Which contradiction is more blatant to the gospel message of love and forgiveness, Christians killing infidels or Christians killing Christians? Killing an infidel ends his chances of being “saved,” while a dead Christian, presumably, is going to heaven. Perhaps not surprisingly, though, the wars of Europe, especially World Wars I and II, have presented a greater conflict in the minds and hearts of believers everywhere, as believers stabbed, shot, gassed, or bombed other believers. For those who thought about it, such things were very hard to reconcile with the Christian message.
Fortunately for the political leaders of these nations, almost no one thought about that at all. The only discernable influence of Christianity on the campaigns of the World Wars (marked as they were by the mass slaughter of the soldiers on the field and of civilians in the cities) was to cheer the boys on.
Lacking religious leaders whose authority and responsibility spanned nations, especially those in conflict, Protestants were spared the ludicrous situation Pope Pius XII faced at the beginning of World War II. To the Catholics in all the European nations at war he gave the most insipid, inane, and inarticulate advice ever given to enemy combatants sent out to destroy each other. They were “to fight with valor and charity.” 1
There were other voices. The English bishop, George Bell of Chichester, published an article in November of 1939. It was called, “The Church’s Function in Wartime.”
He [Bell] argued that it was essential that the Church should remain the Church, and not “the state’s spiritual auxiliary.” It should define basic principles of conduct, and “not hesitate... to condemn the infliction of reprisals, or the bombing of civilian populations, by the military forces of its own nation. It should set itself against the propaganda of lies and hatred. It should be ready to encourage the resumption of friendly relations with the enemy nation. It should set its face against any war of extermination or enslavement, and any measures directly aimed to destroy the morale of a population.”2
The Allies as well as the Axis powers — with the knowledge and encouragement of the churches — broke all his words, even though they seemed to reflect basic Christian teaching. In the midst of the grim reality he had sought to avoid, Bell wrote in September 1943:
To bomb cities as cities, deliberately to attack civilians, quite irrespective of whether or not they are actively contributing to the war effort, is a wrong deed, whether done by the Nazis or ourselves.3
The firebombing and atomic bombing of cities across Germany and Japan incinerated hundreds of thousands: Dresden, Tokyo, Hamburg, Kobe, Hiroshima, Nagasaki... men and women, boys and girls, infants and the aged all perished in their own city-wide holocausts. Continuing his campaign to end indiscriminate bombing, Bell eventually forced a vote in the House of Lords in February 1944. His speech provoked comment and thought. The military analyst Liddell Hart said about it:
The historian of civilization, if that survives, is likely to regard it as better evidence for Christianity and common decency, than has been provided by any other spokesman. It represents the longer view and the higher wisdom.4
The strategic bombing doctrines of the nuclear powers since World War II reveal that Bell’s view and wisdom are yet far off. Given the demonstrated impotence of Christianity to translate its doctrines into reality, or to lift human beings above the cycle of violence and revenge, if man’s only hope of an age of peace was the Christian message, it is unlikely that age will ever dawn.
A new thing must spring forth on the earth, which is in fact the restoration of all the things that God ever intended His church to be. It will not sweep aside the political systems of the world to create a one-world government. It will be the true witness of the Kingdom of God on earth, a life of love, of community, of trust in the protection of God, not in the arms of men. After this, the end will come! (Matthew 24:14)