Today I wanted to share a guest post from Louise Davis, who blogs at Thinking Out Loud, about the Arms Fair taking place at the ExCeL in September. Here’s how she introduces herself, and the subject:
“I’m Louise, a Londoner living in Leicester, a former youth worker, and a big fan of Jesus.
About DSEi aka the arms fair: The Defence and Security Exhibition International is a biannual trade fair for arms dealers. Not the shady, slightly cartoon-y Bond-film kind, the real-life, real-government, real-conflict kind.
I’ve written about the arms fair a couple of times on my own blog “Thinking Out Loud”, here, here and here but this is the first time I’ve tried to think Biblically about how Christians might respond. As I explain in the first of those three posts, I first heard about the arms fair when I moved to Custom House, east London, just over the road from ExCel which has hosted the event since it began on 11 September 2001. That date might ring bells for you.”
Periodically, people will ask me to sum up the Christian faith. I had to do it on my application for Baptist ministry. Occasionally the subject will come up with the young people I work with on a Sunday evening at church as they try to explain their relationship with God to friends at school. My starting point tends to be 1 John 4:16, or least the first three words of that verse.
God is love.
Actually, my temptation is always to leave it at that.
It reminds of that episode of The Weakest Link (which I increasingly think must be apocryphal since I’ve never been able to find any video evidence of it) which featured a vicar who, when asked to sum up the Christian faith, quoted a Simon and Garfunkel classic:
Here’s to you, Mrs Robinson; Jesus loves you more than you will know.
There’s not, as Anne discovered, all that much you can say to that.
Possibly surprisingly, this post wasn’t inspired by one of those conversations. I’ve been thinking for a couple of weeks that it would be good to do some kind of theological reflection around DSEi – the arms fair – a kind of guide to how Christians might respond.
Clearly, there’s plenty of stuff about war in the Bible, much of it even more appalling than the reports we hear several times a day on the news at the moment, and often in exactly the same parts of the world. There are tales of genocide, ethnic cleansing and civil wars, and that’s just the Old Testament; in the New we have infanticide, empire-building, oppressive regimes and religious persecution.
Jesus steps into that world, as he steps into ours, with the command to love your enemies.
Growing up, my sisters and I listened to some truly excellent* Christian music. Amy Grant, Kid’s Praise, World Wide Message Tribe. But pretty near the top of the list sat dc Talk. Our introduction to these titans of cool Christian hip hop came via their 1992 album Free At Last which, amongst other things, introduced me to the oratory of Martin Luther King Jnr via its sample of his ‘Free At Last’ speech. But I’d suggest the song that had the greatest impact on me was the dubiously spelt ‘Luv is a verb’, for precisely the reason that it helped me realise that love is about action. When you bear in mind that this penny-dropping moment came when I was sixteen and love was mostly all about getting a boyfriend, it was a pretty timely revelation. Slightly ironically, the song’s lyrics suggest a fairly conservative understanding of Jesus’ ministry of love in action and focus on his achievement on the cross, but even so, the phrase on its own has stood me in good stead over the years. Spelt properly, of course.
But what does this have to do with a Christian response to the arms fair? Well, loads, I’d suggest.
Jesus calls us to love our neighbour and, as anyone who’s spent any time in Sunday School will know, that doesn’t just mean the person who lives next door. The people whose lives are destroyed by the weapons that are traded at the arms fair are our neighbours; that means we have to act for them and that means climbing out of our little ‘I’m alright, Jack’ bubble. It means campaigning to stop the arms fair. It means educating ourselves and others about the realities of life for those in the world that we will never meet. It means giving financially to appeals we trust that will bring just a little bit of hope to those displaced by conflict. For some it might mean going to conflict zones or working in refugee camps. For others it means volunteering in local refugee projects here in the UK, listening to heart-breaking stories and enabling asylum seekers to navigate our complex and largely unsympathetic immigration system. It means praying for our neighbours.
And our neighbours who use arms traded at the DSEi, particularly on opposite sides of the same conflict? We need to work to understand those conflicts, many of which have complex and long-standing ethnic and religious issues at their heart. We need to support and encourage initiatives that work behind the scenes to promote and facilitate dialogue. We need to pray for those who have the ear of leaders who oppress their own people. We need to pray for our neighbours.
And our neighbours who are involved in the DSEi? I’d suggest that engaging them in a way that is respectful would be a good place to start. I’ve blogged before about the fact that I don’t think I’m really cut out for direct action, but I’m not sure that’s just a personality thing; I think it’s also borne out of a conviction that maintaining the moral high ground and not stooping to the level of the person you’re in conflict with has very real merit. Then again, Jesus wasn’t averse to a little bit of direct action when circumstance called for it so perhaps it is just me. We need lobby our MPs and the ministers involved in the arms fair and let them know how we feel – remember, our taxes contribute to this event, be it through the salaries of MOD staff who are involved or through the cost of policing. We need to pray for our neighbours.
God is love. And love is a verb.
* It’s possible that I’m using the phrase ‘truly excellent’ slightly tongue in cheek. I’ll leave you to decide.