Last night Anna and I stayed up late watching TIVO’d episodes of Monk–the only way we can generally watch TV–and at the end of the many episodes the television automatically reverted to live TV. It happened that Rambo: First Blood was on, and I watched for a few minutes, enjoying the nostalgia. Because neither Anna or I could exactly remember what the plot of First Blood was, I looked it up online, only to discover as I surfed the net, that there is a sequel to the Rambo franchise in the works entitled “John Rambo.” I watched the trailer (and the critics are right, if it makes it to the theaters with the level of realistic gore seen in the trailer, then it’s going to be one very violent film. But that’s not what really interested me…instead, I was intrigued by the plot line. The trailer, which is three and a half minutes long, lays the story out pretty well: John Rambo has escaped the problem of reintegrating with society in the US by moving to Thailand and operating a boat on the Mekong river. This part of the trailer is quiet, with Rambo leading a quiet life, fishing etc… Then some western aid workers come to him about hiring his boat to go up-river to Burma, to the ominous warning from Rambo that “Burma is a war zone.” the western aid workers it turns out are Christian missionaries, and they end up being captured and tortured by the Burmese/Myanmar military. Much violence and ethical questioning ensues. The most interesting juxtaposition was the prayer of the missionary “Lord make me an instrument of your peace” voice-over right as Rambo decapitates one of the Burmese soldiers. At one point Rambo highlights the contrast with these words: “When you’re pushed, killing is as easy as breathing…”
Now, I don’t know that I’ll watch “John Rambo”–the graphic nature of the violence in the trailer was greater than I usually watch, and I find myself less and less interested in violent movies–but I was interested in what seem to be indications of a sort of paternalism toward the Christian missionaries who, bless their hearts, thought they could do some good in such a cruel world without being more stone cold. I hear subdued versions of this in many popular justifications of war and violence and the attendant negative comments about pacifism. Most people don’t seem particularly hostile to pacifists, they just treat them with a sort of paternalistic condescension… they might as well be patting them on the head saying “Ok, you be peaceful if you want… believe that you can be in this world, but we’ll be here to protect you from the bad guys–and yourselves.” The worst–and most ironic–part of this attitude however, is that it completely disregards the fact that most of the peace churches, Mennonites and Amish for example, know exactly what they are doing when they declare their pacifism–and they live by it, just think about the Amish school shooting and its aftermath. They are certainly familiar with the ways of this world, their response is simply not to take part in it.
This is not to say that there is not also a legitimate Just War position within Christianity–certainly there is, and it is often forgotten as many mainline churches embrace a “functional pacifism” that lacks the integrity of the stance of the peace churches, it being more evidence of political leanings than anything else. But I do think that those of us who lean toward being “just warriors” need to give more credit to our brothers and sisters who take the stance of Christian non-violence out of true theological integrity. We also need to take to account the popular paradigms that would make Christians–whether just warriors or those practicing non-violence–seem naive about the realties of the world, for certainly we are not, especially our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world who lay their lives down every day for our Lord.
One thing that the tradition of Christian non-violence challenges us to do, is to look at our governments and ask the question: if I do or support this, am I supporting God or Caesar. If I am supporting Caesar, am I doing so in a way that is consistent with scriptural admonitions to obey laws etc… or am doing the modern equivalent of sacrificing to the emperor’s genius. Too often the answer as been the latter in the Church as we have found ourselves becoming not only the foot soldiers but the apologists for evils perpetrated in the name of the state. One has only to look at the weakness of the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe and it’s support for Robert Mugabe to see how easily this can happen. So we need the two stances of the Church to stand with integrity together, calling one another to account. For the traditions of Christians of non-violence which have tended to be sectarian, we can call them to continued or greater social engagement. For the just warriors, our brothers and sisters can call us to greater obedience to creed over country, and a recognition that the most important thing is serving Christ.
Perhaps no film portrays the difficulty inherent in questions of defense and violence so well as The Mission, and of course, the thing there is that it doesn’t matter which side is chosen, they all have to trust in God’s mercy. Better God than Rambo.