What good is the United Nations? Should a Christian support it? These two questions at the present time receive very different answers from Christian people.
One group is frankly and outspokenly antagonistic. The United Nations has no Christian basis, it is purely secular, and it is heading for world government. Therefore, the Western, so-called Christian nations, should pull out.
At the other extreme are people who hold quite a different view. To their way of thinking the United Nations is a bulwark of peace for it obliges the nations to discuss their mutual differences, and helps to bring better living conditions to the “have-nots” of the world. Christians, they hold, should support it wholeheartedly because it is doing what Christianity demands: practicing the love of one’s neighbor.
A Christian Criticism
Neither of these views, however, seem to be completely valid. The United Nations, like any other human institution, must be looked at critically from the Christian point of view. It has possibilities of great good, but it also has possibilities of great evil, so that one can never voice absolute praise or absolute condemnation. Rather one must endeavor to see its good points, its bad points, and even speak for points which might be improved.
Since the United Nations is primarily a political institution, we might begin our evaluation by recalling the Christian evaluation of political government in general. The basic biblical datum is that all civil government is the creation of God (Rom. 13:1 f.). It exists not for the purpose of preaching the Gospel or administering the sacraments but to maintain peace and justice, that men may be able to live upon this earth with at least a certain amount of personal and economic security. This is true of all governments, whether or not they recognize even the existence of God. An evil government usually is the result of evil in the body politic, but it is still the creation of God, subordinate to his purpose which is the working of his will to his ultimate glory.
Consequently, the Christian must recognize government, both his own and that of another country, as a divine creation existing under the rule of God. Concerning this, Paul exhorts (1 Tim. 2:1, 2) Christians to pray for their rulers that they may do that which is right for the preservation of peace. At the same time, however, the Christian has an obligation to oppose any attempt of the civil magistrate to go outside the proper bounds of his sphere of activity, that is, to interfere in spheres which pertain to other aspects of life, such as the church and the family. If these areas are intruded upon, the Christian then has the right and even the duty both passively and actively to resist, for his first duty is to obey Christ who is Creator and Lord over all spheres of life. Thus in spite of any threats of suffering or of death, the Christian’s duty is first to Him who is over all rulers and magistrates.
When we apply this touchstone to the United Nations, we must first of all ask what are the UN’s present objectives? By the charter of 1945 it appears that two basic purposes are involved: the maintenance of international equity and peace, if necessary by the use of force, and the solution of the nations’ economic, social, and cultural problems, without any infringement of national sovereignty. In both these fields the UN has so far achieved desired aims. With some success it has dealt with conflicts in Korea, the Near East and other areas, while at the same time it has exercised a beneficial influence in helping men to better their material position in this world. Thus although it has not done all that it might in either field, it has a number of accomplishments to its credit.
On the other hand it has also had its failures, as in the case of the Hungarian revolt; and there remains the danger of similar tragedies in the future. At the present time the UN is a forum for discussion, but if it contents itself with mere talk, or if one unprincipled group of nations should gain control it might well become an instrument of world-wide oppression. Even if this did not happen, but it simply degenerated into a sort of international Donneybrook Fair with every nation or small group of nations seeking its own advantage irrespective of the rights of others, it might become a monster powder keg which would bring destruction instead of peace and security. Like any other human organization it may deteriorate into a gigantic instrument of evil rather than of good. Until it does, however, one must take it as it is.
Negative And Positive
In this state of affairs, it would seem that the Christian’s attitude to the UN should be both negative and positive. He should oppose, for instance, any attempt of UNESCO to interfere in matters beyond its proper sphere of activity. He should be very distrustful of any motion on the part of the UN to interfere in a member country’s internal affairs. If the Western nations ever agreed to such actions, they would lay themselves wide open to UN intervention for the establishment of communism, should Russia and her satellites ever gain even a temporary majority. In other words, were the UN to become a super-state, it would be dangerous not only to national sovereignty but to individual human liberty.
At the same time the Christian should have a positive attitude towards this international parliament. He should not in any sense deny that the United Nations has achieved much for mankind generally. He should recognize that by the common grace of God it has and can continue to maintain a modicum of world peace. Similarly it has been instrumental in bringing material help to millions of people suffering from poverty, hunger, disease, and ignorance. Some have maintained that this has played into the hands of the Communists, but that is not the fault of the UN. Rather it is due to the lack of foresight by some of those who purport to lead the West.
Many Christians feel, of course, that there is still plenty of room for improvement, and with this most people, be they Christian or not, would heartily agree. Some believe that the first requirement is to force Russia and her allies to leave the UN. Others hold that a better idea would be to let Red China in so that she could speak for herself rather than have Russia act as her mouthpiece. There are plenty of other Communist nations in the UN, they maintain, so that there seems to be no reason for opposing the seating of Red China. Added to these assertions are the plans of the World Federalists and others who are seeking some changes in the United Nations’ charter.
The Believer’S Duty
What then is the Christian’s responsibility in all of this? It would seem that the ordinary Christian must realize that his first duty is to be as good a citizen as possible of his own country. What is more, he should realize that he is responsible to take an active part in his nation’s political life. He should endeavor to see that his country does its part and strives to act in a truly Christian way when dealing with others. This does not mean that he should favor the sentimentality and romanticism which often passes for Christianity in international relations, but rather he should call for firm realism which alone can see how Christian love may be made effective.
To be specific, he should oppose any attempt to hand over to the UN the responsibility for his nation’s defense. That is the national government’s responsibility which it cannot evade. Indeed, he should be very distrustful if, on the pretense of relying on the UN, the government should reduce its military forces to the point where defense would be impossible. This was what happened to the democratic powers in the 1930s with disastrous results, and it should not happen again. Only as the individual nations fulfill their obligations faithfully in matters of military preparedness will the UN be able to help maintain peace. In the economic and social spheres the same principles apply, for the UN can accomplish no more than the states composing it wish and are capable of accomplishing.
Yet in all of this the Christian has equally great responsibility in recognizing that Christ is still Lord over the United Nations. He has the duty of praying in faith for its leaders, the members of the Security Council—even the Russians—that they may do that which is just and true. Too often Christians are ready to criticize and carp, but they are completely unwilling to pray with heart and soul for those who hold in their frail hands the political, economic and physical destinies of the world’s people.
The Christian, on the other hand, may never place his ultimate trust and hope in human institutions, for none are absolute. They change and alter in the movement of time. Consequently, although the United Nations has the responsibility today of bringing peace that men may dwell together without fear, the Christian does not expect that, even under the most favorable circumstances, it will be entirely successful. Peace only comes when man truly has peace within, which means peace with God. For this reason, the Christian’s greatest contribution to the UN’s efforts toward peace is the bearing of a faithful witness to the grace of God in Christ. Yet even this will not bring perfect and absolute peace upon this earth, for that will come only when Christ has returned as Lord of lords and King of kings.
W. Stanford Reid is Associate Professor of History at McGill University, Montreal. He holds the Ph.D. degree from University of Pennsylvania. His published writings include the book Problems in Western Intellectual History Since 1950.
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