The Church and War

The Church and War

by Rev. Frank Julian Gelli

‘Why these flags? These monuments?’ In St Paul’s Cathedral this morning a Yankee friend inquired. Yep, plenty of ragged regimental banners in the Middlesex Chapel. And stunning monuments to the Duke of Wellington, General Gordon, General Cornwallis & sundry forgotten military heroes.

‘Did they die for Christ?’ I was asked. ‘Hhmmm…Gordon, possibly, fighting a Bin Laden of his time but not the others, no.’ St Paul’s is an Anglican Cathedral. I explained: ‘The Church of England is the national church. In symbiosis with the state. The Queen is supreme governor of the Church, bishops sit in House of Lords and blah, blah, blah…’ Friend shook his head, unconvinced. ‘Most strange’, he said. ‘Nothing like this in a Catholic Church…’ Then a clerical voice boomed on the public address system, the heedless tourist rabble paying absolutely no attention. It was an invitation to remember the fallen in WWI. ‘Were they Christian martyrs?’ again the fussy friend pseudo-innocently piped up. ‘Ahem…Not quite…’

You get my drift. The Anglican Church pretends to be a Christian body, based on the Bible and following the peace-loving way of Jesus Christ. In fact, it is the ecclesiastical branch of the civil service. Its clerics overwhelmingly play loyal chaplain to the powers that be. (Every year in my parish of St Mary Abbots we held a Civic Service, with the Mayor, counsellors and other stuffy dignitaries and stooges, never otherwise darkening the church door.) In WWI the Church adopted the most jingoistic, bloodthirsty and satanic language towards the Germans – a nation of fellow Christians! Bishop of London Winnington-Ingram called for the extermination of all enemy civilians, young and old alike. Compared with the barbarous prelate Netanyahu looks like Gandhi!

To be fair, after the Reformation Anglicanism despite its establishment smugness preached Christ to the English people. It was a scholarly, dignified, Biblically-shaped Church. Stupor mundi, ‘the wonder of the world’, its learned clergy were called. Parish churches were genuine centres of community life and Vicars often solid men of God, helping to relieve the poor and the suffering. Anglicanism even produced a few quiet saints: I have met one or two in my ministry. And sub-Christian characters like the loathsome Winnington-Ingram were offset during WWII by saintly figures like George Bell, Bishop of Chichester. A supporter of the German Confessing Church in the struggle against Hitler, Bell also spoke out in the House of Lords against the indiscriminate Allied bombings of German cities. The total obliteration of Dresden, along with innocent civilians, by the ‘Christian’ Brits and Americans again makes the Israeli butchery in Gaza appear as models of self-restraint. A vengeful Churchill then denied Bell the Archbishopric of Canterbury. Indeed, the petty PM made sure Bell was excluded from the Victory ceremony in his own cathedral of Chichester. Never mind, Bishop Bell has his true, lasting reward in Heaven, whilst Winnington-Ingram must be feeling the heat in the other place…
Will God sends another Bishop Bell to the C of E? At least such a man would have the courage to declare in Parliament, unlike the other bishops - those pusillanimous mitred asses - that the Israel’s assaults on Gaza are wrong. To call a spade a spade, they are war crimes, no less.

Still, the universal Church never totally repudiated warfare. It treated it like a Grenzmoral, a matter bordering between morality and immorality. ‘Is it always a sin to wage war?’ St Thomas Aquinas asks in the Summa Theologiae. So the presumption is that war for a Christian is generally sinful. Except under strict, specified conditions. War is permissible when fought by the right authority, for a just cause, with the right intention and in the right way. Have these hoary criteria have ever stopped an unjust war, rather than providing easy justifications for cunning warmongers?

That is the paradox. The theologians and Saints who forged the Just War doctrine meant to limit the ghastly horror of war. In reality they have provided an armoury of spurious and dishonest excuses to immoral men who seek to cover up their aggressive aims. Prior to the war on Iraq MOD spokesmen went about sedulously and gravely peddling just war language about right of self-defence – from non-existent WMDs! Now David Cameron is making martial noises about the need ‘to stand up to Russia’. Be ready for a dusting up of the old arsenal of just war conditions and look forward to many more crimes conducted in the name of justice and rights. Plus ca change…

‘Power of reconciliation’. Fine phrase. Spoken not by a sanctimonious Anglican cleric but by Prince William, next to a grim-faced Kate, in Belgium. At a ceremony to mark the 100th anniversary of WWI. Who could object to that? The priest has to. Indeed he must. Because the subtext of these stultifying, endless celebrations looks like neither reconciliation nor a desire for peace but sheer, unadulterated and accursed war lust. (I am not blaming the noble Prince, naturally, but his speech-writer.)

Reconciliation implies a need to be reconciled. Making friends again with enemies after an estrangement or enmity. I ask: reconciled with whom? Germany, Austria and Hungary, Britain’s foes in 1914, are fellow EU nations. Members of NATO. Holiday destinations for millions of Brits. Democratic entities, trading partners…all that gaff. Do those countries betray hostility, bellicosity, malevolence, hate, ill will, aversion, antagonism towards Britain? No way. Despite the renewed catastrophe of WWII, reconciliation is a fact. Is it conceivable the Krauts would attack, invade or bomb Ukania one day? Maybe in a lunatic dystopia but not in reality. Hence reconciliation is a redundant word. Here it betrays the deep-seated, rancorous ill will of the former victors, hoping for…what? Another war?

O Lord, I pray, send us another George Bell!

Rant Number 595     4 August 2014
Rev. Frank Julian Gelli
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