Faith and War

A friend of mine, who is Chair of the Economics Department, invited me to speak to the students and faculty at the University of Dallas (where the Veterans for Peace convention was that I spoke at the day before I went to Crawford on August 6th, 2005), which is a small, non-culturally or non-racially diverse, Catholic college.

Surprisingly, my friend Sam, received little protest over inviting me, but there was a “Support the Troops” rally in the room next to where I spoke. Some Camp Casey friends accidentally went into that room and only heard the speaker call me names like “scum” and he called the rest of the people at my event “peace fairies.”

I was heartened to find the first three rows of my speech were filled with young people who were smiling and vigorously nodding their heads at everything I said. Most of the audience clapped or laughed in the right places so I was feeling pretty good. However, I was a little sad when there were some snide snickers when I had the unmitigated gall to call Iraqis “human beings.”

During the “Q and A” part, the first question I received amazed me. Now, I was raised Protestant and received an excellent training in the Christian scriptures and I know after being a Catholic for 25 years and a Catholic youth minister for nine of those years, that the average Catholic does not know a great deal about the Bible as most of their religious training is in the tenets of the Catholic faith. Here’s how many Catholics quote scripture: “It’s somewhere in the Bible,” when, in my experience, many times they are actually quoting: “Poor Richard’s Almanac.”

An emphasis on the biblical support for the teachings of the church was never used as long as I taught in the church using the approved teaching materials of the church, but the depth of ignorance of Jesus of Nazareth exhibited in the first question still had the ability to astonish me.

The question printed neatly on a 3 by 5 index card was: “How do you reconcile your progressive ideals with your faith?” I answered the question that Jesus cared about the poor. He admonished us to “feed the hungry” “clothe the naked” “heal the sick” “visit those imprisoned.” Jesus performed a stunning feat of civil disobedience by over-turning the tables of the moneychangers in the temple and was subsequently executed by the Empire of his time. Jesus was the ultimate progressive radical. Jesus’ name is exploited by our materialistic society at Christmas time when he changes from the right-wing Christian warmonger to the “Prince of Peace.”

Jesus welcomed the “least of these” to his table. He didn’t exclude sinners, lepers or prostitutes who were the pariahs of his day. Today, I am convinced that if Jesus returned he would welcome gays and non-white people (even “illegal” immigrants) to commune with him. The only people I ever heard Jesus speak badly about were the “brood of vipers” (Mt 3:7) that were the Sadduccees (Democrats?) and Pharisees (Republicans?) who in the parable, with hypocritical piety, walked right by the man who had been beaten, robbed and left by the side of the road to die without helping him and they turned his “Father’s” house (the Temple) into a “den of thieves.” (Mt. 21:12).

My question for the questioner was: “How do you reconcile your faith with supporting war and killing?”

If Jesus came back today and was a politician, I know, because of my faith in the inherent goodness of the Universe, that he would not be a “politician” but a public servant. Jesus would be in favor of single-payer health care, solar and wind energy, unions, free post-secondary education, Social Security, fair trade, free speech, civil rights, and human rights. Jesus would be against the death penalty, torture, extremist religions that exploit His Name for profit, extremist states that exploit His Name to kill innocent people, and the ultimate crime against humanity: war.

Whether one is a Christian, Jew, Muslim, or like me now: nothing, Jesus of Nazareth and his story is still worth studying and emulating. At the risk of sounding judgemental, I have a feeling that these reactionary Christian extremists are going to be shocked when they go to meet their maker and find out that Jesus wasn’t kidding when he said “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God” (Mt 5:9) The converse of that saying is: “Cursed are the warmakers for they are not the children of God.” There is a very relevant saying of Jesus in the Bible that these self-proclaimed “Christians” should also pay closer attention to:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:43)

Wise words for everybody to strive to live up to: From presidents to college students and everyone in between.

Cindy Sheehan is the mother of Spc. Casey Sheehan who was killed in Bush's war of terror on 04/04/04. Sheehan is a congressional candidate running against Nancy Pelosi in San Francisco. You can visit her campaign website at She is the co-founder and president of Gold Star Families for Peace and The Camp Casey Peace Institute. Read other articles by Cindy, or visit Cindy's website.

6 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Tyler said on November 9th, 2007 at 12:56pm #

    I can’t help but respond to the disparity in bringing to light the biblical ignorance of the typical christian, then turning around and providing a one sided view of the Jesus character. Sure, Jesus advocated peace and love and tolerance, but Jesus also advocated division and hatred and intolerance. Indeed, I would think that if Jesus showed up in the political arena today, he’d fit right in with these very same fork tongued vipers he displayed contempt for in the quaint little tale that is the bible. He was the quintessential politician.

  2. Michael Kenny said on November 10th, 2007 at 6:32am #

    Oddly, Ms Sheehan doesn’t seem to understand the Catholic Church! Her reaction to the question is to do that most “un-Catholic”, but typically Protestant, thing: plunge into the Bible! The proper, “Catholic”, answer to the question was: “My ideas reflect the teachings of the Catholic Church as best I understand them. Both John Paul and Benedict have condemned the Iraq war. Benedict recently condemned “Marxism and unbridled capitalism”. That sounds pretty progressive to me. And if you think the last two Popes are wrong, why are you a Catholic? And while we’re at it, precisely which of my “progressive ideals” do you regard as contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church? And why?”

    With people having made a point of getting the room next door to attack her, the chances that they didn’t plant questioners at her meeting are very slight. I would guess that the questioner wasn’t a Catholic and the answer I suggest above would have totally stumped them. Ms Sheehan’s mistake was that, instead of forcing the questioner on to her territory, where she could have made mincemeat of him/her, she went on to the questioner’s territory and by so doing, lost the argument before she had uttered a single word.

  3. AJ Nasreddin said on November 10th, 2007 at 11:17am #

    Michael Kenny, sorry, I don’t quite get your point. Isn’t the Bible the basis for the Catholic Church? Does Cindy’s answer contradict Church tenets? Is Cindy supposed to be a spokesperson for the Church? Catholics cannot give their own opinions? I don’t get it.

    I rather think she made a decent arguement.

  4. Nick Cohen said on November 10th, 2007 at 2:59pm #
    AP Finally Reports Crawford Peace House Fraud

    Did Cindy Sheehan Defraud With Charity Claim?

    For at least the first seven months of its existence Cindy Sheehan’s Gold Star Families For Peace claimed to be a 501c3 tax exempt charity.

    The folks at the CPH have lost their corporate charter and are being investigated by the Texas State Comptroller’s office and the IRS. (Cindy Sheehan is also a director of the Crawford Peace House.)

  5. Dudley Sharp said on November 11th, 2007 at 5:08am #

    Jesus, against the death penalty? Hardly.

    Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ, 10/7/2000, “At no point, however, does Jesus deny that the State has authority to exact capital punishment. In his debates with the Pharisees, Jesus cites with approval the apparently harsh commandment, He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die (Mt 15:4; Mk 7:10, referring to Ex 21:17; cf. Lev 20:9). When Pilate calls attention to his authority to crucify him, Jesus points out that Pilate’s power comes to him from above-that is to say, from God (Jn 19:1 l).Jesus commends the good thief on the cross next to him, who has admitted that he and his fellow thief are receiving the due reward of their deeds (Lk 23:41). ”
    “Paul repeatedly refers to the connection between sin and death. He writes to the Romans with an apparent reference to the death penalty, that the magistrate who holds authority does not bear the sword in vain; for he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer (Rom 13:4). No passage in the New Testament disapproves of the death penalty.”
    “Turning to Christian tradition, we may note that the Fathers and Doctors of the Church are virtually unanimous in their support for capital punishment, even though some of them such as St. Ambrose exhort members of the clergy not to pronounce capital sentences or serve as executioners.”
    “The Roman Catechism, issued in 1566, three years after the end of the Council of Trent, taught that the power of life and death had been entrusted by God to civil authorities and that the use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to the fifth commandment. ”
    “Summarizing the verdict of Scripture and tradition, we can glean some settled points of doctrine. It is agreed that crime deserves punishment in this life and not only in the next. In addition, it is agreed that the State has authority to administer appropriate punishment to those judged guilty of crimes and that this punishment may, in serious cases, include the sentence of death.”
    “The Catholic magisterium does not, and never has, advocated unqualified abolition of the death penalty. I know of no official statement from popes or bishops, whether in the past or in the present, that denies the right of the State to execute offenders at least in certain extreme cases. The United States bishops, in their majority statement on capital punishment, conceded that Catholic teaching has accepted the principle that the state has the right to take the life of a person guilty of an extremely serious crime. Cardinal Bernardin, in his famous speech on the Consistent Ethic of Life here at Fordham in 1983, stated his concurrence with the classical position that the State has the right to inflict capital punishment.
    “Pope John Paul II spoke for the whole Catholic tradition when he proclaimed, in Evangelium Vitae, that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral (EV 57). But he wisely included in that statement the word innocent. He has never said that every criminal has a right to live nor has he denied that the State has the right in some cases to execute the guilty. ”

    (“The Death Penalty: A Right to Life Issue?” at
    NOTE: although Dulles makes palpable errors of fact and logic within the sections “The Purposes of Punishment” and “Harm Attributed to the Death Penalty”, it is, otherwise, a solid historical treatment of the Church and the death penalty)

  6. Andrew Bach said on December 5th, 2007 at 1:29pm #

    I must respectfully disagree with Ms Sheehan’s view that Jesus would support “single-payer health care, …free post-secondary education, social security…” I highly doubt he would be so totally for combining teachings of faith with secular government. Yes, faith forms morals and the government should use their morals when making decisions, but government is not meant to take care of us as if we were incapable of helping ourselves.
    Christ would be for cutting taxes and taking the money we no longer have to pay towards social security, free post-secondary education, etc and donate it to local charities where it will be used more effectively and efficiently.
    The Empire of Christ’s day actually participated in such things, especially in the city center at Rome. Bread and Circuses is not just a fun tagline, it literally meant the people would riot if not provided bread from the government. Yet, you say Jesus opposed this empire and acted against it. I would think that being for free entitlements would make Christ support the Roman Empire and their infant socialism.
    But what would I know about the Bible anyway? I’m just a Catholic that uses Faith and Reason to make decisions.