Most people rarely change their views on a given subject over the years. Sure when we’re young, our beliefs are in the formative stages, and ideas that sound good at first, end up being discarded once the issue is looked at more deeply. Rare is the person over 40, in my opinion, who still believes the same things he or she believed when he or she was 20. Equally rare is the person over 40 who changes their mind on a given view that has been formed over the prior 20 years. While all it takes for a person in their 20s to modify their views is a little bit of maturity and life experience, it takes a paradigm shift to change the mind of a person in their 40s (or older). A person’s worldview is an elaborate set of beliefs that are interconnected and shape how a person sees the world. When a person’s worldview is challenged, get ready for an all out defense.
Why do I mention all of this and what does this have to do with the topic of Christianity and War? I mention this because I have gone through a paradigm shift recently over Christianity and war. Three years ago, I wrote an article titled What Does the Bible Say About…War. In that article I wrote:
The question now becomes why is [the War in Iraq] unpopular? There are various reasons. There are some who think the reasons why we’re at war are a pretense for more evil intentions. These people think we’re engaged in an imperialistic war to expand our influence throughout the region and to secure the vast oil fields in Iraq for the purposes of increasing the profits of the oil companies and the defense contractors who supply the military. At the expense of sounding dismissive, I think these people are misguided (to say the least). To believe this line of thinking one would have to have an inherent distrust of the government and an inherent bias against the United States. These people, whom I will refer to as the “Michael Moore” crowd (Michael Moore is the anti-war movie producer who recently released the “documentary” Fahrenheit 911), believe the U.S. government lied about the reasons for going to war, and are in fact waging an illegal war against an innocent people. Without wasting too much more time on this point of view, let me close by saying I think this viewpoint is based on loose facts, innuendo and pure speculation fueled by an anti-American worldview.
Three years ago when I wrote this, I believed (else I wouldn’t have wrote it). However, as of today, I repudiate nearly every word of this paragraph. As I have been researching the issues that are prominent in the 2012 presidential race, national security and the War on Terror are taking a prominent role in shaping the debate, especially as it pertains to the ‘threat’ of Iran. The rhetoric regarding Iran is eerily similar to the rhetoric prior to the invasion of Iraq. Then it was the ‘fact’ that Iraq had WMDs and was linked to Al Qaeda that served as the justification of that war. Now it’s the possibility that Iran may be working to building a nuclear weapon. In both cases, the sentiment is that Iran is a threat to American national security and that anybody who disagrees is anti-American.
Given the fact that none of the reasons we invaded Iraq turned out to be true, and given the fact that things in Iraq haven’t really improved, has led me to re-evaluate my position above. After my exposure to libertarianism in general and presidential candidate Ron Paul in particular, I now have a different take on war and its relationship to Christianity. Part of this has come about by looking at the consistency of my views of the government. When it came to domestic affairs, I had a healthy distrust in the ability of government to achieve the lofty social goals of the New Deal and the Great Society. In general, government is too corrupt, too dishonest and too inefficient when it comes to ending poverty and creating economic wealth. The idea that you can take money from some people and simply give it to others in an attempt to raise them out of poverty is absurd. Here’s the question I had to answer: If government cannot be trusted to handle domestic affairs honestly and efficiently, why would it be able to handle international affairs honestly and efficiently? It’s the same group of people!
Another area of disconnect that caused me to look at things differently was my advocacy for smaller, limited government. During most of the 20th century, the federal government has grown by leaps and bounds; especially the power of the executive branch. This again is seen in the growth of domestic/social programs and the vast army of federal bureaucrats. The welfare state is the growth of government in the domestic sector. However, I was for a big, robust military. The warfare state is a growth of government power an influence just as much as the welfare state. Consider the fact that as a result of 9/11, the Patriot Act (there’s nothing ‘patriotic’ about the Patriot Act) was put in place. The rhetoric of national security is one of the greatest threats to freedom and individual liberty. We sacrifice liberty for security, and end up losing both.
All this to say that I now have a healthy distrust of the government regarding the War on Terror as I do when the government gets involved in domestic issues. Government is in the business of perpetuating its own survival.
Again, what does this have to do with war and its relationship with Christianity? In that previous article, I also wrote this:
So what does the Bible say about war? In Ecclesiastes 3, the Teacher (commonly believed to be Solomon) says there is a time, or season, for everything “under the sun” (v. 1), including a time for war (v. 8). Does this mean that God condones war? I believe what it means is that there are times when war is necessary. We are a sinful people, and sinful people do sinful things. Expand this to the national level. Every country on this earth is full of sinful people, and that includes at the government level. When a nation becomes aggressive and begins to engage in a sinful war of aggression, then it becomes necessary to a) defend yourself and b) repel the aggressors.
To this I still hold. We are a sinful people and that does go all the way to the highest levels of the government (another reason to have a healthy distrust of government). There are times when one nation may act aggressively toward another, and during those times, it is perfectly justified to defend oneself against an aggressor. Therefore, war is sometimes a necessary evil, but an evil that we as Christians should seek to avoid at all costs!
During his earthly ministry, Jesus preached “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). Peace is more than just the absence of conflict, but an attitude of total well-being, both personally and communally. Jesus is pronouncing his messianic blessing upon those who work to bring peace, or shalom. The Apostle Paul echoes this sentiment when he writes, “If possible, so far as depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18). Again, the Christian is to do everything necessary to live at peace with all. Obviously, sometimes, peace will not be possible, and we may have to defend ourselves, but that is not the problem we face politically today. I see and hear many Christians (some of whom I know) advocating for our aggressive foreign policy; especially in regards to the War on Terror. Some Christians call for an aggressive stance on Iran, if not for full invasion. Why? Because of the belief that Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, wants to “wipe Israel off the face of the earth.” This was mentioned by Rep. Michelle Bachman during the last GOP presidential debate, yet this idea has been proven false; Ahmadinejad’s statements were misrepresented as this article makes clear.
Bachman isn’t alone in this sentiment. All of the GOP candidates have made similar comments save Ron Paul. What makes this sentiment outrageous is that Rep. Bachman, along with Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Rick Santorum all claim to be Christians and are courting the so-called “religious right” in their bid for the GOP nomination. The more I think on this issue, the more I believe this is completely inconsistent with Christian beliefs and principles. Christians calling for aggressive action against a foreign country is not being a “peacemaker” like Jesus calls us to be, nor is it “living peaceably” with all as Paul exhorts us to do. I don’t want to go so far as to say that their professions of faith in Christ are false, but there is a huge disconnect between their faith in Christ and their political aspirations. This is the same disconnect I see with many of the Christians I know. Most of them are politically conservative, and this has a tendency for them to be, as I often like to say, more American than Christian when it comes to political matters and foreign policy.
I know there are some who might point to the wars of conquest depicted in the OT book of Joshua. Some on the left would use this as a criticism to the cruelty and barbarity of God in ordering the wholesale slaughter of innocents. Others on the right use this as support for the just war theory or to argue that God sanctions war. To which I say a pox on both your houses. One more citation from the previous article I wrote summarizes my position on this matter:
First and foremost, a holy war (initiated and commanded by God) is not the same as a just war (initiated and carried out by man). God cannot be held to our standards—he transcends them (Isaiah 55:8-9). Secondly, God is good (Psalm 34:8) and holy (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:11) and just (Deuteronomy 32:4), therefore if he declares a holy war we can be sure it will be in accord with God’s goodness, holiness and justice. Thirdly, war is a means that God uses to pass judgment on others. Israel’s holy war against the Canaanites was an act of judgment from a holy God on a wicked, immoral people, and God reserves the right to pass judgment on mankind (Acts 17:31). God also used foreign nations to judge his wayward people (see the book of Habakkuk).
War is a result of the fall and the ultimate expression of our sinful, fallen nature. As the Apostle James write, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1). There is no biblical reason for one country to initiate a war with another country. All of the rhetoric coming from the hawkish elements within the U.S. government about the War on Terror being grounded in maintaining our national security is patently absurd. How is defending our borders accomplished with an aggressive military campaign? Put this in personal terms. I have a right to defend myself, but I don’t have a right to initiate force against people that I think might cause me harm. You cannot wage a preemptive war of self defense. The two terms are an oxymoron. I just don’t see how one can consistently say they worship the Prince of Peace and yet be in favor of our current militaristic foreign policy. War is destructive to everything that is good and decent in God’s creation.