The ACLU's Christian view of war
By Robert E. Meyer
In the Monday, September 18th addition of the USA Today, a Tennessee minister named Oliver Thomas wrote an op-ed column entitled "A Christian view of war." While Thomas expressed many sentiments worthy of consideration, he made a fundamental theological error in his analysis, which tends to be one of the integral components in delineating the ideology of the religious left from the religious right.
Thomas chided Christians in America for forgetting Jesus' teachings from the Sermon on the Mount. Chief among them are "Blessed are the peacemakers," "Turn the other cheek," and "Pray for your enemies." Now, I don't fault Thomas for reminding individual Christians of their spiritual duties at a time when it's easy to get "whipped up" in the spirit of vengeance, but he proceeds to apply the aforementioned Beatitudes to the conduct of state. This is a misapplication you will find in nearly every liberal (though Thomas never claims to be a liberal) criticism of George W. Bush.
In the internet forum commentary beneath the article, a respondent identified as Jim D., caught this error and articulated a rebuttal at least as well as I could have...
"...I have to disagree with his application of the Sermon on the Mount. This is how individuals are to behave, not nations, or leaders of nations. One of the primary purposes of government is to protect its citizens. If the government "turned the other cheek" when it was attacked, it would be abdicating its responsibility. When you are in leadership, the higher moral imperative is to protect, not submit. It would be akin to a police officer not arresting a rapist because the police office was personally a Christian. His civic duty trumps his personal duty..."
I have discussed this principle many times, most notably in a piece entitled "Beware of secularists quoting scripture." I stated in the piece that Bush is condemned as a theocrat for injecting his personal faith into the cultural milieu, but then chastised for not being like Mahatma Ghandi in conducting the war on terrorism.
Whenever I come across this sort of thinking, I have to wonder how these folks exegetically contend with Romans Chapter 13. The beginning of the chapter discusses the role of the state in a just society, and proscribes that the state wields the sword of wrath against the evil doer. The representative of the state acts as the derivative avenger of justice in the present, while the ultimate day of reckoning by God is held in abeyance.
Liberals frequently bring up the issue of "church and state separation," that is, "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's," but have no clue when it comes to applying this concept. I recall a taped debate at Wheaton College a few years back, between Dr. Tony Campolo and Gary Bauer. Campolo basically said that there was no real distinction in the Christian responsibilities of the church and of the state. He was scripturally mistaken.
Hopefully I have distilled the concept they espouse correctly. It seems to me that liberal Christians believe that the state has the same duty to provide compassion and charity as the church, but when it comes to cultural morality and law, the church should have no input or influence in shaping the culture. This is a schizophrenic dichotomy if I ever heard one. Liberals opt for an ideological separation of church and state, whereas conservatives cleave to the historically normative functional and jurisdictional understanding of such separation.
Thomas follows this liberal template in his piece also. At one point he tells us that the Constitution never mentions God, thus it is a secular document, and, therefore, America is a secular nation (though if not mentioning a word is the criteria, we must note that the word "secular" never appears in the Constitution either). Such logic is easily refuted, but I won't run down that rabbit trail in this piece. At another point he relates with distain that "slapping up copies of the Ten Commandments on government buildings threaten to turn us into the very sort of society we are fighting against in this new war." Just how would that happen, I wonder -- shades of Rosie O'Donnel it seems? Interestingly enough, I thought the issue with the Ten Commandments was that secularists were trying to take them off of government property, not that Christians were putting new copies up.
Intertwined within that admonition, Thomas turns around and reminds us that we must encourage our government to observe Christian ideals, which more than anything else, sound like a litany of innuendo. For example, he says we should repudiate any leader who says we have a special claim to God's blessing and purpose (God is on our side). Isn't this rather preemptive? What American leader has ever said these things? Bush has been accused of this, and so was Ronald Reagan, but when you read their quotes, you discover their detractors read with mischief in between the lines.
Thomas also says that we ought to address the root of terrorism; poverty and hopeless conditions, particularly of displaced Palestinians. Never mind that their leaders have bilked the people out of money appropriated for them, and that the U.N. has done little to serve the purpose for which it was founded. I also think the Islamic schools play formidable role in promoting a terrorist culture by indoctrination of Islamic youths. One can only wonder why wealthy Arabs can sympathize with the Palestinians by organizing terrorist attacks, but can't offer them any charitable sustenance from their vast riches.
I believe people would be happy to give sacrificially if they didn't find out later that their gifts enriched dictators, terrorists or war lords. We also must exercise stewardship over our charity, rather than just throw "pearls before swine" (a biblical principle also).
Thomas has good intentions; I'm sure, but at times struggles not to retreat into a "blame America" diatribe. He must remember, as Jim D. stated above, the primary purpose of government is the defense of the people under its sovereignty, not unconditional capitulation.
As I conclude this column, there is one more thing you should know that I have just discovered. Thomas co-authored a book with the "Rev." Barry Lynn. Thomas was allegedly quoted as saying "The American Civil Liberties Union has done more for religious liberty than many denominations." Maybe that tells us everything.
Robert E. Meyer is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.