Sunday, September 9, 2007

What’s “the Christian Position” on Whether or Not the U.S. Should Immediately Withdraw its Troops?

Since the publication of The Myth of a Christian Nation, many have become aware of my conviction that Jesus calls us to love our enemies and live a non-violent lifestyle. As a result, I’ve gotten invitations to speak at various peace rallies protesting the Iraq war and urging our national leaders to pull our troops out of the Iraq immediately.

I have declined all offers.

One leader in a peace organization recently wondered how I can preach non-violence and yet be unwilling to publicly urge an immediate troop withdrawal. I suspect she thought I was being inconsistent and cowardly. I don’t believe I am. So I’d like to now clarify my position, and in the process use the question of troop withdrawal from Iraq to illustrate the inherent ambiguity of political issues.

While the New Testament calls on followers of Jesus to love, bless and serve our enemies rather than use violence against them, it also acknowledges that God uses the sword-wielding capacity of governments to keep sin in check. For example, four verses after Paul tells disciples to love and serve enemies and to leave all vengeance to God (Rom. 12:17-21), he goes on to say that God orchestrates governments to exact vengeance on wrongdoers (Rom. 13:4). In other words, he’s saying that God will use governments to do things God explicitly forbids disciples of Jesus to do.

In this light, it seems to me there is in principle no inconsistency in a Christian being personally committed to non-violence and yet embracing the opinion that a particular government should in some tragic instances go to war or use violence in other contexts. (I’m not saying I personally believe this, only that there’s no inconsistency in believing this way).

For this reason, two Christians may agree that they are called to love their enemies and never use violence and yet disagree about whether in any particular instance their nation – or any nation – is doing the right thing in going to war. As with most political matters, there are a million complex factors that go into assessing whether or not a war is “justified” (though it seems to me most people usually ignore this vast complexity). And this is why two sincere, intelligent followers of Jesus who share the same core values may completely disagree about questions such as whether the U.S. should pull out of Iraq immediately.

We have to humbly respect the inherent ambiguity of political issues, including issues of war. And this is why, as a matter of principle, I cannot christen my own opinion about whether U.S. troops should get out of Iraq as soon as possible as “the Christian position.” You can believe there are “smart” and “dumb” positions on this and every other political question (yours is of course the “smart” one). But there is no distinctly “Christian” position on this.

Even on a personal level, I’ll confess that I am not convinced a speedy withdrawal from Iraq is the best thing to do. Now, I detest all violence and all war. It grieves me to the core of my being. And I’ll admit that I personally think (this is just my opinion) that the way the U.S. got involved in this particular war was perhaps the worst international blunder in U.S. history. Honestly, it has from the start left me absolutely dumbfounded.

BUT, now that we’re there, I’m not convinced we should immediately pull out. Doing so could very well create a bloodbath among warring factions that would make the present on-going bloodbath look like a small puddle. And given the fact that the U.S. helped create this mess, one could argue that we have a responsibility to stay there and try to minimize the damage. Since Iraqi lives are as valuable as U.S. lives, this is no small consideration. (On top of this, one has to consider many other factors, such as how the impression that the mighty U.S. has been defeated might embolden Islamic extremists, etc.)

Now, I could be dead wrong about everything I just said in the previous paragraph. Perhaps there are factors I haven’t given sufficient weight to in my assessment about the U.S. getting into this war and in my assessment of whether we should immediately withdraw from this war. My views do not represent “the Christian position.” But I mention them to illustrate how complex and ambiguous political issues are – especially on an international level.

In politics, a person can sometimes end up supporting something they absolutely despise. A person committed to non-violence could end up believing their nation should stay and fight!

And this massive irony is simply another reason why followers of Jesus shouldn’t think it their distinct calling to resolve political disputes; shouldn’t get overly preoccupied in political disputes; and shouldn't put any of their hope on particular ways of resolving political disputes. Our unique call is rather to individually and corporately imitate Jesus in sacrificially serving the world – including our enemies. This is where our time and energy should be spent. And this is where all of our hope for the world should be placed.

Next to the high and costly calling of following Jesus, arguing about what our nation should or should not do in Iraq amounts to little more than a distraction.

And this is why I have declined, and will continue to decline, offers to speak at anti-Iraq war peace rallies.

Pray for peace