Thoughts in Advent about war and martyrdom

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The martyrs at Westminster Abbey

A friend writes that the war in Iraq is deeply moral because it is a battle for the soul of Christianity against an apostate faith. Even if we are to ignore the “politically incorrect” (to say the least) implications of this, it is an astonishing misunderstanding of the nature of Christian witness (I have responded in this vein to my friend). Christian ethics is an ethics of means. In other words, the way in which the goal, or end, is pursued is just as important as the attainment of the goal. Christian conduct, whether individual or corporate, should have a cruciform shape.

The conversion of the “heathen,” as we used to call them a hundred years ago, cannot be accomplished by the sword. More to the point, it should not be. The old missionaries had it right even if they made mistakes: learn the language, live among the people, serve them, teach and persuade, set an example, and by God’s grace conversion may come. This is an arduous path and has often led to martyrdom (remember that the word “martyr” and “witness” are the same). This Advent season, we will be helped in our reflections if we think about the 20th century Christian martyrs who are commemorated by new statues in the niches above the facade of Westminster Abbey (unveiled 1998).

Here is the link:

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