Friday, March 24, 2006

Blessed Are the Warmongers

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Matt. 5:9)

Prior to the Iraq imbroglio, Richard Land compared war in a Iraq to a summertime skirmish against mosquitoes: "If you're going to deal with terrorists you can't just swat them or use insect repellent. You have to drain the swamp. Saddam Hussein is one of the major swamps. The U.S. would be doing the world a favor and acting in the best interest of future citizens of the U.S. by removing Saddam from power."

Leaving aside the fact that there was no working or collaborative relationship between the Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda, when a leading Christian ethicist can compare warfare with pest extermination, one wonders if all moral sense is lost.

Dr. Land is no backwater preacher. Educated at Princeton and Oxford, Land was called "God's Lobbyist" by Time magazine and has served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission since 1988. In that role, Land is perhaps America's most prominent Southern Baptist among movers-and-shakers in the New York-Washington corridor. He also played a prominent role among Evangelical Christians defending the Iraq war on Just War Theory grounds.

Well, it turns out that draining swamps is pretty dangerous work. So far the tally in Iraq is 2300+ dead American servicemen and more than 17,000 wounded. Unlike prior conflicts, the Pentagon has been unwilling to discuss Iraqi casualties, leaving it to independent researchers and journalists to come up with numbers. The website Iraq Bobycount puts the number of dead Iraqis between 33,000-37,000. In 2004, the medical journal Lancet put the number at 100,000, and recently, Andrew Cockburn used more sophisticated statistical analysis to arrive at a whopping 180,000. Throw in the $350 billion that has been spent so far and we've really got ourselves a good ole' swamp-drainin'.

With leaders like Dr. Land blazing away, Evangelicals have been the political foot soldiers and enablers of preemptive war in Iraq. In October 2002, nearly 7 in 10 "conservative Christians" favored military action against Iraq and despite some slippage, there remains strong support for administration policy in the Middle East. According to a recent Gallup poll, just 16 percent or Republican churchgoers who attend services once a week thought the war was a mistake.

My own denomination, the SBC, passed a resolution last June expressing "deepest gratitude and respect for our president," who "has been forced to make difficult decisions that place our servicemen and servicewomen in harm's way." Southern Baptists are also encouraged "to pray regularly for our president and to stand with him in opposing global terrorism." Presumably the admonition excludes imprecatory Psalms, though the resolution was unclear on that matter.

Clearly, Christians do have certain obligations to civil authorities. We should indeed pray for our leaders (I Tim. 2:1-2), honor their God-ordained office (I Peter 2:17, Rom. 13:7), pay taxes (Rom. 13:6-7, Matt. 22:15-21), and obey their lawful commands (Rom. 13:5, Titus 3:1).

However, I think these texts are frequently misunderstood in such a way as to leave the State free to rampage about in an unbiblical way. Paul says, "there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God" (Rom. 13:1). So even the State is established and ordained by God for the purpose of being God’s servant (deacon) "to do you good" (v. 4). In other words, the State is also under the authority of God, accountable to Him, and must rule in accordance with His divine rule as revealed in Scripture. But Scripture accords the State a very limited role, as I have argued elsewhere. "Swamp-draining" in the name of nation-building cannot be defended from Scripture.

Likewise, the duty to pray for civil leaders is indeed an affirmative command. But Paul’s point writing in the first century is that we are to pray FOR rather than TO such men. His admonition to Christians living in an age where the State frequently became God was to worship Christ rather Caesar. In short, Romans 13 must not devolve into Revelation 13.

Christians also don't read on to figure out why we are supposed to pray for our leaders. The purpose, says Paul, is that "we may lead a peaceful and quiet life." Surely living in the grip of perpetual war doesn't qualify as a peaceful and quiet life. Furthermore, it is undeniable that Christian missionaries will have a far more difficult time evangelizing in Islamic nations because of the actions of the American government and native Christians will face increasing hostility in their Islamic homelands.

There is another theological problem driving Evangelical war fever. Christians, particularly my Calvinist brethren, will argue until they are blue in the face that man is totally depraved, incapable of responding to God without the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Even in Christ, the Apostle Paul speaks in Romans 7 of our continual struggle with sin.

Throughout Scripture, civil leaders behave in ungodly ways. Exodus 1:18-21 records the account of Pharaoh commanding the Israelite midwives to kill every Jewish boy. Daniel 3 tells the story of Shadrach, Meschach and Aded-Nego and their defiance of the king when commanded to worship a false God. In Acts the disciples are arrested for preaching the Gospel. In Revelation, it is clear that "The Beast" becomes incarnate in a State.

Likewise, in today’s world, Christians have no trouble affirming that there is evil that cannot be reasoned with. Savage butchery in Rwanda or Sudan; the murderous rampages of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot; such savagery singes our consciences and Christians know that such evil lurks in the heart of man because of sin.

Yet we are completely unwilling to look in the mirror. We can’t consider the possibility that our own elites have become so thoroughly corrupted and sinful that they could engage in similar behavior. Instead, Christians are perfectly willing to centralize authority in the executive branch at the expense of the legislature, in contravention of the vision laid out by the founders, and quite frankly standing in opposition to a Christian understanding of original sin.

To take one example, Leon Podles, writing for the editors of Touchstone Magazine, wrote that Christians "can decide their government is in error and that a given war is unjust" but "the presumption is that a democratically elected government is well-intentioned." According to Podles, we should forget the Maine, the Lusitania, the Gulf of Tonkin, Wilson's promise to stay out of WWI, or Roosevelt's solemn pledge to stay out of bloody European wars. All of this and much, much more must be scuttled down the memory hole, post-haste.

Likewise, most Christians seem willing to ignore allegations of torture, warrantless search and seizure, illegal wiretappings, prison without a fair trial or any trial, and a war built on a fa├žade of false pretenses in order to prop up a Christ-professing president and his political party. Because they have bought the GOP's empty rhetoric on abortion and other social issues, Evangelical voters have become the primary political instrument wielded by the Republican establishment, a rent-a-mob that ultimately becomes a vehicle to foster globalism and meddlesome interventionism—the very ingredients producing the Islamist backlash.

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