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Responsibility, Culpability, Fidelity, and Lethal Force


Responsibility, Culpability, Fidelity, and Lethal Force


Though I had grown up in church, I didn’t have any understanding of the Gospel, nor did I know Jesus. After I finished college, I joined the U.S. Air Force, in its Undergraduate Pilot Training, in the Summer of 1970. UPT is called “The Year of 53 weeks,” during which a full range of topics and skills are drummed into the students. The standards are very rigorous. They were then, as well, even though we were at war in Viet Nam and there was a great need for pilots. More than half of our class “washed out,” usually for failing to meet the flight standards. Some were eliminated on medical grounds. One got the boot for using drugs.

After the 53 weeks, on July 8, 1971, we graduated and got our wings. We all waited to hear what our assignments would be. I was assigned to a large four-engine transport called a C-141 Starlifter. It was a big plane, capable of carrying trucks, tanks, cargo, and troops, or of being re-configured as an air-evacuation plane, with 80 hospital litters to carry patients. 

I enjoyed the flying, but I always had a nagging emptiness. That led to meeting Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday, 1972. I remember it as though it were yesterday. I prayed, “Lord, I will go wherever You say to go. I’ll do whatever you say to do. I’ll be whatever You ask me to be, and I’ll say whatever You ask me to say, if You will do two things: be real in my life and satisfy the longing in my heart.” Faithfully, He has been doing that year after year. I can only wish that I had been anywhere nearly as faithful as He has been. 

I vividly remember one day while I was heading out for a mission dressed in my flight suit. I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror. I was startled and I remember that it triggered deep questioning about what it meant to be a Christian and a military pilot. I knew philosophically that there was not much difference between carrying cargo and dropping bombs, especially if the cargo was bombs. I knew that I had been drawn to fly the air-evac flights and did many of them, but I was still a military man and needed to come to grips with that. Many people assume that Christians are constrained to be pacifists. There are others, though, who maintain a costly commitment to Christ and still serve in the military, even in combat roles. 

What the Lord showed me as I read history and studied the Bible is that it is crucially important to assess what faithfulness requires. I came to the position that St. Augustine was right, and there is the possibility of a just war. I was also greatly influenced by the Nürnberg (aka, Nuremberg) War Trials, having grown up there while the echoes of those trials were still reverberating around the city. I realized that, while it was possible to serve in the military as a Christian, I also had to monitor orders to assess if they were lawful orders. Righteousness may demand refusing an unlawful order, but then standing against unrighteous deeds almost always comes with a terrible price to pay. Sometimes that price is our freedom, our reputation, or even our life. 

The question at the heart of challenging times and weighty questions like what I was facing is one that can be asked from one of two different—practically opposite—perspectives. The same dynamic still exists today. The compromised will say essentially, “Lord, how far can I stray and still keep my salvation.” That is not, however, the way that faithful people are called to live. Instead, there is another way. I was blessed early in my walk as a disciple to be in contact with some very mature and wise Christians. They taught me that we are to say, “Lord, show me ways that I can be more faithful; ways that I can be more closely conformed to your heart and will. Even if it is costly, show me what is right.” In fact, in this fallen world, the easy way is almost never the righteous way. It is almost never God’s way. We should not choose things just because they are hard. We should choose a path because it is right. It is also almost certainly going to be costly. Those faithful leaders were very helpful in assisting me in taking the first steps of fidelity. They taught me how to weigh my heart in the Kingdom justice balance of Scripture and what to do in repentance when I came up on the wrong side. Over time, I was able to learn some things about how I was called to live. 

As I look at the situation of the fault line in the Anglican Communion today, there is no surprise about the course that those who do not know the Lord will take. They do what their heart tells them instead of what the Lord or the Word says. There is also no surprise from those who are committed to revision of the faith. What is particularly painful for me are those who have known the Lord and tasted His goodness, but then look to see how far they can drift to accommodate “innovation” without having to pay too great a price. Because God is so gracious (and our capacity to sin is so great), He allows us freedom. He knows that freedom is central to love. It does, however, make it possible for us to choose rebellion. He even allows us to choose to separate ourselves from Him. 

Recently, a senior Bishop speaking at a small gathering I attended said, “We are going to have to accommodate same-sex blessings in the Church in order to have traction in the culture. If they won’t listen to us, we won’t be able to lead them to Christ. We will, however, hold the line against same-sex marriage.” 

Of course, that position is flawed on, Oh, so many levels! It is not faithful to Who God is, or what He says in His Word. It is a strategy that will not yield fruit. We cannot build on the sand of attempting to bless what God seeks to redeem and expect it to bear fruit fit for eternity. Who is the Christ to whom he wants to introduce them? Is He the Christ of Scripture or one of his own concoction? 

Instead, what should be asked is, “How is it, Lord, that we should live and move in order to be more closely conformed to Your heart and character.” We should be seeking to move closer to the Cross, not trying to see how far we can stray from it and still keep it in sight. 

Institutionally, I’m glad to say that the Bishops in the Anglican Church in North America are, as a group, seeking to be found faithful. We talk about how He may call us to sacrifice and what it means to be faithful. When we gather, we share, study, and pray, asking Him to lead us, instead of just asking God to bless our plans. It is vastly different from my previous experience of the church of almost thirty years of ministry. I cannot remember ever hearing people say, “How can we be more fully conformed to Christ? How can we be found more fully faithful?” 

I do remember hearing lots of people say essentially, “God should bless our plan because our ideas and efforts are so good and well intentioned.” In far too many cases, they weren’t, and He didn’t. 

Here are some areas in which we need to be called to account, to live our lives faithfully for Christ in the midst of what is happening around us. How to live in the midst of the way: 

•  Radicals kill and maim

•  Some denominational leaders distort the faith

•  Some government leaders betray their people

•  Some people with resources consume, acquire, and waste without regard for others

•  We live segmented lives, claiming holiness in one sphere and discarding it in another

•  We treat those with whom we disagree

•  We intervene in the face of violence

•  We protect those who are under assault

What we do matters. It matters for us, it matters for our churches and families, and it matters for others. It even matters for our enemies. Sometimes we have to act decisively to interdict evil and its impact on people who are largely defenseless. Sometimes the most loving thing to do in a situation is to cry out and act with an emphatic “No!” that stops evil. We don’t do that because it is easy. We shouldn’t choose it because it is hard, even though it probably is. We should do it because it is right.