Rethinking war in light of the "great controversy"


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By Graeme Sharrock, University of Chicago

A theme frequently sounded over the last five years in the media, amidst the "war on terror," has been the "battle for hearts and minds" in Iraq (and Afghanistan). The need for effective political, not just military, strategy in these countries has been increasingly recognized by the American public as the likely key to a successful outcome. In addition, the irony of using military force to introduce Western-style democracies in the Middle East seems to be all too tragically apparent. By now, as resurgent traditional sectarianism seems to be taking control of both countries, it might be time for Adventists to ask some new questions, in the hope of stimulating some reflection and dialogue on the relation between war, democracy, and theology.

1. The most cogent image in Adventist thought on the relation between military, political, and theological ideas, is the "great controversy", the metaphor that describes in military and political terms how the universe is ideally governed, and the social processes that various beings must undergo to become citizens of the divine government. What might the recent conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Sudan, and the former Yugoslavia, etc., suggest about large-scale views of the human-divine relationship? And conversely, what perspectives on current wars does the "great controversy" myth offer as we undergo or avoid these conflicts?

2. Are there "right" and "left" ways for Adventists to reflect about these wars? Does the "great controversy" idea, with its emphasis on extended political process, implicitly support or criticize the Bush administration's policies in Iraq and elsewhere? How, in its details, might this Adventist idea help us evaluate the approaches taken by governments toward wars and their aftermath?

3. What actions are Adventists in theatres of war around the world taking that would seem to be consistent with a "great controversy" perspective? How are Adventists in positions of political power (from New Guinea to the U.S. Congress) informed by, or consciously guided by, the theology they perceive in Adventism's master narrative?

I hope these reflections and questions can in some way encourage Spectrum readers to express their thoughts on these now urgent questions.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/4409