"The nation's faiths have united around messages of resolve and prudence, but if America goes to war, clergy and churchgoers may diverge as they have in past conflicts," predicts The Washington Times. "Today, Christian thinkers mostly lean to pacifism. … But the Cold War's 'holy crusade' against atheistic communism still resonates with many Christians, and people in pews usually think that defending the national interest is enough to justify a war." Really? Christian leaders mostly lean to pacifism? The Times' Larry Witham uses as an example of this widespread pacifism the "Deny Them Their Victory" statement, which has been signed by a wide spectrum of Christian leaders—including evangelical leaders like Kevin Mannoia and Ron Sider. (It is scheduled to appear as a full-age ad in The New York Times later this week.) The problem with Witham's argument is that "Deny Them Their Victory" is not a pacifist document. The closest it gets is saying, "In the name of God, we too demand that those responsible for these utterly evil acts be found and brought to justice. … But we must not, out of anger and vengeance, indiscriminately retaliate in ways that bring on even more loss of innocent life."
As evidence that it's not a pacifist document, note that it's signed by Union University's David P. Gushee, who also has an article on Beliefnet arguing for justice, not retaliation. The government, he writes, must "exercise sober restraint in whatever use of violence may be necessary to accomplish [our] goals with special attention to avoiding civilian casualties." A phrase like "whatever use of violence may be necessary" isn't exactly pacifist.
Also on Beliefnet, the Southern Baptist Convention's Richard Land (appointed by President Bush this week to sit on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom) also argues for force without vengeance. "Just-war theory was never intended to justify war. Instead, it tries to bring war under the sway of justice as understood by Christians and to ensure that war, when it does occur, is hedged about by limits to reduce its barbarity. It is to be a last resort, authorized only by legitimate civil authority. There must be limited goals, and the question of proportionality must accompany all actions. Underlying all of these criteria is the question of noncombatant immunity. No war that does not disqualify noncombatants as legitimate military targets and that does not seek to minimize collateral civilian casualties can be just."
In his Breakpoint radio commentary, Chuck Colson also appeals to just-war doctrine. "Christians need to focus attention on the issues surrounding just war," he says. "The President must respond to the terrorist attacks forcefully and quickly. The Bible teaches that the government has the power of the sword to preserve order and do justice. At the same time, the power of the sword has to be tempered by the restraints of the just war doctrine. … Today we need to be the ones who insist that the response to the terrorist attacks be proportionate, that it doesn't create a greater evil, and that civilians are not targeted."
Land and Colson apparently haven't signed "Deny Them Their Victory," but many other just-war adherents have. And it certainly seems that their arguments aren't at odds with the statement.
There are actual Christian pacifists out there, and yes, several of them have signed that statement. But they also go much further. "We believe that Jesus on the cross was an example of how we should live in the face of violence and hostility," Richard Kauffman, pastor of Toledo Mennonite Church, tells The Toledo Blade. "Jesus allowed himself to die, and absorbed in his own being the violence around him, rather than countering that violence. We believe we should pick up our cross and follow him. … For me, that's a faith statement. It's not what's most efficient or effective, but it is the core value which I have chosen to take in my own life, this commitment to not want to take someone else's life and, as a matter of fact, being more willing to die than to kill someone." And if Kauffman's name sounds familiar, it should: he previously served as associate editor of Christianity Today and still compiles our Reflections column.
New Tribes Missionary Martin Burnham turned 42 yesterday, but there was no celebration. Martin and his wife, Gracia, remain hostages of the Muslim Abu Sayyaf rebels in the Philippines. Bob Mycel, a friend of the missionaries, aired a greeting over Radio Mindanao Network: "Happy birthday, Martin, from your family and friends on your special day. Just remember that we love you and really missed you. We put your party on hold until you come home." But as the U.S. gears up for its "war on terrorism," some observers worry for the Burnhams' safety. The Abu Sayyaf is, after all, an integral part of Osama bin Laden's terrorism network. The latest news suggests that four of the nineteen September 11 hijackers had visited the Philippines last year. A war on terrorism would truly have to be a world war. Terrorism—even just restricted to that of militant Muslims or even restricted further to Osama bin Laden's network—is not limited to the Middle East.
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