I have struggled with the issue of war and peace. In my heart, I am anti-war and pro-peace. I cannot condone killing others because others have killed. War does terrible things to everyone involved. And arguments for “just wars” just seem like cop-outs – ways of avoiding the call to be a peaceful people. That is the argument of my heart. But when faced with issues of genocide and oppression, my head tends to get in the way. The recent movement by ISIS in Iraq has me in angst over why we are not doing something to stop the genocide. And yet that “something” is often assumed to involve more violence or war – certainly not peace.
I wonder what Bishop Jones would have to say about this ethical debate. Born in 1880, Paul Jones, who we honor today, was born and raised in the Episcopal Church. He became a priest, serving in Utah as a missionary. In 1914 he became archdeacon and later Bishop of the Missionary District of Utah. Bishop Jones did much to expand the church’s mission stations. But as WWI began, Bishop Jones openly opposed the war. When he declared war to be “unchristian,” the press went wild. The House of Bishops investigated and declared that Bishop Jones should resign because of his antiwar sentiments. Though Bishop Jones finally caved in and resigned, he spent the next 23 years advocating for peace until he died in 1941.
I think Bishop Jones must have embraced Jesus Christ’s words from John’s gospel lesson today. Jesus Christ says, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” For Bishop Jones, he knew Jesus to be a man of peace and love. For Bishop Jones, his pursuit of peace felt like the “truth” – and in some way resigning as bishop freed him to truly follow the gospel.
For us, I think discerning an ethic of peace verses war is not simple. Issues of peace are complicated and unsettling – who can really define “truth”? The good news is – no matter what we believe about war, we know our God is a God of love. Love is a truth we can comfortably claim. Once we meditate on love, we can often find a bit more clarity. We can even come to some clarity about this contested issue of peace. Today we thank Bishop Jones, Jesus, and all those who encourage us to struggle with injustice in the world – for in the struggle, we find truth – and the truth will set us free. Amen.