The First and Second World Wars highlighted the horrendous outcome when nations don’t work together but seek instead to build their own interests and empire. What was called “the war to end all wars” ended up starting the greatest mass killing of people the world had ever seen. And it didn’t end war. It began a standoff between the West and the East over many lands, including the Middle East, which today is seeing levels of suffering in human displacement never before known in history. It has also brought us to the brink of nuclear annihilation.
Therefore, at the end of the Second World War, the nations agreed to set up the organisation known as the United Nations. It was to be a place where nations could work together and also where agencies could be established to foster conditions for peace in the world, by improving the wellbeing of all people. It was recognized that peace came through social justice for the masses, rather than sectors of power withholding resources for themselves.
In other words, the United Nations was set up primarily on the message of the Old Testament Prophets. What the Prophets taught about peace, being found not in armaments, but in justice for the poor, became the very philosophy of the United Nation’s programs. This is possibly the first time in history that the world has had a formal organisation like this, with the possible exception of the earlier failed League of Nations. No one had thought of this before, at least not in the way that it was now possible. It was the result of the Christian revivals spoken of above, which impacted Western nations, being extended to the United Nation’s founding principles.
However, the idea for nations to work together in brotherhood, at least in our recent Western Christian background, was in the heart of the early Anabaptists of Europe. They decried the politicising of the gospel into warring nation states, which were either Protestant or Catholic. They claimed the Reformation didn’t go far enough, because it didn’t make us into followers of Jesus, but instead into people who continued to depend upon political power and strength of arms. They were right, but we have always, at least since Constantine, had trouble in separating Christ from our tribe and from our weapons.
So, the United Nations finally came into existence at the end of the Second World War to foster the brotherhood of nations. Today, the United Nations recognises its founding principles in the early Quaker, William Penn, the peacemaker, who developed the concept of a European Union.
A noble idea, but a great challenge. Could we really think like that, and overcome habits of thousands of years, of suspicions, propaganda, national interests and scapegoating? Maybe the journey will take us a little longer! The challenge for us today is to see that nations can live differently. The church today often denies this, based on theological notions like the total depravity of the fallen human nature. I wouldn’t deny this depravity. It is evident everywhere, and I know it in myself. But this doesn’t deny the church’s mission of transformation within this world.
Similar claims were made when Newton and Wilberforce came against the salve trade.
Slavery was how nations lived and always was. There had never before been a slave free world. People had never been seen as equal since the early church. Even the American constitution didn’t recognize it in truth. To overcome the financial interests of the world’s powers, and set slaves free, was a noble impossibility. The interests were just far too powerful. It was a silly dream. But it happened.
We face the same problem today with many issues, like the illegal arms trade, arms manufacturing, imbalance of corporate power in the world, the financial interests of nations bringing us to the brink of war. These are all financial concerns at their root. Most of the conflagrations in the world that people blame on religion are in reality not religious, but economic, nationalist and racial. Where 1 % of the world’s population owns 50 % of the world’s wealth, our problems aren’t religions, but greed.
But the point here is that if the salve trade, the main economic wealth source of the day, could be overthrown by the church, then these other issues that take peace from the world can be also. Even though people say it is impossible, because this is the way the world is, it isn’t impossible. It is only impossible if Christians think that the main concern of God is their own welfare, and not our love for each other.
Today, we are caught up in the same broil Israel was in the first century. Would they see that their divine destiny was to serve themselves, and would they see that it was to serve the nations? Will we draw back into our nationalism and self-interest, or will we seek to serve the world?