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Jennifer Holsinger
Lack of Empathy Limits Possibility of Peace

by Jennifer Holsinger

In order to understand the intersection of war and Christian faith, it is necessary to look to the wisdom of Jesus Christ. The teachings of Jesus are best summarized in the radical, evangelical Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), the most comprehensive guide for those seeking to follow Christ. It is in the challenges of the Beatitudes that Christ blesses the agents of God's kingdom, namely those who are compassionate and actively making peace. In this sermon he also blesses those who are suffering, a point echoed throughout the gospels. It is this call to be peacemakers and to serve the poor that reveals to Christians how we are to grapple with issues related to war.

My understanding of war from a Christian perspective, then, demands an awareness of the role that vulnerable populations play in international conflict.  It is necessary to understand how resources are distributed on both a global and national scale and thus how the effects of war are determined by lines of nationality, class, gender, race/ethnicity, and age.  Disadvantaged groups pay more than their share of the costs on all sides of a war.  This includes U.S. men and women who are recruited to serve our country.  These individuals come disproportionately from lower socioeconomic classes and other underprivileged populations, selected because their opportunities for advancement outside the military are limited.  As Christians we must seriously consider the negative outcomes of war on them and their families in terms of social, psychological and financial well-being.  We must also recognize the impact of war on our social institutions and on the health of our society as a whole.  God's peace, after all, must be sought not just on an international level but also for communities, families and individuals.

Unfortunately, many Christians perceive Christ's call to nonviolence as an unrealistic and non-viable solution to conflict. Part of this belief may stem from a knowledge gap, as evidenced in social surveys, that Americans hold when it comes to Islam, the history of the Middle East, Iraq, al-Qaeda, and nonviolence and war in general. Fortunately, these gaps can be filled through education such as that involving interfaith dialogue and the study of conflict resolution. There is no denying that the problems associated with violence are complicated and enormous, but peaceful solutions are not impossible. I glimpse pieces of hope every day in the active witness of churches and individual Christians whom I strive to emulate. It is these institutions and people who will change the world by living out their belief that the good news of Jesus was meant for every person.

Holsinger is an assistant professor of sociology at Whitworth.

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