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Friday, June 8, 2012

Questioning R.C. Sproul's Views On War

R.C. Sproul is a deservedly well esteemed teacher of theology and the Bible. He comes from the Reformed Tradition that is based on the theological works of St Augustine, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, and, his mentor, John Gerstner. He has built a teaching ministry called Ligonier Ministries. BTW, he is not to be confused with his son, R.C. Sproul Jr.

I must start with a disclaimer here, I have not had opportunity to review all of Sproul's statements on war. So this post will be based on partial information. I would appreciate any extra information either through the comments or email. Though the lack of information  might prevent us from reviewing his stance on war, we do have enough material to ask questions. The links we will be using are the video link that starts the series called When Worlds Collide (War Of Ideas) and a very short article called When To War. The contents of the article will be covered first.

The plusses of what Sproul said include the following:

  • An acknowledgment that there were Bible-believing Christians on both sides of the Vietnam and Iraqi Wars, these wars were referred to in article mentioned
  • That all war is a result of evil
  • A debunking of the statement, "my country, right or wrong"
  • The statement that war should be resorted to only after all other means to resolve the conflict have been tried
  • That there must be an effort to keep non-combatants from being hurt or killed
  • Referred to Just War theory and the right to self-defense


But here are some troublesome questions. Weren't Christians on the wrong side of social issues in the past? Weren't some Christians in favor of slavery in America as well as the discrimination and segregation that followed? Did not those Christians who were on the wrong side of issues need to be challenged?

This first set of questions points to the fact that Sproul failed to take names and preach repentance when he could or should have. To refrain from doing so could be an effort to talk about war while not creating a division by offending one side or the other. However, victims of the Vietnam and Iraq Wars could not help but be offended as bombs and bullets killed them or their family members and destroyed their homes and means of making a living.

We might also ask if Sproul also consulted the U.N. Charter, which talks about war and when a country can use force including preemptive attacks, as well as the Nuremberg Principles, which were the standards used to condemn the Nazis. Just War is but one reference. The U.N. Charter, which is legally binding on the U.S. because it is a ratified treaty, clearly spells out when a preemptive action can take place. The Charter also says that such action does not negate the role of the Security Council in reviewing the events so that all who use force are accountable.

The Nuremberg Principles rejected the apologetic the Nazis gave for their actions in Eastern Europe, which was a "preemptive" action to counteract an inevitable attack by Russia. This, as Chomsky has said, is different from preemptive actions in general because no attack had commenced or was imminent. Chomsky refers to such actions as anticipatory self-defense rather than being preemptive. This is important because when one examines our government's  reasons for invading Iraq, the situation and the reasons given would classify our invasion as being an example of anticipatory self-defense rather than a preemptive attack that was in the face of an ongoing or imminent attack.

So what is the point here? The point is that we can very legitimately question our invasion of Iraq as having violated international law as stipulated by past accepted documents and legal procedures, So we must ask Sproul why he wasn't willing to make an assessment on the validity of our War against Iraq? Was it because he didn't want to alienate dissident voices in the Church by supporting it, or was it because he didn't want to challenge the status quo representation in the Church by condemning it? The importance of these questions stems from the persistent charge by Leftists against the Church, that the Church is just another institution of indoctrination that supports wealth and power. The Church confirms these charges when it is silent on issues like the Iraq War.

Sproul would not be the first Reformed minister who refrained from criticizing the status quo and its use of power. My experience in listening to Reformed ministers and those who follow them is that we should not challenge institutions to repent. Rather, transformation of these institutions should be through the training of Christians who will change these institutions from the inside. And despite the fact that Jesus, his apostles, and the Old Testament prophets directly challenged the institutions of their day, some of today's Reformed preachers claim that the biblical way to change institutions is solely by shepherding the individuals who will eventually work in these institutions.


Moving on, we must address something Sproul said in the video referenced above. Towards the end of his talk, he said that the 9-11 attacks were the end of moral relativism. He makes this claim because Americans and people around the world defined, and deservedly so, the attacks on America as pure evil. But the question becomes what does that have to do with moral relativism? Are Sproul's definitions of moral relativism and moral absolutes American-centric ones?

The end of moral relativism would be better indicated if Americans called both 9-11 attacks evil. For in one of those attacks, a leftist leaning, but democratically elected, leader was militarily replaced by a brutal and ruthless dictator. America's role in that attack was one of participant rather than victim. Here, we are referring to the overthrow of the Allende government and how America helped replace it with the brutal dictatorship of Pinochet. The year was 1973.

Part of moral relativism says that the morality of an action depends on who did what to whom. That is, the moral status of an action depends on who is the victim and who is the aggressor. Thus, the one million person protest in Tehran against the 9-11 attacks was an interruption, rather than the end of, in moral relativism. We say interruption here because its end would imply that it is no longer practiced. But the practice of moral relativism continued here as many Americans defended the our invasion of Iraq by comparing what we did with what Saddam Hussein did..

Calling an act of terrorism against one's own group evil does not spell doom for moral relativism. It simply shows that moral relativism was possibly interrupted for a day.And this returns us to our concerns at the beginning. The selective criticism of evil acts and the careful choosing of criteria for defining just wars as well as withholding of criticism is for what purpose?

2 comments:

Jonathan said...

The day before the Iraq War started, RC Sproul did an excellent run-down of Just War Theory on his radio program, then ended with the clear statement, "Therefore, the Iraq War is justified because they attacked us first".

Curt Day said...

Jonathan,
Since I did not hear the show, can you tell me who Sproul meant by "they" when he said they attacked us first?