This Christmas we will all sing Silent Night, most likely several times.  At least once, I imagine someone will reference the singing of this traditional carol in the midst of The Christmas Truce of 1914.  Unfortunately, that was not the last time the peace of Christ was intoned in the fog of war.  This Christmas the carol will be sung in congregations and homes, as well as in the mountains of Afghanistan and the sands of Iraq.

Many had hoped that this would not be the case with the new administration, yet twice in a week President Obama reminded the world that just as there are no atheists in fox holes, there are no pacifists in the White House.  We should not be surprised.  What more could we expect from a man whose theological and ethical outlook has been shaped by the pen of Reinhold Niebuhr?

Obama’s Oslo speech has been praised, oddly enough, by his staunchest critics as well as his progressive allies.  It has even prompted a series of reflections by theologians and ethicists on a blog hosted by The Ekklesia Project.  In the first post, Duke theologian Stanley Hauerwas summed up the fundamental problem well:

That the speech ends with appeals to love I suppose seems a good. But, again, I worry that such appeals make peace an ideal which war becomes the means to achieve.

Pacifists are often characterized as ideologues who have no sense of how the world really works.  Yet, Hauerwas helpfully shifts the terms.  Pacifists, or Non-Violent Activists, know the ways of conflict within the world.  Its just that they also are convinced that the ends justify the means.  In other words, a peace achieved by violent means is incomplete and fragile at best.  Niebuhr, and his presidential heir, have overlooked this simple truth.  Both are blinded by the modern poker game of balanced power and called bluffs which must be backed by military acuity.

Unfortunately, this realist approach to conflict overlooks the confession of faith within the Christmas carol- Christ the savior is born.  The brief peace in the European trenches of 1914 testifies to our faith:  Peace is not achieved through violent means,  but through common belief and celebration of Christ the Savior.  Sounds a bit pithy, but the bullets were overpowered by the melody of that simple carol.