The Gulf War was a popular war. But one year ago, on January 16, when America and its allies began bombing, I believed—and today am more convinced than ever—that no Christians, least of all evangelical Christians, should have fought in it.
The leaders of nations have long used warfare to secure their way of life against outsiders. One would expect something different from those who uphold Christ. Yet, in matters of war and peace, most still bow to Caesar and Saint Augustine. The sainted bishop broke with the New Testament and said Christians could be soldiers when a war was just. And to this day, especially when a war is popular, the churches march to a military drumbeat.
But the just-war theory undergirding all of this is both a snare and a delusion. It fools the church into routine endorsement of state violence. The theory says war must be a last resort. It must have a just cause and purpose, proceed under legitimate authority, and respect the immunity of noncombatants. It must have a good prospect of succeeding. The harm it causes must be proportional to the good achieved.
People usually embrace the particular interests of their particular nations. And for Christians who think warfare can be acceptable, the bandwagons of patriotism are hard to resist.
Clearly, my view is a minority position. Before the Gulf War began, 7,000 people filled the National Cathedral in Washington for an antiwar prayer service. After the shooting started, and the news media lapsed from criticism into hype, the questions dried up even for most believers. When 800,000 people gathered in Washington to celebrate victory, the Washington Post counted only 200 protesters.
Even if all the protesters were Christians, which is doubtful, it was a small showing. It is not clear whether it would be much larger even today, even though Saddam remains in power and the Kuwaiti people lack basic human rights. Even though Americans lost fewer than 150 soldiers, killing 100,000 Iraqis who barely resisted. Even though the bombings ravaged the Iraqi infrastructure, leaving the drinking water dirty and the public health at risk. Even though masses of children are still dying from the war’s delayed effects, including 500 every day who are five years old and under.
In their new book Lines in the Sand, Christian ethicists Alan Geyer and Barbara Green treat the Persian Gulf War as a case study in the “limitations” of the just-war argument. Using just-war’s own criteria, they raise doubts about the morality of Desert Storm. Then, recognizing the limits of the criteria, they seek to construct a “truly foundational ethic of war and peace.”
But here, like many others, Geyer and Green fall into the delusion of just-war theory. For the theory is not merely limited; it is wrong. To be truly biblical, the foundation of any ethic of war and peace must be Christ. And any ethic must confront the tradition of nonviolence associated with him.
Jesus embraced the Old Testament theme of suffering service. He rejected the use of killing force and upheld the practice of nonviolence, not to escape the world, but to transform it. And by the resurrection God declared: Jesus is the perfect picture of my will, the one true measure of the church’s way. In its conventional wisdom, the church often bypasses what Jesus said, or dismisses it. But if you take the Bible as a story whose focus and climax is Christ, the book has nothing whatever to say in favor of so-called just war.
The best way to defend and dignify humanity is to do so under God, the God made flesh in Jesus. It may be suffering service to make peace without maiming or killing the enemy. But it is God’s way of engaging human culture and changing it for the better. It should be our way, too.
By Charles Scriven, senior pastor of Sligo Seventh-day Adventist Church in Takoma Park, Maryland, and program chair of the Washington Institute for Contemporary Issues.
Speaking Out does not necessarily reflect the views of CHRISTIANITY TODAY.
U.S. Islamic Growth
The article “A Crescent for a Cross: Islam Prospers in America,” by Stan Guthrie, reproduces exaggerated, unsubstantiated claims of Islamic growth [News, Oct. 28]. Our CUNY National Survey of Religious Identification 1989 was the first scientific study to challenge recent unrealistic estimates with hard data.
We discovered that only 0.3 percent of our representative sample of 113,000 U.S. adults replied Muslim or Islamic to our question “What is your religion?” We adjusted this proportion up to 0.5 percent to account for undernumeration because of language problems. This gives a total national Muslim population of 1.4 million. Recently we have had corroboration of our findings from two other sources. The Princeton Religious Research Center’s Emerging Trends published an article headed “Where Are the Muslims in the United States?” They reported that accumulated Gallup Polls found only 0.2 percent of Muslim respondents. Furthermore, the college board has made available results from their voluntary religious question directed to SAT takers. In 1990, 942,285 high-school seniors reported their religion. Only 0.5 percent said Muslim; only 1 percent of black high-school seniors reported their religion as Muslim.
Obviously, recent trends in immigration have led to an increase in the Muslim population, and there has been some conversion among African-Americans; but it would be wise to remain skeptical of “estimates.” A major finding of the CUNY National Survey of Religious Identification was that the majority of Asian-Americans are not, in fact, adherents of Eastern religions but identify with a Christian denomination.
Prof. Barry A. Kosmin
City University of New York
New York, N.Y.
I was encouraged by the irenic tone of your article on Islam in America. It behooves us as Christians to lay aside the fruitless and centuries-old polemics that have characterized Christian-Muslim relations in order to engage in genuine dialogue wherein we might all grow in the spirit and practice of holy love. My graduate work in Islamic Studies has convinced me that our pluralistic world and suffering society need less dogmatic theology and more ethical/moral praxis.
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