By Dave Bohan | The New American | Apr. 9, 2012
In mid-January, a small group of self-appointed evangelical leaders met in a closed-door confab in Texas to hammer out just who they thought America’s 90 million or so broadly evangelical Christians should support in the 2012 presidential race. Following several months of contentious campaigning among a crowd of mostly indistinguishable GOP candidates — all of them mouthing a faith in God that evangelicals find irresistible — the leaders were getting nervous as they watched the Republican nomination slowly slipping away to Mormon Mitt Romney, whose liberal record and flip-flops on social issues made him an unacceptable choice in the eyes of many. There was a clear need for a “consensus candidate” around which the Christian community could rally, and that someone, predetermined even before the Texas meeting, was former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.
While it was clear that Santorum had by no means won the hearts of all the evangelicals clamoring for recognition at the meeting, Gary Bauer of American Values, himself a former presidential hopeful, noted that with what little momentum Santorum had going forward, it was time for the leaders representing the evangelical voting bloc to try “to make sure that conservative values, the sort of Reagan conservatism, continues to dominate in the Republican Party.”
The candidate anointed to carry that conservative evangelical banner forward was Santorum, whom the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins insisted “has consistently articulated the issues that are of concern to conservatives … and has woven those into a very solid platform.”
It is true that, as a Catholic, Santorum has not resonated with evangelical Christians as President George W. Bush had, who capitalized on the rhetoric unique to evangelicals, declaring that he had come to faith in Christ (through the influence of Billy Graham, no less) and was born again. Nonetheless, in the campaign Santorum has pushed the right buttons on such social issues as abortion and other pro-family values. And, perhaps more than any other candidate, he has embraced President Bush’s values on the use of America’s military might in the Middle East — values that, following the September 11 terrorist attacks, evangelical leaders convinced their followers were both Christian and patriotic.
For example, as Bush was preparing to send troops into Iraq in 2003, Senator Santorum was on board, insisting that such a move was important to halt “the rise of radical Islam.” And as the last of our troops were preparing to pull out of Iraq nearly 10 years later, Santorum was declaring the need to keep up to 30,000 troops there to ensure “stability” in the region. “When it comes to this issue,” he declared in 2011, “I stand up and say that when we engage in Iraq and Afghanistan, we engage because we want to be successful. We want victory. We want to have accomplished a national security objective for this country to make sure that we are safer. We are not on a political agenda to withdraw troops.”
Santorum: Two Wars Not Enough
Most recently, as Israel has pressured the United States to dive headlong into a military engagement in Iran to destroy that country’s nuclear program, Santorum declared that the United States “should be working with Israel right now to do what they did in Syria, what they did in Iraq, which is take out that nuclear capability before the next explosion we hear in Iran is a nuclear one, and then the world changes.”
Such was the rhetoric that President Bush used in the days and weeks after 9/11, and continued to employ in his second term, convincing his conservative constituency that a military presence in the Middle East would ensure America’s protection against the terrorist network responsible for the attacks, as well as help to establish “democracy” in the region. In his September 29, 2002 State of the Union address, the President called Iraq part of a vast “axis of evil” that harbored terrorists and secreted weapons of mass destruction it would use against America. “The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons,” declared the President, while warning that the campaign to make the world safe “may not be finished on our watch.”
Among those whose support the President sought to solidify with this rhetorical appeal to courageous and resolute action was the nation’s evangelical leadership, and he was not disappointed, as pastors, preachers, and ministry leaders around the country became his most ardent domestic allies in his evolving military campaign.
“Throughout Scripture there is evidence that God favors war for divine reasons and sometimes uses it to accomplish His will,” one high-profile television pastor, Charles Stanley, told his followers. “He has also given governments and their citizens very specific responsibilities in regards to this matter.”
Another prominent leader, the Rev. Henry Blackaby, told the evangelical news source Agape Press that “those who oppose the war to liberate Iraq need to read God’s Word.” Blackaby even went so far as to insist that the military action, which did not include a declaration of war or military authorization by Congress, was nonetheless a “just war according to biblical standards.”
The issue of “just war” was the theme of an October 3, 2002 open letter to President Bush from five prominent evangelical leaders — Richard Land, Chuck Colson, Bill Bright, D. James Kennedy, and Carl Herbster — who expressed their “deep appreciation” to the President for his “bold, courageous, and visionary leadership” in confronting the terrorist threat that (in their view) faced the nation and world in the form of Saddam Hussein and the nation of Iraq.
“We believe that your policies concerning the ongoing international terrorist campaign against America are both right and just,” the leaders assured Bush. “Specifically, we believe that your stated policies concerning Saddam Hussein and his headlong pursuit and development of biochemical and nuclear weapons of mass destruction are prudent and fall well within the time-honored criteria of just war theory as developed by Christian theologians in the late fourth and early fifth centuries A.D.”
Cheerleaders for War
Noting that under the principle of just war, “only defensive war is defensible,” the evangelical quintet assured the President that “your stated policy concerning using military force if necessary to disarm Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction is a just cause.” In hindsight, the fact that no weapons of mass destruction were ever uncovered makes this argument particularly dubious. Add the fact that Hussein, though a despicable dictator, was not connected to the 9/11 attacks and offered no demonstrable threat to the United States, the truth is that there was never any clear defensive reason for the United States to invade Iraq.
Among the encouragement the evangelical leadership offered the President was their commendation for his “just and noble intent” in taking on Saddam Hussein to pave the way for freedom for the Iraqi people. “Disarming and neutralizing Saddam Hussein is to defend freedom and freedom-loving people from state-sponsored terror and death,” they wrote.
From applauding the President’s patience in only invading Iraq as a “last resort” and his appeal to the authority of the United Nations, to his “limited goals” of “disarming the murderous Iraqi dictator and destroying his weapons of mass destruction, while liberating the Iraqi people for his cruel and barbarous grip,” the evangelical leaders unintentionally turn the just war principle on its head while endorsing Bush’s use of America’s military for foreign adventure.
As history shows, a little over two years later, Bush’s goal had evolved from finding and destroying America’s supposed enemies to nation building, as he explained in his second inaugural address that it would become the policy of the United States “to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.”
And so it has gone as the U.S. occupation of Iraq has morphed into a protracted hostile presence in Afghanistan — with Iran, Syria, and other Middle Eastern hotspots on the horizon. While Americans have become increasingly vocal in their opposition to what has become the nation’s longest active military engagement in history, a majority of evangelicals seem willing to blindly throw their support behind one of the “conservative” presidential candidates who would perpetuate the Bush doctrine of fighting “tyranny” and spreading “democracy” through global conquest. The world is a violent place, after all, and according to the interventionists, America as a global power and bastion of liberty must liberate the oppressed wherever they are. Yet this philosophy is at odds with the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which blesses peacemakers (Matthew 5:9), prioritizes what has been called the “golden rule” (Matthew 7:12), and calls believers, “as much as depends on you,” to “live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18).
Of course, the Old Testament is replete with examples of God commanding His chosen people to go to war — and they dutifully complied. God issued other commands too. When God told Abraham to kill his son Isaac, Abraham proceeded to do what God said — until God said otherwise. Obviously, the fact that God told Abraham to kill his son does not mean that other fathers would be justified in killing their own sons. The same is true of war.
Christians and Just War
With the world increasingly given to evil, as the apostle Paul prophesied it would be (2 Timothy 3), it is inevitable that even nations committed to peace will find themselves drawn toward war with nations whose goal is to destroy them. Christians have wrestled with the thorny issues of when war is justifiable from the earliest days of the church. It was to address these circumstances that the Church Fathers delineated the principles of just war, which lay out under what conditions a righteous nation may go to war (jus ad bellum), how it should wage that war righteously (jus in bello), and how it should conduct itself following the cessation of a war (jus post bellum).
The great Roman philosopher-statesman Cicero had provided a pre-Christian basis for just war principles, arguing, “The only excuse, therefore, for going to war is that we may live in peace unharmed; and when the victory is won, we should spare those who have not been blood-thirsty and barbarous in their warfare.” Most considerations of Christian Just War Doctrine begin with St. Augustine, the fifth-century bishop of Hippo in northern Africa. His arguments were much more systematically developed in the 13th century by St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologicae, and in the 16th century by Catholic scholars Francisco de Vitoria and Francisco Suarez. Protestant scholars and churchmen — including Martin Luther, John Calvin, William Tyndale, Hugo Grotius, John Locke, Charles Spurgeon, and C.S. Lewis — have likewise expounded on the necessity for Christians to apply jus ad bellum principles whenever the political powers begin beating the war drums.
“The real evils in war,” said St. Augustine, “are love of violence, revengeful cruelty, fierce and implacable enmity, wild resistance, and the lust of power, and such like; and it is generally to punish these things when force is required to inflict the punishment, that, in obedience to God or some lawful authority, good men undertake wars, when they find themselves in such a position as regards the conduct of human affairs, that right conduct requires them to act, or to make others act in this way.”
Aquinas, in his famous Summa, held that “in order that a war may be just, three things are necessary.” Those three conditions are:
In the first place, the authority of the prince, by whose order the war is undertaken; for it does not belong to a private individual to make war, because, in order to obtain justice, he can have recourse to the judgment of his superior....
In the second place, there must be a just cause; that is to say, those attacked must have, by a fault, deserved to be attacked....
In the third place, it is necessary that the intention of those who fight should be right; that is to say, that they propose to themselves a good to be effected or an evil to be avoided.
“At the very outset I want to say that whoever starts a war is in the wrong,” declared Martin Luther. “Let this be, then, the first thing to be said in this matter: No war is just, even if it is a war between equals, unless one has such a good reason for fighting and such a good conscience that he can say, ‘My neighbor compels and forces me to fight, though I would rather avoid it.’ In that case, it can be called not only war, but lawful self-defense.”
Charles H. Spurgeon, the famous 19th-century English Baptist preacher and author, warned his fellow Christians against the war spirit, noting: “The Lord’s battles, what are they? Not the garment rolled in blood, not the noise, and smoke, and din of human slaughter. These may be the devil’s battles, if you please, but not the Lord’s.”
Called to a “Higher Standard”
Dr. Charles Rice, one of America’s leading constitutional scholars and a professor emeritus at Notre Dame Law School, explained just war principles to cadets of the Notre Dame ROTC at the 2010 Military Veterans Day ceremony. After refuting the faulty arguments of pacifists, Professor Rice assured the cadets that the military profession is an honorable service that Christians may embrace, but also noted that each citizen is morally obliged to insist “that any war — or any other act of state — is subject to the higher standard of the natural law and the law of God.” He added: “The requirements for jus ad bellum, justice in going to war, are proper authority, just cause and right intention. The Catechism [of the Catholic Church] lists further details: ‘The damage inflicted by the aggressor … must be lasting, grave and certain’; war must be a last resort, with ‘all other means impractical or ineffective’; ‘there must be serious prospects of success’; and ‘the use of arms must not produce evils … graver than the evil to be eliminated.’”
In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the United States certainly had a just cause to pursue the aggressors who had perpetrated such a grave injury on the nation. An argument could also be made that we had a right intent in sending troops to Afghanistan, since al-Qaeda had attacked us on 9/11 and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan was harboring al-Qaeda. No such connection was established with Iraq, however, where the rationale for going to war was to disarm Iraq of its reputed weapons of mass destruction, based on UN resolutions.
But even in the case of Afghanistan, the President sent the country to war without the proper authorization for doing so. Under our form of government, the power “to declare war” (the language in the U.S. Constitution) is not entrusted in the hands of a Prince or a President, but is instead given to Congress. The Founding Fathers viewed Congress as being closer to the people and less likely to choose war without just cause.
Shockingly, the last time Congress declared war was World War II. Since that time, from Korea to Vietnam and all the way to our non-stop Middle East forays, America’s military actions have amounted to little more than expensive, destructive, bloody interventionist fiascos, devoid of just cause. In the case of the Iraq War, the United States was the aggressor, invading and occupying a nation that had not threatened us. That should alarm all Americans, especially those who claim Christ, the Prince of Peace, as Lord.
In 2007, Congressman Ron Paul reflected such alarm when he expressed the view that “Christ, to me, is a Man of peace. He is for peace, He is not for war. He doesn’t justify preemptive war. I strongly believe that there is a Christian doctrine of just war. And I believe this nation has drifted from that. No matter what the rationales are, we have drifted from that, and it’s very, very dangerous.... Christ came here for spiritual reasons, not secular war and boundaries and geography.... That is what I see from my God and through Christ. I vote for peace.”
How different that is from what we have heard and read over the years from many of America’s evangelical leaders, and from those they have endorsed in the coming election. As the nation races toward its next presidential cycle, we should all remain circumspect and prayerful about who will serve as America’s next Commander in Chief.
— Photo: AP Images