Saturday 12 May 2007

Prayer in a time of war

A guest-post by George Hunsinger

O Lord our God, heavenly Father, King of the universe, grant us wisdom and courage in this time of endless war, especially the unjust war we have promulgated in Iraq.

Grant us the wisdom to seek the things that make for peace. Where there is misery, let us seek compassion; where there is hatred, let us seek healing; where there is falsehood in the public square, let us seek to recover the truth.

Let us not be blinded by narrow national self-interest, by unnamed greed, by callous disregard for the suffering of others. Why are we so stricken by slaughters at home, like Virginia Tech, O Lord, and so unmoved by massacres abroad?

Grant us the courage that we so desperately need: courage to face the wrong where we have done the wrong; courage to repent where we have departed from your Law, descending into the moral corruption of torture, of secret prisons, of indifference toward traumatized children, of pious invocations of your Name. Let not crime be compounded by blasphemy.

Renew a right spirit within us, we pray, that confessing the error of our ways, we might undertake a measure of satisfaction for the devastations we have wrought. Let us not appear more righteous in our own eyes than we are in yours.

        From all that terror teaches, from lies of tongue and pen,
        From all the easy speeches that comfort cruel men;
        From sale and profanation of honor and the sword;
        From sleep and from damnation, deliver us, good Lord!


Bruce Yabsley said...

My problem with this kind of prayer is not the sentiment as such, but that the wording speaks of things done by "us" whereas it plainly concerns things done by "them": by a party within society to which the speaker is opposed.

Another way of putting this is that if this sentiment came from a recently retired army chaplain, who had been counselling men & women troubled by the things they had done in the name of duty, it might have credibility as a cry from the heart. But when the author is "the founder of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture" --- and of course this is a worthy thing to be --- then it is polemic. We should approach God in our own inadequacy, not in (what we think is) someone else's.

Anonymous said...

"In each the sin of all, in all the sin of each."

Looney said...

I suppose we could abandon our unjust war in Iraq and allow just genocide to replace the efforts to keep a lid on the violence ...

Anonymous said...

Looney utters the truth which must not be named by windbags hiding partisanship behind their piety.

Anonymous said...

Bruce, I am afraid it is "us" if we are part of one of the nations of the "coalition of the willing." Because our U.S. or British or Australian taxes pay for continuing the war, so "we," especially "we" in the U.S. are responsible since we neither prevented it nor have stopped it.

Fr. Daniel Berrigan, S.J. reminds us that the warmakers win because they make war with all their hearts, while we peacemakers work half-heartedly, in our spare time.

And, Looney, don't kid yourself. We could occupy for 10 years or more and a civil war would STILL erupt when we leave.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you are right Michael, but one thing is sure. When the blood begins to flow we will not hear similar high falutin' prayers for God's help. Those prayers won't be made because no one wants to hear them. And that's what these prayers are for, namely, consumption by the nodding choir to score easy political points.

This is pandering to make theology immediately and easily relevant to people who don't know what else to do with it.

Aric Clark said...

I am shocked at some of these responses. What should we pray for if not for peace? The whole arc of the universe, the purpose of creation, the destiny of salvation history is God's Shalom. We long for it, the world groans for it, it is the most natural and right thing we can possibly pray for.

Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace... Blessed are the peacemakers... How can you possibly take offense, or even worse, insult the one praying by calling it "pandering" or "polemic"?

So long as blood is being shed by anyone anywhere all people with Christian hearts will mourn. You may be on the opposite end of the political spectrum from Hunsinger, but you have completely lost your bearings if you think it is wrong to ask forgiveness for violence in which we are complicit and pray that the violence cease.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe what I'm reading.

Looney's comments are, well, looney. "Genocide"? That's language gone on holiday. And the Bush push an exercise in "keep[ing] a lid on the violence"? That's like calling pouring gasoline on a fire an effort to put it out.

As for Anonymous's comments about "windbags hiding partisanship behind their piety" and "the nodding choir" - their discourtesy comes right out of the Ann Coulter school of theology. And "When the blood begins to flow ..." - perhaps Anonymous would like to rephrase that.

Anonymous said...

I submit that you have lost your bearings if you think this is simply a "prayer of peace" (code word: end the occupation of Iraq) or asking "forgiveness for violence for which we are complicit" (code for: ok it's a democracy but I didn't vote for him!) It's the sincerity of the prayer's personal sorrow or zeal for justice which is in question. Where's the mention of Afghanistan, or present wars or occupations we are waging in Somalia, Kosovo, or neglecting in Darfur or Zimbabwe. The choir wouldn't be unanimous there. Iraq focuses the mind on the common enemy (Bush and our shame at our failure) and keeps the choir nodding. Otherwise I agree with you.

Anonymous said...

This shock reminds me of Pauline Kael on the re-election of Richard Nixon:

"How can this be? I don't know anyone who voted for him."

Need we anymore evidence of the cocoon of the "choir" that expected this to simply be met with "Amen!"

Kim, the managed bloodflow of criminals is to be preferred to the ethnic cleansing that is likely if we depart now. It is not surprising that you would simply dismiss "genocide". Those with the most passion concerning the collateral deaths in Iraq seem indifferent to the genocide in Darfur or Zimbabwe. No cheap political points there. Shame all around. And everyone said "Amen"?

Looney said...

I agree with Michael completely that we could try to contain the civil war for ten years only to see it re-ignite as soon as we leave.

Being a peacemaker sometimes entails serius pain and sacrifice. Maybe the price is too steep, but we shouldn't be trying to grandstand and pretend it is about just war theory when it is only about our wallet.

Another option is to do what is done in Darfur: pay some poor African Union soldiers to get shot at instead of the precious European-descent ones.

Ben Myers said...

When my brother (Josh) was a little boy at Sunday School, the Sunday School teacher told all the children to bow their heads and pray. When the prayer was over, one of the other little five-year-olds called out to the teacher in tones of righteous indignation: "Mrs Williams! Mrs Williams! Josh had his eyes open!"

The incident is so humorous because the little boy so drastically misunderstood the genre of the activity. He thought that this was an opportunity to observe and correct the behaviour of others; it didn't dawn on him that he himself was supposed to be praying.

That incident reminds me of some of the criticisms in this thread. George wrote this piece as a prayer -- i.e., as something to be prayed. The complaint that this is just an exercise in scoring political points is (like the complaint of the little boy at Sunday School) a complete misunderstanding of genre -- and it would be humorous if it wasn't so depressing.

No matter which side of the political fence you might be on, the purpose of a prayer is to pray. If you don't feel comfortable praying these particular words, that's fine -- but surely you can still find some form of words that will allow you to pray for peace.

And I'm sure all of us can join in the petition (which is not polemic, but confession): "Let us not appear more righteous in our own eyes than we are in Yours."

Pastor Chad said...

I agree whole heartedly with Ben. I do not agree with the war, but I do not agree with some of the tactics to oppose it either. I, myself, cannot pray the words above and I do cringe some to hear others pray them. However, I DO pray for peace, for an end to war EVERYWHERE, for the coming of the kingdom of God, the peace (shalom) that passes all understanding. Until this happens our world is going to be a messed up place, and we will disagree as to what it wrong with it. We should never forget that in the end, we are in this together. Come quickly Jesus!

Aric Clark said...

Also, you've aimed your cannons at the wrong folks if you think MWW or Fabricius or George Hunsinger or myself are opposed to the Iraq war because it is politically convenient, but find wars elsewhere to be morally acceptable (or at least easy to ignore). I am opposed to all war, as Chad says above I pray for peace everywhere. This is just one prayer for peace and it specifically mentions the Iraq war because it is one where the national guilt is so clear. It is legitimate to call for repentance for the sins that are closest to home, though it does not relieve us of our responsibility to be concerned for wars elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much, Professor Hunsinger, for this moving and timely prayer.

Bruce Yabsley said...

Call me naive, but that was not a discussion I was meaning to start.

Kim, Michael: yes of course we're implicated. And Aric: yes of course it is a good thing to pray for peace. I didn't think it was necessary to hedge around my post with reassurances on these points, but maybe I should have. In any case I think it's still possible to make the objection that I did, while still believeing those things.

Ben: I understand that GH wrote that prayer to be prayed. This is what my complaint stems from: its voice, to my ear, is inappropriate for a prayer. But in any case your argument from genre proves too much. The intended purpose of a written piece cannot put its content beyond criticism.

Unlike some contributors to this discussion I actually agree with most of the sentiments and opinions in the original prayer. But I remain uncomfortable with the voice in which it's speaking, for the reasons given.

I am a little alarmed at some of the "how can one object to ..." sentiment in this discussion. My objection might be misplaced or based on flawed judgement, or even rank sinfulness. But the mere fact of the objection cannot be a problem. Good intentions, or worthy causes, don't justify everything that flows from them.

Anonymous said...

"But in any case your argument from genre proves too much. The intended purpose of a written piece cannot put its content beyond criticism."

This is a great point i think. Obviously we have to be very very careful in how we are critical of other's public prayer, but sometimes it may need to be done. Since praying in a group often teaches the less informed, we have a responsibility to think through and respond to these things. However, we have to do so with the good of our brother in mind, and not to judge him or her.

Anonymous said...

I found the last four lines of the prayer especially moving and beautiful. Thank you, Dr. Hunsinger.

Does anyone else find it extremely ironic that the most common argument for staying in Iraq is that our presence there will limit an outbreak of violence that our presence there is responsible for catalyzing in the first place? Sorry, just musing.


Alex said...

George, your prayer seems to remind God that the war is unjust. Though it may be, I think he'll judge that part. The rest of it is artistic and moving but the words "just" or "justice" only really have any weight when they comes from the mouth of God.

Alex said...

Also, George, how are Christian brothers who are soldiers in Iraq supposed to pray this prayer if they do not agree that the war is unjust but that they are doing a service to the Iraqi (wrong though those soldiers may be).

But that gets back to my from the last comment. Your decision to put yourself in God's place as judge of what is just is the one line that makes this prayer a divisive prayer. The rest is absolutely unifying and fantastic. But if your going to put a prayer script out there for public use, to be prayed, why limit it to certain Christians by assuming God's role as justifier?

Anonymous said...

The label "unjust war" may in fact be appropriate (though its not clear that it tells us what it is just to do NOW going forward. Justice is not just washing your hands of the whole thing, that's denial).

The real problem I have with the "unjust war" label is that Hunsinger is a pacifist as are others here. He believes ALL wars to be unjust! But he won't mention or repent of the wars that are going better or going unnoticed. Repent of funding the Ethiopian actions in Somalia or fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan or the entire "war on terror"? He opposes them all in various ways, but fails to mention that. That would not be the unifying partisan red meat of "unjust war in Iraq."

Most Americans call it unjust not because they are pacifist, but because we are failing.
This prayer would have been denounced in 2003 by 95%. It is only after our shameful failures that it finds an audience. Americans love a winner, and scapegoats, and cheap grace (i.e. pray for the Republicans to be forgiven, walk away, forget your former support of it, call it Bush's war, and wash hands of the Sunnis blood or massive "population tranfer").

Anonymous said...

I have consistently opposed the Iraq War on the basis of just-war principles, which of course are also codified in international law.

Since before the war began, I have worked to bring Christian pacifists and non-pacifists together to speak out against the war, as the list of initial signatories from the first statement I drafted shows: WE MUST OPPOSE THIS WAR.

In particular, Green, Hollenbach, Rivera-Pagan, Sondereggger, Tanner, Taylor, Werpehowski and Wolterstorff are not pacifists.

My own position is in fact somewhat unresolved. I am somewhere between just-war pacifism and chastened non-pacifism.

There are many generals and non-pacifist political analysts who believe that this war was ill-advised and is increasingly indefensible, both morally and politically. Among them are General William E. Odom and Professor Juan Cole. The Middle East Council of Churches must also be taken into account.

Describing the war as unjust in a penitential prayer is an act of confession and contrition. The prayer itself is an act of supplication, but also of intercession -- not only for the Iraqis but also vicariously for the church in my own country.

Over the past four years I have sat through many prayers that have referred to Iraq. Not one of them -- not a single one -- has struck a note of penitence. They have all presupposed the legitimacy of this war and have effectively sacralized it.

Sacralizing an immoral and unjust war through prayer is apparently not problematic for many contemporary Christians.

A nationalist is someone who not only overlooks atrocities committed by his own side. He has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.
--George Orwell, "Notes on Nationalism"

Ben Myers said...

Thanks for all these comments, and thanks to George for his response. I think that's a good note on which to end the discussion for now, so I'll close the comments thread at this point.

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