American Conservative Christians have a strange romantic attachment to war. For war not only proves our manhood, it demonstrates our goodness and our goodwill to both the free world and the oppressed as we sacrifice ourselves to defend or free them from demons, or so we think. At the same time, there seems to be a contradiction; for our nation whose religion is based on the free forgiveness of sins is quickly angered by those who even suggest that we could have our own demons. Chris Hedges has said that war giving us meaning. And it seems that, for America, we have become a war machine for global good. But another part of that meaning is that we can use the next fight to hide from the present and past.
Jean Laserre pointed out to Dietrich Bonhoeffer during their Union Seminary days that everything one does in war is a contradiction to the Gospel. That in the name of country, we excuse ourselves from our duties to the Gospel even when we slaughter and maim fellow believers. This has been a predominant part of Western history.
America has a protection from the flood of guilt and shame that comes from its part of those past wars; it is the pedestal on which we put ourselves. Our self-made stand has so far been high enough to keep us safe from the waters that swirl around us. That pedestal has another function. It has also functioned as our permission slip allowing us to participate in the next war. But if we were honest with ourselves, we would admit to having forged our parent's signature on most of those slips from the past.
Our nation's pedestal is just a bit short of the one on which God resides and so we think it is honorable to give ourselves for our country. However, if we would look in a real mirror, we would admit that the pedestal on which we have placed our country was built on the reflection we saw in a magic mirror. This mirror blocks out most of the history of the world as well as providing us with a filtered narrative of ourselves. For if we were real students of history, we would have already realized that claiming to be special, as we have continuously done since the days of our Founding Fathers, is normal.
Thus, with a very questionable duty and honor being our primary motivation, we might want to consider what Augustine wrote in the 4th chapter of his 4th book in The City Of God. One can paraphrase that chapter as saying that without justice, the only difference between a nation and a gang is size. In fact, he makes a point of saying that any gang that grows large enough becomes a nation. When we add Galations 3:28 which says that in Christ, there is no distinction between Jews and Greeks, and the numerous places where it says God is no respecter of person to Augustine's declaration, we get the idea that national identity is not necessarily something to be proud of and thus it must play second fiddle to morals and principles. Thus national identity does not excuse us from the duties that the Gospel calls us to as in the Sermon On The Mount during a time of war.
Even though God and His principles as described by His laws and His Son trumps national identity, that doesn't mean that we must forget everything about the country in which we are citizens. It does mean, however, that our first allegiance must be to the right principles and values. To place God's morals second to anything is idolatry.
If we place our highest priority on principles and values, then it would seem that we Christians are first called to be honest brokers rather than partisan participants of war. This should be regardless of whether the enemy of one's nation has a significant Christian population or not. For in war, there will be too many times when we will called to be merciless to those made in the image of God. And we should note that the motivation for starting or joining in on a war has usually been the greed and/or ambition of the leaders.
At this point, some Christians reason that though the motivations of one's country in a war may not be pure, we are still obligated to join the fray because we are to honor our civil authorities. Thus, one cannot be held responsible for the atrocities one participates in when fighting for one's country. In essence, this is like playing a game of tag with personal accountability. For you can be caught and punished for any sin you commit as an individual, but if you are in one of the right groups, you are on base regardless of how brutal you are towards others.
If we imitate God by refusing to become a respecter of persons, then we will be free to point out the virtues and wickedness of all sides involved in a conflict. The same cannot be said for participants of war. For if a participant shines a light on the moral acts of one's enemy and/or passes judgment on the iniquities of his or her own country, he or she can be charged with treason. Yet, God fears no such charge and does hold all accountable for violating His law.
Should we rush off to war when our own country enters a conflict with another country? Under no circumstances can we say yes. But that is not the same as saying that we can never participate in war. There have been just wars to participate in, even though such wars are few and far between. Also, no one who enters a war leaves as a saint. We simply can never afford to rush into battle before determining whether our nation is acting justly. For if it is not and we agree to fight, then we are doing nothing different from what any gang member would do who fights to defend or advance the interests of his or her own group.
This gang warfare mentality is what we used when entering both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Though we could cite a just reason for invading Afghanistan, we in no way can justify how it was carried out. We went into Afghanistan claiming to fight terrorism while using terrorists, the Northern Alliance, as our primary ally. In addition, questions regarding the importance of building pipelines through the country for the transportation of resources as well as the resource findings found a few years ago puts the integrity of our military intervention in serious doubt.
In contrast to Afghanistan, the Iraq invasion was, from the beginning, unjustified. Certainly Saddam Hussein was a monster, but that didn't stop us from supporting him in the 80's. In addition, the sanctions we forced on Iraq were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. Some who oversaw the sanctions quit in protest. And the rumored WMDs, the initial justification for the war, were never found. And though they are now free of Saddam, the Iraqi people have suffered tragic losses with no discernible progress towards recovery. But worse than that, we used the elimination of Saddam to justify an invasion that killed or expelled millions of Iraqis from their homes as a possible precedent for future incursions.
In the end, we are all accountable before God. But accountability is a word cut out of the dictionary of U.S. foreign policy makers regardless of the political party in power. And this should disturb any Christian participating in our current wars. Our leaders flee from accountability as Superman does from Kryptonite. Thus, any initial idea that we are acting justly is assumed rather than proved. When we consider the degree of violence we use when prosecuting any war, we are not just when assumptions permit us to rush to enlist and fight.
|This Month's Scripture Verse:|
Whoever loves money never has enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
This too is meaningless -- Ecclesiastes 5:10