On April 4, 1967 Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a courageous speech against the Vietnam War at the Riverside Church in New York City. The speech is a principled statement against war itself.
David Lipscomb, on the eve of the Spanish-American War, offered a principled statement against the “spirit” of war. That “spirit” stands in radical contrast with the “Spirit” of Jesus Christ.
Like King, Lipscomb’s statement rings loudly in our contemporary ears as a call for Christian introspection about the “spirit of war.” Here is part of his editorial statement in the April 28, 1898 Gospel Advocate (p. 269):
War is disastrous to all prosperity and good of a people. It may for a time create activity in business in preparing for and caring on a conflict, but it must result permanently in more taxes and less to pay with. The people pay all the cost of war. But the material injury produced by war is the least harmful of its effects. The destruction of life and the sorrow of heart it brings to surviving friends and relations appeal more directly to our sympathies since we see the suffering and distress; but above these is the moral and spiritual effect. War is hurtful to all true moral and spiritual good in people. These are the highest and most lasting interests of the people. We do not see the awful results with our natural senses, but they are widespread and lasting. It is strange that a professed follower of the Son of God can approve of the war spirit for a moment. It is distressing to see how professed Christians, in and out of Congress, preachers and privates, can be carried away with, and encourage and foment, this spirit of war. It is contrary to the whole spirit of the religion of Jesus Christ. When a man professes to be follower of Jesus he professes to try to do like Jesus. That is what being a Christian means. Every Christian is pledged to what Jesus would do were he in his place. Just what Jesus would do, were he in person, is what the follower of Jesus must do. Does any one believe that if Jesus were here he would make war speeches and encourage the spirit of war? Would Jesus join the army of the United States to fight Spain, or join the army of Spain to fight the United States? Would he thus fight against himself? Would he kill and destroy?
Wars and strifes will continue while human governments exist, and God will overrule them for his own purposes; but the Christian’s citizenship is in heaven, and his duty is to perform the offices of love and good will to all men of every color and kindred and nation, but to destroy none. Jesus sent him into this world as sheep among wolves, to do good for evil, and to pray for them who despitefully use and persecute them. Jesus did not lay this principle aside in any other troubles and persecutions that came upon him. His true followers must not do it. But when men vote to send others to war, they ought to go themselves. The evil being in participating in the political strifes and conflicts of human governments, drinking in a spirit that is of man not of God. Unless we have the spirit of Christ, we are none of his.
Both King’s speech and Lipscomb’s editorial are powerful articulations of a Christian perspective. Both, in their own times and circumstances–and neither was perfect or beyond criticism–sought to love their neighbors whatever their “color and kindred and nation.”
To love your neighbor entails loving your enemies. That is the “Spirit” of Christ. Are we his or do we belong to someone or something (like a nation) else?