Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Four stages of inviting

Most people go through four stages of inviting people to church, I think. Here are 4,000 words worth of visuals.

Stage 1: Church members who figure that everyone in town knows where the church is and can come if they want to. It's sort of like Yogi Berra said about declining attendance at ball games, "If people don't want to come out to the ballpark, how are you going to stop them?"

Stage 2: Members become willing to invite, but don't want the existing nature of the congregation to change. So they invite only people with whom they are already comfortable - people they already know and who are are similar to them in education, income, lifestyle and age.

Stage 3: Members who realize that similarity with people they invite is much less important than whether the other persons are connected with a church already. These are members who want to be "fishers of people" but are not very interested in fishing in aquariums, or fishing for members of other churches. They know that unchurched people are whom Jesus said to take the Gospel.

Stage 4: At this stage, church members enthusiastically offer Christ with anyone whom the opportunity presents. If the others turn out to already be connected, that's great, and if not, they are invited.

Church rebirth, part one

Very thought-provoking, these.

The watch characteristics of the thriving church:

Monday, September 9, 2013

Christian Faith and Making War Notes

Westview symposium on CBS affiliate

Here is the segment the local CBS affiliate broadcast last night of Westview UMC's symposium on "Christian Faith and Making War," regarding the potential war with Syria. We held it Sunday at 5 p.m.

I hope to have content of the session posted here in the next day or two.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Prayer for this time of looming war

I wrote this prayer for Westview's Sunday-evening prayer service on the eve of Congress' return to session to debate and vote the resolution of war against Syria.

Any other church that wishes to use it, feel free. I do not ask for author credit, but I do ask that if you modify it please do not indicate authorship.

Prayer for our country

Leader: Almighty God, you rule all the peoples of the earth.
All: Inspire the minds of all women and men to whom you have committed    the responsibility of government and leadership in the nations of the world. Give to them the vision of truth and justice, that by their counsel all nations and peoples may work together. Give to the people of our country zeal for justice and strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will. Forgive our shortcomings as a nation; purify our hearts to see and love the truth.

We pray especially for these persons in positions of authority:

President Barack Obama, for wisdom, resoluteness, clarity of purpose, and insightfulness of vision.
Hear our prayer, O Lord, for our president.
Secretary of State John Kerry, that our relations with other nations may be honorable and just.
Hear our prayer, O Lord, for the secretary of state.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, that should war come it may be fought justly and the lives of the innocent be protected.
Hear our prayer, O Lord, for the secretary of defense.
General Martin Dempsey and all leaders of our military, that our service men and women may be sent into battle prepared and soundly led.
Hear our prayer, O Lord, for the leaders of our armed forces.
Speaker of the House John Boehner, that the House of Representatives be led wisely and that debate be unhindered by partisan purposes.
Hear our prayer, O Lord, for Speaker Boehner.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, that deliberations of senators be bold,  for the common good of all in justice.
Hear our prayer, O Lord, for Senator Reid.
All members of the Congress, for sober decision of great responsibility, especially the representative of this district, [name of your district's House member] and Senators [names of your state's senators].
Hear our prayer, O Lord, for Representative [name] and Senators [names].
We plead with you, O Lord, to rest your Spirit upon the nation of Syria, that the innocent suffer not, that right be established in justice and peace. Be very present with all affected there by the sword of war and with the refugees dispossessed by violence. We raise up to you especially our brothers and sisters in Christ in that war-torn land.
Hear our prayer, O Lord, for the people of Syria. Be the fortress for your children there.
Holy Lord, you commanded us to pray for our enemies. So we raise to you Bashar al-Assad, who does not know your liberating grace and love. We pray God that he and others leaders of his regime will come to acknowledge you alone as saving Lord, placing their whole trust and confidence in your redemption through Christ Jesus, and set aside implements of destruction, that your justice may be better established upon the earth.
Hear our prayer, O Lord, for Bashar al-Assad.
Hear our prayer, O Lord, and let our cry come unto thee.
In humility we bow before you, O Lord, for you alone are our Savior and Redeemer, our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. In the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Syria and Just War Symposium, Sept 8 - Agenda

Here is my proposed agenda - a lot to fit into an hour and a half, I admit, but this is only an introduction to the topic.

1. Explanation of the question: Christian faith in relation to making war
        a. Why this question is uniquely a problem of Christian faith
        b. Scriptural evidence
        c. The tension between keeping peace and maintaining justice
2. War and its context
        a. War as a political act
        b. “Intentional lethality”
3. Templates for considering the question of going to war:
        a. Realpolitik
        b. Holy war
        c. Just War Theory
4. Four points of the compass in addressing war v. peace:
        a. Moral-philosophical
        b. Ideological
        c. Prudential
        d. Consequential
5. Just War Theory
        a. Just cause for and beginning of war
                i. “Only resort”
                        1. Self-defense against violent aggression
                        2. Protect innocent third parties, but
                                a. The Peace of Westphalia, 1648
                                b. The UN Charter
               ii. Establish a more just peace
              iii. Prevent a greater evil than the war itself entails
              iv. Reasonable prospect of success
               v. Recognized authority
        b. Just conduct of war
                i. Proportionality of means to achieve the just end
               ii. Discrimination of violence
              iii. Forbidden acts (Hague, Geneva conventions and other protocols)
              iv. Responsibility of moral action
        c. Just ending of war
               i. Enduring peace
              ii. Restraint of the victor
             iii. Reconciliation among warring parties
6. The context before us: civil war in Syria
        a. Demographics of Syria and what they mean
        b. The Assad regime
        c. The insurgents
7. Stated purposes of the proposed war with Syria:
        a. The president’s written request to Congress -- Syria’s use of chemical weapons:
                i. “Threatens the national security interests of the United States”
               ii. “Constitutes a threat to international peace and security.”
              iii. Use of force necessary to
                       1. prevent/deter proliferation of WMDs within Syria or across its borders
                       2. Protect the US and other nations from WMD threat
       b. Prior declarations by the administration about use of force
               i. Not to bring about regime change
              ii. Punish Assad regime for chemical weapons use
             iii. Deter other nations from using WMDs in the future

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Christian Faith and Making War - a Symposium and Prayer Service


As you know, President Obama has asked the Congress to authorize him to order military strikes against Syria. Congress will take up the issue when it returns to session this coming Monday. Because of this fact, Westview UMC announces:

Christian faith and Making War - Symposium at Westview UMC, Sunday, Sept. 8 at 5 p.m. Prayer service for our government, our nation and the people of Middle East to follow at 6:30. 

7107 Westview Drive, Fairview, Tenn.

Christian traditions have a long history of theology about war and peace going back to the formative years of the church. At 5 p.m. Sept. 8, the day before Congress returns to session to debate going to war with Syria, Westview UMC will hold a symposium on what Just War Theory is and what it means.

The purpose is to help people learn and use faith-based tools and the insights of church thinkers over the centuries to decide their own positions on this looming war. This and the prayer service afterward will be non-partisan. We will be devoted toward "faith seeking understanding," and imploring the grace and wisdom of God to guide our Congress, our president, our national policy and to rest also upon all the people of Syria, especially those already suffering from the war there.

I will send out more information as the date approaches. I hope that you will come be part of this time to be united in our baptism and seek the presence of God in the extremely serious decisions our government will take next week.

Just for the record, I am a retired U.S. Army artillery officer with extensive military operations experience, including service at the Pentagon as a plans officer. I hold a degree in philosophy from Wake Forest University, a divinity degree from Vanderbilt and I am a graduate of the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College.

All persons, regardless of religious affiliation, are invited to the symposium and the prayer service. Westview UMC is located at 7107 Westview Drive, Fairview, Tenn. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Just War Theory and Syria Strikes, Part One

Can we frighten this man into killing
people only conventionally?
I am framing this inquiry in the context of Just War Theory (JWT henceforth), a theological inquiry in Christianity going back at least to Saint Augustine, 354-430. It's most robust treatment was by St. Thomas Aquinas, 1225-1274, whose exposition was so thorough that it still forms the basis of modern theory.

Today my main points are that going to war requires at least three questions to be answered in the affirmative, below. In this post I'll only address the first for brevity's sake and leave the other two for later.

1. Is there just cause for the war?

2. Is the war authorized by proper authority?

3. Is it wise to wage the war?

Is there just cause for war?

Just Cause of war is the fundamental question, of course. I remember reading a (probably apocryphal) story of a South Seas island native chieftain who after a large battle between the US Marines and the Japanese in WW2 asked the American commander who was going to eat the vast quantities of flesh of the slain soldiers.

The Marine general explained that neither the Japanese nor Americans killed people for food.

"What barbarians you are!" the chief replied, "To kill for no good reason!"

Historically, Western thought on war, heavily influenced by Christian theology, has held that war cannot be separated from larger concerns of nations, and in fact is one part of national relationships. "Politics is the womb in which war develops," said German officer and theorist Carl von Clausewitz. More famous is his observation that, "War is not an independent phenomenon, but the continuation of politics by different means."

JWT has generally held that the political just cause for war is pretty narrowly expressed: either to defend one's own nation from actual or imminent attack, or to protect innocent third parties from deadly aggression or oppression. Some years after the American Civil War, Union General William T. Sherman put it simply: "The only just aim of war is a more just peace," which is a political goal. Absent its political orientation, warfare becomes just what the South Seas chieftain said, an exercise in pointless killing.

Not all JWT theorists agree that a nation may strike pre-emptively even in the case of clearly imminent attack, but since no one in the Obama administration claims that Syria poses any kind of military threat to the US, I'll not address the self-defense tenet here.

The question then becomes one of protection of the innocent, and whether chemical weapons are sui generis so that American warmaking on their users is justifiable for that reason alone. That is, in a civil war in which everyone agrees that at least 100,000 people on all sides have died, untold numbers of whom were murdered outside the laws of war but by conventional means, is the use of chemical weapons by itself a just cause for the US to wage war on Syria, a nation not at peace with itself but with which the US is now at peace?

If the answer is no, then war making against Syria cannot morally be done. If the answer is yes, as the administration clearly claims it is, we move to the next crucial inquiry of JWT - the war we wage must be justly conducted.

I'll shape this discussion around the JWT tenet of proportionality. The doctrine of proportionality is simply stated that the means of conducting the war must be proportionate to the goal for which the war is waged. Another way of looking at it is that while the just ends desired do not justify any means to attain them, they absolutely justify some means. The tenet of proportionality, then, is to assess what the justified means are, then employ those means and not the unjustified ones.

Which leads directly to the question: what exactly is the goal here? The president, secretary of state and others, in multiple remarks and interviews, have specifically announced three key objectives:

A. There is no intention of effecting regime change in Syria.

B. The strikes are to punish Assad's regime for using chemical weapons.

C. The strikes are intended to deter Assad (and others) from using such weapons in the future.

Are these just objectives of war? If so, it is apparently just to "punish" Assad for using chemical weapons, but not just to remove him from rule. Why?

In fact, is punishment itself a just aim of war? This tends to slide the war into a legal enforcement mode, which indeed the president has more or less confirmed in his insistence that Assad has violated "international norms." We thus circle back to the previous paragraph: why is it just to punish Assad but leave him in power - when it was his criminal exercise of power that is at the heart of the violation?

The question of means

"Without killing," wrote Clausewitz, "there is no war." Conducting war is a matter of intentional lethality. In the proposed war against Syria, then, this is the question of means: What constitutes a level of violence inflicted upon the Assad regime that is effective deterrence against using WMDs by the regime again or, in future years, deters other bad actors in the region?

The centering question of the doctrine of proportionality is using the violence necessary to achieve the war's objectives while not using excessive violence to do so. To employ too little violence is as disproportionate as to employ too much. It is unjust to wage war ineffectively even for a just cause.

Hence, campaign planning for the upcoming strikes will necessarily involve a massive amount of guess work on what level of lethality and destruction needs to be inflicted upon Syria to ensure the Assad regime never uses chemical weapons again. But that is a heavily psychological calculation for which an answer is practically impossible!

The reason is that we do not know the calculations Assad used to to order the chem-weapons attack in the first place. What was going through his mind when he gave the order? We don't know, although the intercepted messages the Obama administration says it has should offer some clues. Even so such messages, originated mostly by subordinates and oriented toward action rather than rationale, are many levels removed from what Assad was thinking, and since making him fearful of re-use is a stated goal of the president, our own calculations' margin of uncertainty is bound to be very vast.

As for deterring leaders of other nations, assessing what example to make of Syria to deter them is like entering a dark room blindfolded, in the dead of night in a dense fog, to look for a black cat that may not even be there. Does anyone really expect that the Iranian government will abandon its goal of attaining nuclear capability just because the United States mounted a bombing campaign against Syria that the president has already promised would be "brief and limited?"

All of these things mean that the proportionality calculus has no answer. It is like a math question to solve the value of X in which both the variables and constants are also unknown. We do not know how much death and destruction to inflict upon Syria to persuade the regime to refrain from using a single class of weapons in the future, and have no realistic prospect that we even can know. And this is a problem cubed for deterrence of other national regimes.

So the question: Even stipulating that the use of chemical weapons is a just cause for the proposed war, can the war be justly waged when we have no way of assessing, within reasonable margins of error, what waging it will require to achieve its stated goals?

When I was assigned to the Pentagon during the planning for Operation Desert Storm, the first ground war against Iraq in 1991, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Carl Vuono emphasized that in our planning we needed to remember two simple concepts: "Hope is not a method and wishes are not plans." Good advice now, too.

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