Evangelicals and the Iraq War

I have just read a quite brilliant essay at The New York Times (of all places), written by an Evangelical Christian named Charles Marsh. It is titled "Wayward Christian Soldiers". I will copy and paste the entire article below since I think it is a very important step in looking at how American Evangelicals have erred in their support of the war and in their desire for direct political action.

Wayward Christian Soldiers

Charlottesville, Va.

IN the past several years, American evangelicals, and I am one of them, have amassed greater political power than at any time in our history. But at what cost to our witness and the integrity of our message?

Recently, I took a few days to reread the war sermons delivered by influential evangelical ministers during the lead up to the Iraq war. That period, from the fall of 2002 through the spring of 2003, is not one I will remember fondly. Many of the most respected voices in American evangelical circles blessed the president's war plans, even when doing so required them to recast Christian doctrine.

Charles Stanley, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta, whose weekly sermons are seen by millions of television viewers, led the charge with particular fervor. "We should offer to serve the war effort in any way possible," said Mr. Stanley, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention. "God battles with people who oppose him, who fight against him and his followers." In an article carried by the convention's Baptist Press news service, a missionary wrote that "American foreign policy and military might have opened an opportunity for the Gospel in the land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."

As if working from a slate of evangelical talking points, both Franklin Graham, the evangelist and son of Billy Graham, and Marvin Olasky, the editor of the conservative World magazine and a former advisor to President Bush on faith-based policy, echoed these sentiments, claiming that the American invasion of Iraq would create exciting new prospects for proselytizing Muslims. Tim LaHaye, the co-author of the hugely popular "Left Behind" series, spoke of Iraq as "a focal point of end-time events," whose special role in the earth's final days will become clear after invasion, conquest and reconstruction. For his part, Jerry Falwell boasted that "God is pro-war" in the title of an essay he wrote in 2004.

The war sermons rallied the evangelical congregations behind the invasion of Iraq. An astonishing 87 percent of all white evangelical Christians in the United States supported the president's decision in April 2003. Recent polls indicate that 68 percent of white evangelicals continue to support the war. But what surprised me, looking at these sermons nearly three years later, was how little attention they paid to actual Christian moral doctrine. Some tried to square the American invasion with Christian "just war" theory, but such efforts could never quite reckon with the criterion that force must only be used as a last resort. As a result, many ministers dismissed the theory as no longer relevant.

Some preachers tried to link Saddam Hussein with wicked King Nebuchadnezzar of Biblical fame, but these arguments depended on esoteric interpretations of the Old Testament book of II Kings and could not easily be reduced to the kinds of catchy phrases that are projected onto video screens in vast evangelical churches. The single common theme among the war sermons appeared to be this: our president is a real brother in Christ, and because he has discerned that God's will is for our nation to be at war against Iraq, we shall gloriously comply.

Such sentiments are a far cry from those expressed in the Lausanne Covenant of 1974. More than 2,300 evangelical leaders from 150 countries signed that statement, the most significant milestone in the movement's history. Convened by Billy Graham and led by John Stott, the revered Anglican evangelical priest and writer, the signatories affirmed the global character of the church of Jesus Christ and the belief that "the church is the community of God's people rather than an institution, and must not be identified with any particular culture, social or political system, or human ideology."

On this page, David Brooks correctly noted that if evangelicals elected a pope, it would most likely be Mr. Stott, who is the author of more than 40 books on evangelical theology and Christian devotion. Unlike the Pope John Paul II, who said that invading Iraq would violate Catholic moral teaching and threaten "the fate of humanity," or even Pope Benedict XVI, who has said there were "not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq," Mr. Stott did not speak publicly on the war. But in a recent interview, he shared with me his abiding concerns.

"Privately, in the days preceding the invasion, I had hoped that no action would be taken without United Nations authorization," he told me. "I believed then and now that the American and British governments erred in proceeding without United Nations approval." Reverend Stott referred me to "War and Rumors of War, " a chapter from his 1999 book, "New Issues Facing Christians Today," as the best account of his position. In that essay he wrote that the Christian community's primary mission must be "to hunger for righteousness, to pursue peace, to forbear revenge, to love enemies, in other words, to be marked by the cross."

What will it take for evangelicals in the United States to recognize our mistaken loyalty? We have increasingly isolated ourselves from the shared faith of the global Church, and there is no denying that our Faustian bargain for access and power has undermined the credibility of our moral and evangelistic witness in the world. The Hebrew prophets might call us to repentance, but repentance is a tough demand for a people utterly convinced of their righteousness.

Charles Marsh, a professor of religion at the University of Virginia, is the author of "The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice, from the Civil Rights Movement to Today."

(my italics and highlighting - OSO)


Anonymous said...

I need to state straight up that I think the whole Iraq situation is very, very muddy, and that claiming to have the only Christian position on Iraq might not be that helpful. The moral murkiness of Gulf War 2 might have been avoided if we had finished Gulf War 1 correctly! The Iraq war was a very messy business ethically, and has is a fairly unique mixture of historical and ethical concerns.

Let me focus on just 2 of them. There are 2 clauses under “Just War theory” that in my mind create some moral ambiguity regarding Gulf War 2, and maybe even demanded it.

John Stott said Christians are "to hunger for righteousness, to pursue peace, to forbear revenge, to love enemies, in other words, to be marked by the cross."

Righteousness. Justice. These are things Christians should be concerned for, especially in matters of war. I wish to state my support for OSO’s outrage that the WMD’s appear to have been political fabrications. I was deceived by these manipulations, and all those responsible should be held to account!

But my primary concern is that there are questions of justice for the Iraqi people if we had NOT embarked on GW2, and these concerns come from “Just War Theory” itself!

1/ We denied Iraq “Jus Post Bellum”.
There is a strong argument for our failure at the end of GW1. It is not enough that we freed Kuwait, it was also our duty to pursue a just end of the war with the nation of Iraq. After any reading of “Jus Post Bellum” it immediately becomes obvious… after smashing the infrastructure of the country of Iraq in war, we needed to create an environment of true peace in which the country could be rebuilt. Iraq needed to be able to properly engage the world in trade to help with reconstruction. Our failure to remove Saddam at the time, while “Just Cause” for the war was still clear, flagrantly broke the spirit of Just War Theory!

Consider the following from the

1. Proportionality and Publicity. The peace settlement should be measured and reasonable, as well as publicly proclaimed. To make a settlement serve as an instrument of revenge is to make a volatile bed one may be forced to sleep in later. In general, this rules out insistence on unconditional surrender.

2. Rights Vindication. The settlement should secure those basic rights whose violation triggered the justified war. The relevant rights include human rights to life and liberty and community entitlements to territory and sovereignty. This is the main substantive goal of any decent settlement, ensuring that the war will actually have an improving affect. Respect for rights, after all, is a foundation of civilization, whether national or international. Vindicating rights, not vindictive revenge, is the order of the day.
3. Discrimination. Distinction needs to be made between the leaders, the soldiers, and the civilians in the defeated country one is negotiating with. Civilians are entitled to reasonable immunity from punitive post-war measures. This rules out sweeping socio-economic sanctions as part of post-war punishment.
4. Punishment #1. When the defeated country has been a blatant, rights-violating aggressor, proportionate punishment must be meted out. The leaders of the regime, in particular, should face fair and public international trials for war crimes.
5. Punishment #2. Soldiers also commit war crimes. Justice after war requires that such soldiers, from all sides to the conflict, likewise be held accountable to investigation and possible trial.
6. Compensation. Financial restitution may be mandated, subject to both proportionality and discrimination. A post-war poll tax on civilians is generally impermissible, and there needs to be enough resources left so that the defeated country can begin its own reconstruction. To beggar thy neighbor is to pick future fights.
7. Rehabilitation. The post-war environment provides a promising opportunity to reform decrepit institutions in an aggressor regime. Such reforms are permissible but they must be proportional to the degree of depravity in the regime. They may involve: demilitarization and disarmament; police and judicial re-training; human rights education; and even deep structural transformation towards a minimally just society governed by a legitimate regime. This is, obviously, the most controversial aspect of jus post bellum.

Was GW2 inevitable and maybe even morally demanded of us because we did not finish the first gulf war properly?

2/ “Humanitarian intervention” is now a category of “Just War Theory” in it’s own right!
Surely the church also has a concern to "defend the weak"? Our failure to apply “Jus Post Bellum” was then compounded by our sanctions! There are many, many welfare statistics that indicate how devastating Saddam and Sanctions were in the 12 years following the first gulf war. Infrastructures that were destroyed in war could not be rebuilt in peace because of the sanctions. For one example, 500 thousand children are estimated to have died as a result of failed immunization programs. That’s our fault… our sanctions caused that! There were an extra MILLION stillborn babies due to the failed healthcare system… that’s one million extra babies than pre-war statistics. Then there are the estimates of Saddam’s police state activity and human rights violations, which some estimate to have been as high as the tens of thousands per year. It is hard to know.

So let us know consider that in addition to causing this situation ourselves, Just War Theory now also incorporates a “Humanitarian Intervention”.

[quote]How does this conception of just cause impact on the issue of armed humanitarian intervention? This is when a state does not commit cross-border aggression but, for whatever reason, turns savagely against its own people, deploying armed force in a series of massacres against large numbers of its own citizens. Such events happened in Cambodia and Uganda in the 1970s, Rwanda in 1994, Serbia/Kosovo in 1998-9 and in Sudan/Darfur from 2004 to the present. Our definitions allow us to say it's permissible to intervene on behalf of the victims, and to attack with defensive force the rogue regime meting out such death and destruction. Why? There's no logical requirement that aggression can only be committed across borders. Aggression is the use of armed force in violation of someone else's basic rights. That “someone else” might be: a) another person (violent crime); b) another state (international or “external” aggression); or c) many other people within one's own community (domestic or “internal” aggression). The commission of aggression, in any of these forms, causes the aggressor to forfeit its rights. The aggressor has no right not to be resisted with defensive force; indeed, the aggressor has the duty to stop and submit itself to punishment. If the aggressor doesn't stop, it is entirely permissible for its victims to resort to force to protect themselves—and for anyone else to do likewise in aid of the victims. Usually, in humanitarian intervention, armed aid from the international community is essential for an effective resistance against the aggression, since domestic populations are at a huge disadvantage, and are massively vulnerable, to the violence of their own state [/quote]

In closing
We went to war with Iraq justly in GW1, but failed to take the appropriate action and remove Saddam at the end of that war. This failed to apply “Jus Post Bellum” to the people of Iraq. Our application of Sanctions instead created a humanitarian disaster, one we caused by our sanctions and enabling Saddam’s regime to stay in power. A “humanitarian intervention” seems to be the only result, at least from my perspective.

But let me reiterate that I do not believe I hold the only Christian position on Iraq… it is a very muddy political situation, with a whole variety of concerns. These are my concerns, and on the balance they lead me to still favour our having gone into GW2. However, there are many, many other concerns with Iraq which will no doubt come up in other comments.

3/ Other comments

The report you have quoted raises due concerns with the theology and methodology of various American evangelicals. Again their systematic theology is suffering from an inability to process biblical theology… the unfolding nature of the bible and how the 2 Testaments relate is largely lost on them. Indeed, anything with Tim Lahaye's name on it should be burnt immediately lest ye become stained! ;-)

MikeSnow said...

The Lord’s battles, what are they? Not the garment rolled in blood, not the noise, and smoke, and din of human slaughter. These may be the devil’s battles, if you please, but not the Lord’s. They may be days of God’s vengeance but in their strife the servant of Jesus may not mingle.--Charles Spurgeon

Unknown said...

I find it more than hypocritical of those who rail against evangelicals who supported the Iraq War when they themselves voted for Obama and still support his horrific butchery of innocent unborn baby's in and out of the womb. Shame on everyone of you!

Matthew 5:8 said...

Cooley, you're using what is known as the "Comparative Virtue Excuse: "There are worse things."

Behavior has to be assessed on its own terms, not according to some comparative scale. The fact that someone's act is more or less ethical than another has no effect on the ethical nature of the topic at hand: in this case the behavior of many evangelical leaders, leading up to the Iraqi war.

"There are worse things" is not an argument; it's the desperate cry of someone who has run out of rationalizations.

MikeSnow said...

Cooley, be careful of false presumptions. I did not vote for Obama, and yes, abortion is murder.