Saturday, August 04, 2007

What Can We Tell Our Children About the War?

This was written at the very beginning of the invasion of Iraq. Much has changed -- but not the perennial concerns of Christian people.

Like most people I have spent a great deal of time sorting through a myriad of perspectives on the war in which we are involved. The more I learn, the more conflicted I become. There was no justification for the horror of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. That is bottom line. At the same time, as adults in a free society, it is important that we understand why militants and moderates in the Middle East feel as they do. Our country has done many things in that area in the name of anti-communism that have caused distress and often outrage among the ordinary people of the region. Will this be a time when, in defending ourselves on the one hand, we also find ways of reviewing and purifying the hurtful parts of our foreign policy? Can we love our country while at the same time acknowledging its imperfections (patriotism) or do we have to believe that we are entirely good and our enemies the epitome of evil (nationalism)?

Over this past month, I have been struck by the questions I have been asked by children. Especially the very simple question: “Why do we have to have wars?” It is that question that raises, for me the equally important question: As people of faith, what do we tell our children about the war, even given our own confusion?

I think I would begin with two stories. The first story is our oldest story, the story of Adam and Eve and their children. Most of us remember their two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain was so jealous of his brother and so filled with resentment and unable, I think, to talk about his feelings to anyone at all that he . . . .

We know what he did. That story is in the Bible because it reflects something that happens in families and nations (especially nations) over and over again. That story forms much of the basis for the greatest story of the Salinas Valley, John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. I don’t know why brothers and sisters fight so much. My brother and I didn’t stop fighting until I was 50 years old! Thank God we didn’t kill each other or injure one another in those long years of struggling.

The other story that is important to know is the story of Abraham and his two sons. Abraham had been promised by God that he would be the father/grandfather/great grandfather, etc. of all the people of God, through all time. This was a thrilling prospect; but there was a hitch. Abraham and his wife, Sarah, tried to have children and couldn’t. In utter frustration, Sarah suggested that Abraham have the child with his servant Hagar. And so he did, with the birth of Ishmael. Ishmael proceeded to spend the rest of his life preparing to be the head of the family when Abraham died.

But then, just when Abraham was near death and Ishmael would come into his glory, God told Abraham and Sarah to get ready. They, in their late eighties, were going to have a baby! Sarah’s response was to laugh – and when the child was born nine months later, Sarah named the boy “Isaac,” which means laughter.

So what happened to Ishmael? Ishmael was no longer the chosen one. Ishmael had to leave – and his people became the people we now call Arabs. Isaac got to stay and his people became the Jews – and one of the Jews was Jesus, whom Christians follow. From the two sons came two families: the children of Isaac, Jews and Christians; and the children of Ishmael, the Arab peoples and the heart of Islam. Both families have become great families, rich in generosity and achievement and dedication. But we have also been like brothers and sisters who don’t get along – and our history has been filled with distrust and jealousy. There have been times when Christians have been terrible to the Jews and to the Arabs – and times when the Arabs have been terrible to the Jews. . and on and on.

All three religions are wonderful religions; but people in each of our three major religions, because of their jealousy, prejudice, resentment and fears, have twisted the goodness in their religion to hurt others.

Why do we have wars? One way to answer the question is with a story: the other is to say that wars begin when jealousy, resentment, hopelessness and fear get out of hand. When you’ve got too much prejudice, you’ve got war. When you’ve got too must resentment or fear, you have war.

There are three things I would like our children to know. The first thing they need to know is that the war is one part of our lives: it is not the whole of our lives. They need to know that it is their parents’ job to keep them safe – their parents will worry about all the things that need worrying about. We need to let our children know that when they get overwhelmed by all the news of the war, they can ask us to turn off our televisions.

Second, our children are, in so many ways, the most important people in the world right now. That is so because they know, in ways the rest of us have forgotten, that we are all children of God. They know that everybody belongs to God and they are the ones who will make a difference to the prejudice in the world. I want my children to know that when someone is being bullied, teased, ignored or hurt because of who they are, then God needs them to befriend those who are being hurt.

It is an old truism that the first casualty in war is truth – and that has been just as true in our country as in any other. In mobilizing for war, we paint ourselves with all goodness and our enemies as entirely evil. We create caricatures of other races and peoples. We did not fight Germans, we fought Krauts. We did not fight the Japanese government, we fought Japs and then Slopeheads and Diaperheads and on and on. I hope and pray our children know better.

The last concern I have for our children is that they understand about violence. For centuries people have wanted to get even when they have been threatened or hurt. The Biblical admonition “an eye for an eye” was an early attempt to mitigate the evils of revenge but our religions have gone beyond the notion of “an eye for an eye” to opposing revenge, itself, as a way of responding to violence or hurt. As Gandhi said, “if all that we have is ‘an eye for an eye,’ eventually the whole world will be blind.”

The first thing God wants us to do when faced with evil is to stop it, to restrain it -- but not to add to it. If we have to lock someone up to restrain him, we lock him up. If we have to destroy someone’s weapons, we destroy them. But when we try to get even, we become the evil we deplore.

My last words are for parents and the rest of us. In the midst of worry, anxiety and terror, we need to remember that God’s peace is real and that it is present. The blessing that is used in so many Christian churches, “The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God . . . .” That was written by Paul, not while lazing on the beach and feeling good about the world, but as he was facing a death sentence. There are wars, there is jealousy, resentment, hopelessness and poverty all around us; but at the heart of it all is the peace of God which will sustain us as we, with others, work calmly and with absolute resolution to restore God’s wholeness and holiness to this broken world.

An Anglican-Episcopal Quiz

After seventeen days of extensive research and consultation, The Episcopal Majority has finally developed a quiz which will most likely qualify one for several offices in The Episcopal Church, including Deputy to General Convention, Bishop of an endangered diocese in either the northern or southern part of The United States, Official Commentor at Fr. Jake Stops the World, Titus One, and Stand Firm in Faith, and as Certified Co-Pilot for our Presiding Bishop, ++Katharine Jefferts-Schori.

The Rev. Thomas B. Woodward


Please answer the following questions honestly, without consulting prominent web sites or looking at your neighbor’s computer. Your answers will determine the authenticity of your orthodoxy or “orthodoxy.” Good luck and godspeed.

Part One

In the past, Anglicans have struggled with many weighty issues. Some have caused splits, while others have not. Which of the following religious issues, having ardent supporters on both sides, have caused splits in the Episcopal Church?

a. May Christians participate in armed combat, killing other humans on demand?
b. May Christians use birth control methods?
c. Must women cover their heads while in church?
d. May Christians own slaves?
e. Are women as suitable for ordination as men?
f. Is abortion always wrong?
g. May the church bless a life-long commitment between two people of the same gender?
h. Given the clear Biblical prohibition against touching pigskin, may Christians play football?
i. May murderers be ordained to the priesthood?
j. May a gay priest with 30 years of exemplary service to the church be consecrated bishop?
k. Should the tithe of 10% be mandatory for full membership in the church?

Answers: The following have divided Episcopalians, but have not caused splits within the Episcopal Church: a, b, d, f, h, i, k.

The following have caused splits within the Episcopal Church: e, g, j.

The following divided a congregation which had already split from the denomination: c.

Bonus Question: Is there a common theme among the things that have caused splits in the Episcopal Church? [Hint: It is, apparently – at least in the minds of some – more important to God than money, murder, families, biblical commandments, or owning slaves.]

Note: One congregation that left the Episcopal Church over the issue of consecrating gay priests as bishops later found itself divided over the biblical issue of women having to cover their heads while in church. Those who felt that biblical commandment was no longer binding decided to return to the Episcopal Church; they were welcomed back.

Part Two

  1. Name five heroes in our biblical tradition who have served time in prison or have committed murder without serving time in prison.
  2. In the genealogy of Jesus, there are four women who are noted for "sexual irregularities." Name three of them.
  3. Name three crimes noted in Leviticus as deserving death.
  4. When Jesus is quoted as saying "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5), which groups of people who believe in him and exhibit the fruits of the Spirit does he mean to exclude?
  5. When Jesus is quoted in the Sermon on the Mount as saying, "Judge not, that you not be judged?" which groups of people did he intend for us to continue judging?
  6. Are there sayings of Jesus or dicta of Paul which contradict or qualify the blessings in the Beatitudes for certain groups of people?
  7. In what is referred to as The Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46), Jesus described those who will be saved and those who will suffer eternal punishment by their responses to the hungry, the poor, and the like. What happened to Jesus’ footnote, identifying those who would be excluded from the kingdom no matter how responsive they were to the poor?

Bonus Question:

8. Where does St. Paul contradict the saying of Jesus recorded in John 13:35, that "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" by saying, in effect, if you are gay or lesbian it doesn’t matter what Jesus said – you are damned through eternity if you express your love physically? [Hint: It is probably in Paul’s Epistle to the city where Pope Benedict now lives.]

Double Bonus Questions:

  1. When the clear words of Jesus are contradicted by Paul, whose side would orthodox Christians choose?
  2. If the matter might involve the possibility of touching on human sexuality, whose side would "orthodox" Christians choose?
  3. Is it worth asking why?


  1. Moses, David, John the Baptist, Jesus, Paul.
  2. Tamar, Rahab the prostitute, Ruth, Mary the Mother of Jesus.
  3. Cursing one’s parents, touching pigskin, homosexual relationships, etc.
  4. None, absolutely none.
  5. None, absolutely none.
  6. None, absolutely none.
  7. There is no such footnote. There never was such a footnote. You can find qualifications, denying certain groups from the kingdom, but not from the lips of Jesus. He does not distinguish the sheep from the goats by our prejudices, nor by Paul’s.
  8. Romans 1:26-17
  9. Jesus.
  10. Paul
  11. Either “yes” or “no” is correct.

Part Three

When the Network, in its video, "Choose This Day," refers to the Episcopal Church as a "foreign, alien and pagan religion," how does this comport with any reasonable standard of reason, grace, sanity, or even truth?

  1. Is it possible to disagree about matters of capital punishment, abortion, poverty, and biblical inerrancy, and still belong to the same denomination?
  2. Who said the following:
    1. "Peter Akinola is the Dick Cheney of the Anglican Communion."
    2. "The Roman Catholic Church cannot conceive of women priests. The Episcopal Church has woman priests who can conceive."
    3. "They wouldn’t be in CANA if they didn’t know what they’re doing – and they are not there."
    4. "We elected him bishop because we know him, and we know the Holy Spirit in him, and we trust in God’s presence."

3. What would be the response in the Roman Catholic Church if a group of dissidents left the church and, in doing so, claimed the property of the parish for themselves?


  1. It wasn’t Dick Cheney. It was a member of the Episcopal Church Institute.
  2. Mark Russell.
  3. Mort Sahl (adapted)
  4. The people of the Diocese of New Hampshire.
  5. Mark Russell
  1. Riotous laughter, followed by a brief pause and then twenty minutes of snickering and guffawing.

* Note: “The Episcopal Church Institute” is a group of six loyal Episcopalians, most of whom live in the Southwest, based on the model of the Anglican Church Institute, an impressive sounding “orthodox” group of six guys (now three) with a web site, located in Colorado. They share one computer amongst themselves. When our web site is fully operational the ECI Board of Directors will be listed there.

Part Four: Essay Question

In 50 words or less, explain why Paul’s opinions about homosexuality are as important as the Incarnation, Resurrection, Holy Baptism, and the theology of our Book of Common Prayer.


If you have gotten this far, you have scored "Excellent." If you have failed to answer over half of the questions or have failed to provide the correct answer to more than three questions, you still have scored "Excellent," as we live by Grace. Amen.

The Episcopal Majority invites you to score yourselves and post your scores, comments, and quibbles in the "Comments" section.

If you need an Official Certificate, please print the document below: we operate on the Honor System.



This certifies that _____________________ has completed the Anglican-Episcopal Literacy Quiz with a passing grade of __ and is thereby qualified for the position of (check one)

__ Deputy to The General Convention of The Episcopal Church.

__ Bishop of an Endangered Diocese of __ the North, __ the South of The Episcopal Church.

__ Official Commentor on

__ Father Jake Stops the World

__ Stand Firm in Faith

__ Titus One

__ The Episcopal Majority

__ Certified Co-Pilot for Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts-Schori

__ Other