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Thursday, February 02, 2006

God or Country, War or Peace 

You hear the phrase "God and Country" a lot. The implicit philosophy behind the phrase is that the two are very closely tied together, and that service to God is service to your country, or vice versa.

If you haven't already seen it, here's Jennifer's comment on a similar thought:

[T]here are many who believe that democracy is a God-given right to all people, in all countries. Many Americans are under the false impression that democracy in and of itself is a religious institution and that we Americans should be the bearers of it to our foreign neighbors. Of course, these same people believe that the Constitution is a Christian document, written by Christian men, who intended this to be a Christian nation.

I agree that our nation is not a Christian nation, and that to call John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson "Christians" is to pervert the meaning of the word.

Regarding her comment on the falsity of the impression that "we Americans should be the bearers of [democracy] to our foreign neighbors," Jennifer has additional thoughts about God, governments, and the exporting of the American way in a recent post. After quoting Romans 13:1-7, she states the following:

Using this scripture as support for American imperialism, however, does not sit well with me. In the context of a discussion surrounding war, specifically the Iraq war, the passage presents an unavoidable obstacle:

If all governments have been ordained by God, what business do we have overthrowing the governments of other countries?

Can we say that God placed Saddam Hussein in power? Is he “God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer?” Does Kim Jong Il “hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong?” Are we, as Americans, commanded to submit to those authorities? If so, we’d better stop smuggling Bibles into China. We should repent of sending missionaries to teach Afghan women how to read and write in secret. And we should stop killing innocent people while trying to introduce democracy to countries where the leaders are opposed to it.

Jennifer then looks at Romans 12:18-21 and concludes:

This does not sound to me like an edict to go about deposing ruthless world leaders. It sounds like a command to win the hearts and souls of our enemies through peaceful measures whenever possible. And if those enemies attack us, we are not to attack back, but rather leave vengeance in the hands of the Lord.

I have to say that I don't exactly agree with her interpretation. Note that Romans 12:18 includes a qualifier (actually two) - "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." I'm going to start with the personal, and extend to the national, to explore when (or if) those qualifiers apply.

Let's say that you are with someone you love (spouse, child, friend) and this person is attacked. One could persuasively argue that you should not lift a hand to save your friend, painful though this may be, because God will punish the evildoer. However, I don't believe that we are commanded to do that. I appeal to Matthew 25:34-36:

Matthew 25:34-36 (New International Version)
New International Version (NIV)
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

Perhaps I'm reading too much into this here, but I believe that we are called to correct injustices, even if it means that we repel oppressors to do it. If my wife is attacked and I do nothing, does my complicity in the attack result in a sin? I personally believe that it does.

Extended from the personal to the international realm, I truly believe that the liberation of Kuwait was a "just war." In this case, a people were attacked by an enemy power and harmed because of this. A group of nations engaged in war with the sole purpose of liberating the Kuwaiti people.

David Barnes at West Point analyzed this war, beginning by quoting from Thomas Aquinas:

Among true worshipers of God those wars are looked on as peacemaking which are waged neither from aggrandizement nor cruelty but with the object of securing peace, of repressing the evil and supporting the good.

Barnes then advances another reason for war - the prevention of suffering.

Consider the atrocities committed in Bosnia, Cambodia, northern Iraq, and Rwanda.Would not the prevention of genocide and termination of “ethnic cleansing” satisfy the condition of just cause?What about the mass starvation in Somalia?It would seem that the senseless suffering of innocents in those countries would demand intervention. Could the criteria for satisfying the tenet of just cause be expanded to include gross human rights violations?I believe it should be.

From a Christian perspective, this falls under the category of "I was hungry and you gave me something to eat." If the only way to give the sufferer something to eat is to overthrow the government that is starving them, then perhaps such action is justified. I'll grant that World War II was not fought to free the Holocaust survivors, nor was the Civil War fought (at least initially) to free the slaves, but these are humanitarian justifications for these wars.

But another question needs to be addressed - will the war result in better conditions for the oppressed people? I think most people would argue that World War II resulted in better conditions for at least some of the affected nations, and that the Civil War resulted in (marginally) better conditions for the Confederate territories. And I will advance the opinion that Kuwait is better off under the monarchy than it would have been under Saddam.

Note that I'm not addressing the current Iraq war (although I personally believe that most Iraqis are better off without Saddam). In this case, I'm simply arguing that a scriptural argument can be made to engage in war to rescue oppressed people.

From the Ontario Empoblog (Latest OVVA news here)

Great job. I realize, after reading my own post here, that my wording gave the impression that I am against common sense defense and liberation. That is not the case. I quoted the passage from Romans 12 proposing pacifism in resonse to the use of Romans 13 to justify war. My point was that neither case is a correct interpretation of scripture. But that obviously didn't come across. Now, before I make an even bigger mess of things, I'm moving on!
Don't move too fast! I applaud you for raising the questions intelligently.
I'll regurgitate part of what I posted in the comments at whatbox:

"The important thing is that ALL scripture is valid for instruction, and we need to look at Romans 13, Romans 12, Matthew 25, Daniel 6, and probably a thousand other chapters to get an accurate view - and THEN we need to open ourselves to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I believe that we're all in agreement on that, despite our slightly different views."

I'll get into Daniel 6 in this blog at some point - suffice to say it's an early example of civil disobedience.
Nice post, thanks:)
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