentation.

Point one: Marriage is a good thing

My first starting point is the belief that marriage is a good thing. Christians should work in their communities to offer support for married people—to help couples in their struggles, to celebrate the beauty of these relationships, to encourage people entering into healthy and life-enhancing covenant relationships. In our contemporary American society, marriage is a difficult undertaking; the odds are tragically high that couples will face major crises and have a strong likelihood of moving into divorce territory. Couples need the resources offered by supportive faith communities.

Now, I recognize that this is all quite complicated. Some marriages are not life-enhancing. People who do go through divorces also need the support of faith communities. And, absolutely, people who are single need support as well. Singleness should not be seen as an inferior state, and churches often have a lot of work to do to become redemptive places for single people. Nonetheless, we do recognize the potential for beauty and life in the context of marriage and believe that the churches should bless and encourage people who choose marriage.

The issue then becomes whether the churches have moral bases for withholding such blessing and support for people in same-sex covenanted partnerships (and now, in many places around the world, actual marriage). Continue reading “A basic Christian argument for affirming gay marriage (Part one)”

The Mennonite Confession of Faith and homosexuality

Ted Grimsrud—May 9, 2012

What kind of directives do Mennonites get from their main denominational doctrinal statement concerning homosexuality? A recent news article reports that several churches in the Western District Conference of Mennonite Church USA will bring a resolution to their annual conference assembly that assumes clear directives. The resolution will require the conference to name the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective (CofF) as stating the official position of the conference. If the resolution passes, the Conference will then expect that “those who cannot do so according to their conscience resign their positions of leadership and influence in the Western District Conference.”

Chances are that the resolution will not pass. However, I doubt that few if any people considering this resolution will question assumptions being made about the content of the CofF that underlie the resolution.

The context of the resolution makes it clear that its central concern is with the issue of homosexuality. The resolution, reflecting a common assumption throughout MC USA, clearly understands the CofF to provide a clear basis for a negative view of intimate same-sex relationships (the specific issue that triggered this resolution was a conference pastor officiating at a same-sex wedding). This assumption that the CofF provides clear opposition to same-sex marriage is problematic, to say the least (as is, of course, the notion that the CofF should be used as a basis for drawing clear in-or-out lines based on beliefs).

It’s not surprising that people would assume that the CofF provides a clear basis for rejecting an inclusive stance concerning homosexuality given that official denominational statements cite it as doing so. However, a careful reading of the CofF itself actually repudiates such an assumption. Continue reading “The Mennonite Confession of Faith and homosexuality”

Christian faith and religious pluralism

Ted Grimsrud

In my Introduction to Theology class the past several years, I have asked students to read a book that contains interactive essays that address questions related to Christian faith and religious pluralism (Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World). We then have several vigorous discussions about how we think of these different approaches. We focus on three from the book: “pluralist” (Christianity is not any more truthful than other religions; salvation is possible separate from Christianity); “inclusivist” (Christianity is the one true faith, but others may gain saving faith outside of Christianity in ways that ultimate do lead them to Jesus), and “particularist” (Christianity is the one truth faith; one finds salvation only by explicitly trusting in Jesus).

These discussions have stimulated me to reflect on my own understandings of these issues.

Religious pluralism as a fact of life

This issue of Christian faith in relation to other religions grows ever more challenging for Christians in our globalized world.  Here in the United States, we can no longer avoid asking about different religions.  Many of us travel around the world, doing business with people from many cultures and religious traditions, and, if nothing else, rub shoulders in grocery stores and ethnic restaurants with other-than-Christian religious folks.

I teach at a tiny Christian college in small, pretty isolated city in Virginia’s Shenandoah valley.  I have had students who are Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist.  Our favorite places to eat include restaurants operated by recent immigrants from Nepal, Vietnam, China, Thailand, Mexico, and Ethiopia.  Our local public high school, in 2006, had students from 64 different countries who spoke 44 different languages—and surely represented numerous different faiths.  Religious pluralism has become part of our everyday life, like it or not.

So, what do we think of the various religions of the world?  How do we relate our own Christian faith to Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, and so on?  How does our understanding of the religions fit with our broader theological convictions? Continue reading “Christian faith and religious pluralism”