Monday, October 29, 2012

Energion Political Roundtable Question #11: Foreign Policy

Our penultimate topic is the purposefully broad topic of foreign policy and how we ought to think about that issue in light of what should be our ultimate and I would argue exclusive loyalty to the Kingdom of God. As mentioned this topic is awfully broad and more than can be properly dealt with in one blog post. I will link some of my prior posts on my main blog dealing specifically with Christians and the sword further down in this post.
One of the myriad topics that was brought up was the disaster and apparent cover-up in the handling of the Benghazi consulate attack and subsequent murder of four Americans. I think it is safe to say that the more we find out the worse it sounds, not quite to the level of Mogadishu and "Blackhawk Down" but in the same vein. It ought to go without saying that a foreign policy that puts citizens in harms way ought to be prepared to come to the aid of those citizens when necessary regardless of one's positon on warfare. This should also serve as yet another lesson in the decades long failed experiment of U.S. interventionism in the Middle East with one set of unintended consequences after another. Someday perhaps we will come to our senses and stop trying to force an American political culture onto an ancient people who are not interested in emulating our way of life. In a nutshell the Obama administration badly dropped the ball and four American died but the whole situation is part of the broader mess that is the result of American tinkering with the Middle East since the end of World War II.

The bigger question has to do with foreign policy and warfare from a Kingdom perspective, specifically how we should view American foreign policy and our involvement in war as Christians who live in America. Of all of the places where I diverge from the traditional party line among conservatives, theological and political alike, none is more stark or leads to a more visceral reaction than my theologically non-resistant and geo-politically non-interventionist (or as I call it "Constitutional") position. You would think that suggesting that Christians, even those in America, should be peacemakers who live peaceably with all men, was tantamount to heresy!

This is also a topic where we need to divide up the question because we are not talking about one issue but two. First, is war ever justified? Certainly from a secular standpoint there are cases where it is in the national interest to go to war. The declaration of war on Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor comes to mind. Given that Germany then declared war on the U.S. it naturally follows that the U.S. would get involved in the war in Europe. As I have written elsewhere, World War II is merely the continuation of World War I following a lengthy intermission (yet another example of the unintended consequences of the interventionist U.S. foreign policy) but it comes the closest to a completely justifiable war even if all of our methods are not (i.e Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki). God has clearly put the sword in the hand of Caesar and Caesar is all too happy to wield it. I can easily make a "just war" argument provided I don't bring theology into the equation.

That is fine and dandy. Caesar always has and always will go to war until all the powers and kings of the world bow before the King of Kings. That is not all that relevant to this conversation which takes place between the five of us in an intentionally Christian context. Whenever I have this conversation online regarding Christians and war and the unhealthy and unbiblical love affair with American military might that is on display daily in the church, those conversation invariably veer off into two directions. One is the "exception that overturns the rule" tactic that often revolves around a few passages like Luke 22:36 where Jesus tells His disciples to buy a sword and the examples of centurion and other soldiers who are not told explicitly during the brief recorded conversations in the New Testament to stop serving as soldiers in the armies of Rome. The other is the playing of situational ethics where the argument is centered around "Yeah, but..." where there is a tacit acceptance of what the Bible teaches followers of Christ about peacemaking and enemy love but then a situation it trotted out to put one in a position of either embracing warfare or suggesting that World War II was a bad idea, normally accompanied by "Should we have just stood by while Hitler gassed the Jews!". For my response to some of these questions, see Questioning the World War II Trump Card , The Situation Trumps The Scripture? , There Are No Right Circumstances For A Christian To Go To War and my lengthy series on Christians and the sword.

When you carve away all the rhetoric about national security and patriotism and American exceptionalism you are left with the simple and obvious fact that participating in war often means directly or indirectly taking the life of another. That is what war means in spite of efforts to paint it as noble or necessary. Those Christians who take the life of another in war fall into two categories. Either you have a Christian who is killing another Christian or you have a Christian ending the life of someone who will in turn languish for an eternity in hell. At the most basic level that is what participating in war means for the follower of Christ.

On the first category, it is without question that there are innumerable examples of Christians killing other Christians to satisfy the demands of the state. When I think about this it makes my heart ache. Jesus told His followers that people would know we were His disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35). What does the world think when it watches Christians killing one another? That we surely love each other enough to kill one another when the national interest of one nation collides with the national interest of another?

On the second category it is undeniable that Christians who serve in war are often killing the very people Jesus is sending us to evangelize. The idea that the last thing an unbeliever would see is a Christian pointing a gun at him is so disturbing that it ought to give every single Christian pause. That so many Christians don't see this as an issue (so long as the one pulling the trigger is on "the right side" of course) speaks volumes to how far we have gotten away from the teachings of Christ and how deeply the leaven of the world has gotten into the church.

Faced with those two choices I would rather face persecution in prison like Mennonites in World War I faced in America in unspeakable conditions at the hands of the U.S. government or even death before I would take up arms to kill a fellow believer or an unbeliever who is heading for an eternal hell. I can say without hesitation that actively serving in the military is incompatible with and in fact the very antithesis of the Gospel which at the core is a living example of loving our enemies.

When Jesus said we cannot serve two masters, that doesn't apply just to money. Money is just a symptom of the pull of the world on those who have been bought with a price and called to walk as He walked. When we divide up our loyalties and violate the commands of the one to satisfy the desires of another we are guilty of a grievous transgression. When we encourage others to do the same on our behalf we are just as guilty. Even when not actively participating in war, supporting war has the same basic impact without getting blood directly on our hands. It is a tragic irony that of all the religious groups in America none is more consistently and enthusiastically supportive and even encouraging when it comes to warfare than American evangelicals.
What makes this conversation so difficult are two culturally dominant assumptions that strongly influence our worldview when it comes to American foreign policy.

1. As Americans we always assume that the rest of the world is as enamoured of our foreign policy as we are and if they aren't it is because they are ignorant or evil.

2. As Christians in America we always assume that American foreign policy is in keeping with God's will even when that foreign policy results in the death of innocents. Sure Romans 13 commands us to be subject to the governing authorities but surely He didn't mean for us to apply that to countries that aren't democracies with capitalist economies!

These two assumptions, both false, are the foundations of American foreign policy and evangelical support for the same. Without setting these assumptions aside it is impossible to have a genuine and honest conversation about how the church should think and behave, first and foremost, as citizens of the Kingdom that happen to live in America. Given this reality I am starting to really question whether Christians in America can objectively and faithfully be engaged in the civic and political process at all or if we would not instead be better served by just serving and loving our neighbors. There certainly is plenty to be done for the Kingdom without getting entangled in politics and like addicts or alcoholics our only recourse might be complete abstinence.

An important additional issue to deal with is the relationship between America and Israel, a relationship that is further muddied by a confused eschatology that leads to many American Christians believing that they have a sacred obligation to seek to use American military might to "support Israel". Henry at Energion mentioned this in his question and it is perhaps the single most important factor in American foreign policy especially when looking at the relationship between the church in America and the American state. I don't have the space here to dedicate to this conversation but it is an important one.

As voters we are faced with the unenviable choice between two men with very similar foreign policies, one who has shown no hesitation in using drones to assassinate people, including an American citizen, and often beats his chest in triumph because "he got bin Laden" versus another man who promises to spend even more on American military might and seems eager to start yet another preemptive war in the Middle East. Given this choice I will be voting for a third party candidate that rejects military adventurism as foreign policy, either Gary Johnson or if possible writing in Ron Paul which is my first choice. It is a sign of the odd world of evangelical political conservatism that a man who is an actual evangelical believer, married to his first and only wife, an OB/GYN who is staunchly pro-life and as conservative as they come was rejected by Republicans because he was insufficiently pro-war.
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