Personal security. Airport security. Homeland security. National security. Global security. Security concerns seem to dominate daily life, especially since Sept. 11, 2001. Many of us are now more careful about where and how we travel, and we pay closer attention to our surroundings when we are in public. Nationally, we have seen striking changes in U.S. policy and practice.
Military spending-less than $300 billion before Sept. 11-will swell to more than $450 billion in 2004, including the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Bush administration's preemptive war policy would have been unthinkable only three years ago-but in late 2002 and early 2003, it garnered substantial support in both houses of Congress and in U.S. public opinion polls. Greater restrictions on immigration and significant curbs on civil liberties have had particularly dramatic impact on Arab-Americans and other communities of color.
These U.S. government responses may seem natural to many. Terrorism is a terrible thing. It calls for a serious response. But have such responses been effective? Have they stopped terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies? Have they made us more secure? The answer to all these questions appears to be "No."
Christians must ask deeper questions. Are such responses consistent with God's vision of security? Do they reflect our trust in God? Do they exhibit a concern for acting justly and with compassion?
Saying that we trust God for our security is easy, but expressing this trust when we are afraid is not. When the priest Ezra was ready to lead a group of Jewish exiles back to Jerusalem in 458 B.C., he came face-to-face with this challenge. Ezra's party would be carrying valuable silver and gold vessels and offerings for the temple. The journey to Jerusalem from Babylon could well be filled with hostile forces.
Ezra worried about the group's security. He called the people to fast and to seek from God "a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our possessions" (Ezra 8:21). It was precisely at this fear-filled time that Ezra knew his faith was being tested: "For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and cavalry to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king that the hand of God is gracious to all who seek him" (v. 22).
The Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective <http://www.mennolink.org/doc/cof/art.23.html> makes a similarly bold declaration today:
"As citizens of God's kingdom, we trust in the power of God's love for our defense. The church knows no geographical boundaries and needs no violence for its protection" (Article 23).
At a time when many are tempted to assuage their security fears by trusting military might, will the church, like Ezra, practice and proclaim an alternative security vision? Perhaps we, too, should begin by fasting and seeking God. It takes great courage to live with trust in an age of fear. May the hand of God also be gracious to us.
J. Daryl Byler is director of the Washington, D.C., office of Mennonite Central Committee <http://www.mcc.org/us/washington/index.html>.