'Christian Zionism and Jewish Extremism'

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

The Christian and a Biblical/Ethical Approach to War: What It Should Be and How the Church Went Wrong

by Bill Barnwellby Bill Barnwell
December 7, 2004

The question of war is a debate that rages hot in American culture and Christian circles today. The war in Iraq has bitterly divided the American public along sharp lines. Public opinion breaks down roughly 55/45 in terms of percentages of Americans supporting and opposing the war. It is generally understood that conservatives are more likely to support the war and liberals are more likely to oppose it. A rather interesting development is the wide support of the war from Evangelical Christians. In fact, in the run up to the war, a poll in late 2002 showed that Evangelicals were one of the most supportive segments of the population in favor of the war in Iraq.

Many ask, is this a contradiction? Are not Christians supposed to be "peacemakers" (Matt. 5:9)? Do they not worship the "Prince of Peace" (Isa. 9:6)? Most Evangelicals see no ethical dilemma or contradiction. It is the opinion of this conservative Christian, however, that the modern day Evangelical movement has become too unflinchingly supportive of military force and that this sometimes seemingly blind support runs counter to the ethical teachings of Scripture and focuses more on politics and bad theology then anything else.

This current essay will not attempt to argue for total pacifism in any and every circumstance. Only the most ardent advocate of nonresistance could never conjure up a scenario were force must be used. However, what will be argued is that modern day Christian conservatives must be much more selectivist in their support for military force, should only see it as an absolute last resort, and that if such situations did arise, view it with the utmost heartbreaking gravity.
Also, this essay will attempt to understand why Christians have deviated from the more peaceful position that was mainstream in the early church. Much of the blame, as will be demonstrated, can be laid at the feet of Christians aligning themselves too closely with the State and politics, both historically and in contemporary times. The implications of dispensationalism, a popular form of prophetic interpretation, will also be considered.
Before trying to understand the current trends in Evangelicalism, it must first be asked, what is the Scriptural teaching on war? There are honest and sincere people on both sides of the debate. Indeed, Scriptural support can be used to support both "pro-war" and "anti-war" Christian positions. While it is difficult to argue that force is absolutely never ethically necessary or just in any circumstance, a complete reading of Scripture can arguably indicate that a war which is not directed and guided by God is not God’s will. At this time, however, it would be appropriate to analyze some arguments on both sides.
Biblical Basis to Support War
The strongest reason in support of war from a Christian perspective is that, quite frankly, the Bible is full of war. All throughout the Old Testament God not only allows wars to occur, he explicitly directs the Israelites to go to battle (Num. Jos. 1:2, Jdg. 1:1-2, etc.). He approves and even demands a count for those who can serve in a standing army (Num. 1:1-4). He gives his people strength and counsel as war approaches (Jos. 1; Jdg. 20:3-4). Not only that, he frequently calls for the entire annihilation of entire people groups! (Jdg. 20:16-18, etc.). When it came to people occupying the Promised Land, God tells the Israelites "do not leave alive anything that breathes (Jdg. 20:16). In today’s terminology that is genocide.
If God could tolerate totally destroying every single living soul in a particular area – even including infants, small children, the elderly, and even animals – can He not also support taking up arms against evil dictators and nations of concern today? Also, the New Testament uses military imagery for common everyday spiritual living (Eph. 6:10-20) and ends on a climatic note of Christ waging war on His enemies (Rev. 19:11-19) and His enemies tossed into the fiery lake of burning sulfur (Rev. 19:20-21). This hardly sounds like a God who hates military strife.
If God is a "God of war" and Christ (being God in the flesh) is the "same yesterday, today and forever" (Heb. 13:8) it can be argued that war is part of God’s character. To say that God was "pro-war" in the Old Covenant and became "anti-war" at the time of the New Covenant (as some Christians appear to suggest) seems to be a violation of the immutable character of God. In fact, God is so "pro-war," particularly in the Old Testament, that many believers and skeptics alike struggle with the ethical implications of a God that commands genocide. This issue has always and continues to be a major stumbling block for skeptics, seekers, and even some confused Christians.
In fact, these Old Testament conquest stories themselves, do not seem to fit a strict reading of Christian "Just War" theory as traditionally outlined by Augustine and Aquinas. Such being the case, why should Christians themselves today tie themselves to a strict ethical approach to war that God Himself didn’t even abide by? Also, since war is such a prominent feature of the Bible, it can be argued that there should be no ethical dilemma for Christians today who are called to fight.
God not only used war to punish other nations, He used military force to punish the Israelites as well (2 Ki. 25). When the Israelites did not repent from their wickedness God used foreign people groups to conquer them. Therefore, war and force can be seen as both retributive acts against God’s chosen people and His enemies depending upon the circumstances. Either way, war seems to be part of God’s direct plan. He did not just permit war, he planned, ordained, and used it to fit His plan and purposes.
Other common reason used to support war is that God gives leaders and governments authority (Rom. 13: 1-7). Not only that, he gives the leader of these governments the authority to use the sword (Rom. 13: 4). Paul commands the people to submit to these rulers out of possible punishment and conscience (Rom. 13:5). Romans 13 is a favorite passage of those who want to show the divine authority of government and the role of the State in using the sword.
Various other arguments could be made to use to support war. For example, Abraham was blessed by Melchizedek upon returning from battle (Gen. 14:17-20). Jesus praised the faith of a Centurion (Matt. 8:5-13) and nowhere in their exchange did Christ tell the man to lay down his arms. The book of Acts records another Centurion named Cornelius as being a devout and God-fearing man (Ac. 10:2). And did not Christ Himself use force in the temple to drive out the moneychangers (Jn. 2:15). And did not the author of Hebrews praise many warriors from the Old Testament as models of faith (Heb. 11:32-34)? The answer to both questions is yes.
There are ethical arguments that can appeal to the rational senses as well. It is fairly argued that it is actually more evil not to do anything to stop an aggressive tyrant than it is to fight him in war. While war may be ugly and evil, it is more ugly and evil not to do anything. The recent example of Rwanda is cited by many as an example of this occurrence.
Only the most ardent pacifist would argue that war in terms of self-defense is also wrong. There is almost universal consensus that if a nation attacks another nation aggressively, that it has a right to defend itself. It seems to be a bit of an exegetical stretch to say that Jesus’ teaching to "turn the other cheek" (Matt. 5:39) is an absolute prohibition against a nation responding to unwarranted aggression or tyranny. Also, Jesus was not making an attempt to discuss to His audience strategies on foreign policy when He made the statement about turning the other cheek (though it is fair to say that Christians should incorporate the ethical principal in their approaches to all areas of life).
It could also be argued that failure to act and do anything in the face of unwarranted aggression or injustice is cowardly. Cowardice is an ethical vice that has been condemned by all cultures everywhere. Throughout Scripture, God is continually telling his people to "fear not" (Isa. 41:10) and admonishes His people to be "strong and courageous" (Jos. 1). The ancient Israelites were judged because of their cowardice when they were scared to go up against the Nephilim (Num. 13: 26-33) and for their failure to trust for God’s protection.
Those who argue that war is an inevitable consequence of life argue that anti-war individuals are showing cowardice by their refusal to face this reality. They also accuse war skeptics of being "utopian idealists" who fail to understand the "real world." Sure, the Bible prophesies about a day of peace (Isa. 65:25) but until Christ comes and sets up His Kingdom, war will always be an unfortunate fact of life. Therefore, Christians should just face that fact and confront evil when it comes, it is argued.
The Biblical Case to Oppose War
While the above arguments are quite persuasive at times, they fail to take many things into account and oftentimes fail to read Scripture as a whole. It would be irresponsible to simply tweezer out convenient Scriptures to build a case for any doctrine or ethical position. Scripture must always be considered in relation to other Scriptures and the parts must never be considered separately from the whole.
It simply is irresponsible to justify modern warfare by appealing to the Old Testament conquest stories. Many a preacher has made a remark to this affect to his or her congregation: "If you want to see how God feels about war, read the Old Testament!" While the OT can show that God has not been averse to using force in the past to accomplish His ends, the conquest stories are not proof texts to support modern day warfare, or at least they shouldn’t be.
The Battles of Yahweh in the Old Testament were unique to the nation of Israel and the theological goals and purposes of seeing the Israelites reclaim the Promised Land and rid themselves from all sin. There has never been another instance in history where God has directed His people to engage in warfare in the manner in which He did in those days. This was in the days when salvation was a national/ethnic matter and the Promised Land played prominently into the religious and cultural identity of God’s chosen people. Under the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34) national and ethnic boundaries were completely erased (it is acknowledged that foreigners were permitted to be adopted into Israel and fall under the Old Covenant, but the boundaries were further erased under the New Covenant).
While the Puritans believed, as do some modern day Americans, that America is "God’s country," this is not true to the extent that it was during the days of the ancient Israelites. God has been very gracious to America, but neither America nor any other country since has had the same kind of national experience and theological purpose of the ancient nation of Israel. This does not nullify the importance or inspiration of the Old Testament conquest stories in a pseudo-Marcionite manner or claim that there is no relevance to the Christian today, but it a wild exegetical leap to assert that those passages should be used to justify modern day warfare.
God was meeting His people under their cultural conditions and circumstances. Harem warfare, where everything was totally destroyed and annihilated, was a prominent feature of battle during the time of the Ancient Near East. So on one level, God was simply meeting the people where they were at and operating under their conditions of warfare. Perhaps it was also a tool to get them to pay attention since that is what the people knew and responded to. Thankfully, however, this type of warfare is no longer the standard accepted practice and society has grown from its former primitive practices. But it is not altering the immutable character of God to rightly say that He was simply meeting the people where they were at under their own cultural practices.
Secondly there is also a moral/ethical element as well that the Israelites had to be completely separated from every unholy thing. The Promised Land was to be completely pure and holy. The practices of these nations were utterly disgusting, idolatrous and evil (Duet. 7:25-26). They were to totally destroy everything amongst these wicked people groups (Duet. 7:2), including their evil idols (Duet. 7:5). If they failed to do so, then they would also be lured away by their evil ways (Duet. 7:26). The Israelites were to be different and set apart from all the wickedness around them. They were to be His treasured possession (Duet. 7:6) and were not to conform to the evil patterns of the world around them. The harem ban was the only way to achieve this driving out of evil during this time.
However, the Israelites did exactly what they weren’t supposed to do. All throughout the Old Testament they are shown as going the way of the idols and rejecting Yahweh God who had delivered them. It only took several generations for the people to completely forget about what God had taught them. When the Book of the Law was rediscovered in Judah, God had warned of impending judgment upon the land because it had almost totally forsaken His ways (2 Ki. 22-23).
Therefore, as extensive as the harem warfare was, it apparently was not enough to keep the Israelites from polluting themselves with idols and false teachings. While God today commands total separation from the evil ways of the world (I Jn. 2:15-17), He never again has instituted the kind of national and ethnic warfare that He did in the days of ancient Israel. That is because the Promised Land and the people who occupied it (or were being pushed out of it) served a unique theological purpose that has not yet been repeated.
The major applications for Christians today from the conquest stories are not that they have the right to commit genocide, but that they are to abstain and totally separate themselves from evil. Once it can be agreed upon that the Battles of Yahweh of the OT were unique and localized to the Israelites, suddenly the case for modern day warfare becomes weaker. Yet many prominent Christians and other leaders and teachers in the Church use the conquest stories as proof texts for modern day warfare. This is not a responsible hermeneutical framework for evaluating and applying Scripture to contemporary life today, an art that is supposed to be taught in basic courses on Biblical interpretation and expository preaching.
Another important item to keep in mind when examining war in the Old Testament is that war was only permissible when God was the one who was ordaining and directing the battle. When the people tried to go to war without His approval or without relying upon His strength, they failed. There is no example anywhere in Scripture of God blessing people who went to war without His approval and without His leading. Even in the NT, where Christ is showcased as a powerful and terrifying avenger on a White Horse (Rev. 19), this is the plan of God and not man. God, as the author and creator of life is the only one who has the right to take life. This is no unfair contradiction. God is the only legitimate source that can call for the taking of a life without warrant or self-defense. In all other circumstances, the 6th commandment still applies (Ex. 20:13).
When it is recognized that God is the only authorized agent who can take a life, and that He was the general of Israel’s wars, it begins to change the perspective one has on war. Also it must be stated, that while God has permitted all kinds of wars (and other evils) in human history, it does not mean that he ordained or necessarily willed it (though He can still use it and bring good from it). That is unless, of course, one is of the most militant Calvinist persuasion.
One must also study the original design and intention of God. When God created man His desire was for humanity to live in perpetual union with Him. Nowhere does Scripture indicate that violence was God’s original design and intention for humanity. Cain was judged harshly for murdering his brother Abel and not long after the earth became filled with violence and God was grieved for how wicked man had become. Injustice, unnecessary force, ungodly hatred, and other forms of unwarranted aggression are always condemned in Scripture. In fact, the whole of Scripture seems to point towards a vision of peace.
That vision of peace can be found in both the Old and New Testaments. Isaiah prophesied about a time when the "lion and the lamb would lay together" (Isa. 65:25), a rather "utopian" statement by modern "realist" standards. Even where God did command war He would sometimes lay restrictions on the types of weapons that could be used. The goal was to get the people to trust in Him rather than trusting in the strength of what was then modern weaponry (Isa. 31:3). Furthermore, Scripture looks to the crossing of the Red Sea as an ideal type battle for the Israelites, where they needed no weapons to achieve victory (Ex. 14:13-14).
Even in the Old Testament where war was prominent, the Israelites often gave their opponents conditions of surrender or offers of peace before taking up arms. Throughout Scripture, the mercy and grace of God is heavily stressed (Ne. 9:31; Lk. 6:36). All throughout history, those who wanted to repent could have repented. Had the surrounding nations repented of their ways and had the Israelites stayed faithful instead of adopting the practices of their unrepentant neighbors, even those wars would not have been necessary.
When Jesus came, he certainly did not lay out a vision of aggression and war. He said that the peacemakers were in a blessed state (Matt. 5:9). He nowhere says the same about those who are aggressive. He instructed not only against murder, but against bitterness and inner hatred (Matt. 5:21-24). And while the following section which taught against revenge certainly wasn’t a treatise on foreign policy (Matt. 5:38-42) they are indeed principals that should guide a Christians approach to the world including even global affairs.
Christ Himself did not raise a hand in defense of Himself when He was being unjustly persecuted and killed and He even prayed for those who were unjustly taking His life (Lk. 23:34). He rebuked Peter for relying on the sword. Said Jesus, "All who draw the sword will die by the sword" (Matt. 26:52b). This hardly seems a ringing endorsement of force, and in this case the force was for what seemed a righteous cause to Peter (protecting Christ, self-defense).
Peter later wrote in his first epistle that people were to repay evil with good (I Pe. 3:9). Paul likewise writes in chapter 12 in Romans that people were to repay evil with good (Rom. 12:19-21). It is interesting to note just several verses later Paul begins his discourse on the authority of rulers and the authority of rulers to use the sword. But this must also be read in balance with the statement that we must "Obey God rather than men" (Ac. 5:29).
Yes, governments have authority, but sometimes government gets it wrong. When it’s a choice between obeying the wrong dictates of government (for the purposes of this essay the hypothetical situation of Nation X telling its subjects to support an unjust war) and obeying God, then God is the higher and more ultimate authority. Those who use Romans 13 as a proof-text to impose tyrannical and authoritarian rule and unjustified warfare are misusing Scripture, and so are the preachers who use the chapter in this context (though curiously enough, Christians only seem to cite that passage when "our guys" are in office).
Relation for Today
The Bible does not give contemporary readers a set manual or standard on when it is justifiable to go to war. However, a "fair and balanced" view of the Scriptures (that’s all of them, not just isolated parts which when evaluated are not directly applicable to today) appears to indicate that Christians should strive to be people of peace. Throughout the history of Christian theology the best and most ethical approach to warfare has been the "Just War" theory which will be further explained below. The problem, however, is with modern warfare it is arguable if a truly just war is even possible (under the tenets spelled out by Augustine and Aquinas).
Whatever the case, Christians should abhor war and do whatever possible to avoid it. That did not seem to be the case when many Christian leaders and laypersons were calling for the immediate bombing of Iraq before weapons inspectors had even entered the country and before all the facts came out. In the 60’s and 70’s, it was not mainly Christians speaking out against the war in Vietnam, but rather leftist protestors (however, there was a good number of Christian objectors, but by and large, the church was at least passively supportive).
Today the need to "support the troops" (which as defined by modern-day hawks always means supporting the war itself) seems to outweigh supporting the above explained Scriptural principals and analysis. Indeed, even discussion of peace today can get one tagged as a "liberal." In certain quarters (particularly dispensational circles), any talk of peace seems immediately suspect as postponing the rapture and Armageddon.
It would be unfair and simplistic to say that all conservative Christians are warhawks or have abandoned balanced Biblical teaching on the ethics of warfare. That is certainly not the case. But there is a perception, sometimes justified, that Christians are not living up to the peaceful standards spelled out in Scripture. How did the Church get itself in its present situation?
Historical Christian Ethics of Warfare
In contrast to today’s Christian conservatives, the early church was not very supportive of taking up arms. In fact, there is little evidence at all that any Christians desired to participate in military strife for the first several centuries of the Church. There is scant evidence of Christians participating in the Roman army before the time Church and State relations were wed. Biblical studies examining tombstone inscriptions have shown that only seven tombstones out of 4,700 examined belonged to Christian soldiers. Even in that respect, it is questionable when the soldiers converted to Christianity (they could have converted while they were in the service, or even after; it is unknown). In 298 one Centurion by the name of Marcellus was executed because he refused to continue his service in the Roman army. A consensus exists that some Christians were serving in the army by the third century, but most evidence points to the fact that their numbers were small, their service was peaceful and that the general Christian community advocated peace over war.
This changed when Constantine made Christianity the official state religion. At this point sentiment began to drift more towards nationalist militarism. Now war was seen as a more noble exercise in advocacy of one’s country. It is important to keep in mind that many Anabaptists have long claimed that the Church actually began to see its decline and ethical standards erode when church and state united. If they are correct, then this could also been seen as when general Christian ethics approaching war also began to decline.
Some time afterward Augustine began to develop the "Just War" theory. This theory saw some revision in subsequent ages (mostly by Thomas Aquinas) but the essence of the teaching remains the same. There are essentially seven components: (1) Under a Just War only legitimate public authorities were allowed to declare war, (2) War could only be waged for a "just" cause, (3) The right intention must be involved (such as advancing good and avoiding evil), (4) The war could only be launched in response to an aggressor, and the action of aggression must be significant, (5) The war must be a last resort option, (6) There must be a good chance of success, and (7) The war must not produce greater evils and chaos than the evil and chaos being fought against.
As is well known, throughout Church history many wars were launched and much forced was used that did not fall within these confines. The Crusades and Inquisitions continue to be a black eye on the history of Christianity (though the full story is not always told in these matters. It is the opinion of this writer that while the Church did many bad things in those and other situations, they were not always solely at fault). Just war theory was just that – a theory. It did not always manifest itself in real life and certainly many Popes and Christians had little use for it in their political and theological disputes.
At the time of the Protestant Reformation, the Magisterial Reformers (Luther, Calvin, most initial Reformers, etc.) were not opposed to using force. In fact, many of them advocated using means of torture to punish dissidents, both Catholics and other Protestants who deviated from their points of view on everything from Biblical doctrine to political orientation. It is safe to say that that the vast majority of Christendom was not pacifistic by any means from the time of Constantine to the time of the original Protestant Reformation.
There were, however, the "Protestants of Protestantism" – the Radical Reformers (Anabaptists and later subgroups such as the Mennonites) who leaned much more towards a belief in nonresistance (many believed in total nonresistance). As was hinted above, because of their views and theological beliefs (particularly on the matter of believer’s baptism) they were often persecuted and even executed by both Catholics and Magisterial Reformers. Yet they stuck to their beliefs and their approach to the church-state relations, war and other ethical matters seemed to more mirror the early church of the first few centuries (though there is ample evidence that infant baptism was accepted and practiced during this time).
Today there remains a small segment of Protestants that remain committed to the ideals of Anabaptism, mostly in Mennonite denominations and related groups that descended from the Anabaptist movement. The denomination I belong to is a descendant of the Anabaptist movement and historically was in the "peace" camp on the issue of war. Today, while the U.S. government still recognizes the denomination as a peace-leaning denomination, that is hardly the case among most clergy and leaders. There are a small, but significant number of traditionalists that remain on the war issue, but the denomination has drifted towards the general trend of Evangelicalism and it shows in terms of the leanings of the pastoral leadership, lay membership, and denominational publications. This semi-transformation of my denomination can be seem in other groups that descended from the Anabaptist movement as well.
Trends Today
The general trend today seems to be that "conservative" leaning churches lean towards a more tolerant view towards war while the "liberal" churches a less tolerant view. This is somewhat simplistic since most Quakers and Mennonites who still hold to nonresistance (or at least a more wary view of war) are not very "liberal" in the current understanding of the word. But as was stated earlier, theologically conservative Christians were the most supportive population in favor of the war in Iraq. In fact, even after many initial war supporters abandoned support of the administration’s policy towards Iraq after insurgent attacks, intelligence failures and other errors were revealed, Evangelicals remain strong supporters of the war.
Today, sadly, Evangelicals seem eager to use military force instead of viewing it as an utter last resort as was traditionally defined by the "Just War" doctrine. It is hard to argue that Iraq, with its emphasis on pre-emptive warfare (a rather novel concept in modern day geopolitical foreign policy) falls under the rubric of a Just War as outlined above. This does not mean that a Christian could not build a good case for war in Iraq, but only that it does not seem to meet all the criteria for a Just War, or is extremely arguable at the very least. Yet Evangelicals, more so than any other group of Americans, have remained loyal to the cause.
How did early Christians go from being extremely skeptical of war to radically more tolerant? Why did more recent peace denominations drift from their Anabaptist roots to a more militaristic approach? In both instances, the opinion of this writer identifies the reason as being the Church too closely identifying itself with the State. Throughout human history war has more usually been focused on the concerns of particular nation states or tribal entities than the advancement of the gospel (even the Crusades, particularly the latter ones are suspect in this respect) or the general good. So today, to be a "good Christian" means in part to be a good citizen. To be a good citizen means to be a good patriot. To be a good patriot one must "support the troops" which in the modern lexicon of things means not only to support the well being of the soldiers, but also to support the war being fought itself.
While some would understandably object and label much of the above analysis as mere conjecture, the historical evidence seems quite plausible that the more Christians were to accept the separation between Church and State the more skeptical they were of war. The more Christian thought was and has been merged with political thought the more accepting they have been and become of war.
The Modern Day "Christian Right"
The so-called "Religious Right" today is heavily supportive of the Republican Party. This is understandable since the Democratic Party in recent years has left little room for social and economic conservatives. Yet this does not mean that "Republican" and "Good Christian" are synonymous nor does it mean that the Republican Party is always correct.
However, today more than ever Americans are divided along religious lines in terms of party loyalty. Conservative Evangelicals, by a substantial majority, belong to the Republican Party. Therefore, being a good conservative now means being a good political conservative as well. Republicans in the tradition of the "Old Right" (Taft Republicanism prior to 1954) were very suspicious of high military spending and foreign warfare. But since the demise of the Old Right, the "conservative" position of the GOP has evolved into one of heightened militarism." So since most Evangelicals are conservatives and most conservatives are Republicans, Christians have by and large bought into the militarism of the GOP.
Since the Cold War, and particular since the post-Vietnam era the Republicans have been the party that has been known as being "strong on defense." Since the 1970’s an influx of "neoconservatives" migrated from the Democratic Party over to the Republican Party because they felt the Democrats were weak on national defense and not supportive enough of the nation of Israel. The neoconservatives and the Christian Right are both strongly supportive of the nation of Israel, albeit for different reasons. While there is some overlap between the two groups, most neoconservatives support Israel for strategic geopolitical reasons, but the Christian Right does primarily for theological reasons.
The mainstream Christian Right by and large believes in the peculiar eschatological theology known as "dispensationalism." Dispensationalism believes that the modern day secular state of Israel figures into Bible prophecy and that the Jewish people are key to the ushering in of the End Times. Much of dispensationalism is built off a questionable hermeneutic of Old Testament prophecies relating to Israel and New Testament passages in the Olivet Discourses, some of Paul and the book of Revelation.
It could very well be argued that dispensationalism encourages war since it considers any talk of peace as a hindrance to the ushering in of the "End Times." On the globally contentious situation between the Israelis and Palestinians, dispensationalists are unyielding in granting the Palestinians any concessions, since the dispensationalists believe that all of the disputed land belongs to the Israelis because the "Bible says so" and because the Jews are "God’s people." This is a very debatable position and it is the opinion of this writer that such a view is Scripturally problematic based on a faulty view of the New Covenant and a bad interpretation of Bible prophecy. Many Christians would be surprised to learn that the popular views about the "end-times" have only been around for a very short period of time historically speaking and that other credible points of views exist.
Therefore, the position being taken is that political considerations and the popular wave of dispensationalism are both very much to blame for the modern day Christian conservative support for war, particularly in regards to the current conflict in Iraq. It is interesting to note, however, that in the mid and late 90’s Christian conservatives were very suspicious of military activity that was occurring. The difference then, in comparison with now, is that a Democrat was dropping the bombs instead of a Republican. Now though that Republicans run the show, and that there is a showdown in the Middle East (ancient Babylon, a favorite spot of study for dispensationalists) war fever runs high.
History Repeats Itself
Today, as in earlier days of church history, Christians are aligning themselves too closely with the affairs of the State. The early church, and radical groups throughout the church age that have distanced themselves from the affairs of the State, have all been much more suspicious of all of the State’s wars and militarism. At every point where Church and State began to mix so also has militarism increased.
With the rise of dispensationalism in the late 19th and 20th centuries, and dispensationalists primarily allying themselves with the Republican Party, antiwar sentiment continues to decline amongst mainstream Evangelicals. Also, as the Church has become more politicized it has also become more militarized. Whenever patriotism (or peculiar militaristic "love it or leave it" views of patriotism) trumps Biblicalism, the Church runs into problems. The same remains true today.
Wrapping It All Up
This essay has attempted several things. First, the proposition was stated that the conservative church today is too readily supportive of war and force. Second it was attempted to give a balanced exegetical view from Scripture regarding the issue of war. It was concluded that while a good Biblical case can be made in support of militarism, the whole of Scripture points towards peace and that war should only be an absolute last option and a sad one at that. Also, it is not a matter that should be rushed into or trumpeted as a good thing in most circumstances.
It was then shown that this more peaceful view was the position of the early church but that the church strayed from this position after several hundred years. The early peace church along with peaceful schismatic groups throughout the church age were then contrasted with more militaristic church groups. The conclusion is that too close an identification with the State, and more recently too close a relationship between Christianity and partisan politicking along with the rise of dispensationalism has lead to a more militaristic church.
It would be very unfair to say that most Christians are "pro-war" in the sense that they are happy about war or think war is something that should be eagerly anticipated (though some dispensationalists come dangerously close to this). However, the position of this essay is that many Christians need to go back and read through the Scriptures and consider a broader, more Biblically responsible view on this difficult issue. Believers should also perhaps consider the role that the State and suspect theology has played in the formulation of their doctrine and Christian ethic.
Regardless of whether one is of a pacifist, activist, or more "Just-War" perspective, all Christians should be united in desiring less bloodshed and not more, peace instead of violence, and hope instead of destruction. Sadly, whether it knows it or not, the modern day Church needs to do much better job in this area. Perhaps more sentiments expressed like this will pave the way for more dialogue and research on these complicated issues in the future for those who are interested in Biblical study and Christian ethics.
December 7, 2004

Bill Barnwell [send him mail] is a pastor in Flushing, Michigan. He spent most of his undergraduate college career studying politics and government before feeling called to the ministry. He has completed a Master of Ministries degree and is currently working towards a Master of Arts in Theological Studies degree at Bethel College in Mishawka, Indiana.
Copyright © 2004 LewRockwell.com


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Mainline Protestants Challenge Israel Lobby

by Chris Moore

The Presbyterian Church recently came under fire for its decision to employ a human rights tactic on behalf of Palestinians that it once used to encourage racial reform in apartheid South Africa: the process of divestment – in this case, from companies that profit from Israel's brutal occupation of Palestinian territories.

The divestment process was set in motion by the PC-USA's 216th General Assembly last summer. In early November, the Church's committee on socially responsible investment set criteria to guide the "phased selective divestment" from corporations that profit from Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

"It is a modest attempt by one small denomination to say a word of peace and justice and hope in the middle of continuing mind-numbing violence and human suffering," the Rev. John Buchanan, senior pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, recently told the Chicago Tribune.

The response was immediate – and extreme.

An anonymous letter postmarked in Queens, N.Y., was sent to the Louisville, Ky., headquarters of the Presbyterian Church USA threatening arson against Presbyterian churches in retaliation for "your anti-Israel and anti-Jewish attitudes."
According to an account of the incident issued by the Presbyterian News Service, the handwritten letter read, "I promise violence against Presbyterian Churches – They will go up in flames, bet your ass that's a terrorist threat."
The church stepped up security and notified federal authorities in Kentucky and New York.
The threat came on the heels of another letter objecting to the Presbyterians' divestment decision, this one written by Congressman Howard L. Berman (D, Calif.) and signed by 13 of his colleagues in the House of Representatives.
Using rhetoric that alternated between propaganda and hysteria, Berman and his co-signers (seven Republicans and six Democrats), claimed that, by initiating divestment from certain companies doing business in Israel, "the Presbyterian Church has knowingly gone on record calling for jeopardizing the existence of the State of Israel."
Also writing a letter, not to the church, but to the U.S. Department of Commerce, were 13 more members of Congress, urging the shutdown of any divestment campaigns affecting Israel.
According to an account of that letter issued in a Sept. 28 press release by the Zionist Organization of America (which bragged of initiating the action), the Congressmembers accused divestment organizers of violating the "anti-boycott provisions of the Export Administration Act," and demanded that the Department of Commerce "investigate the national boycott campaign against Israel, shut down the illegal divestment campaigns, and impose the appropriate penalties."
What on earth is going on here?
When members of Congress, who ostensibly work for American taxpayers, write the Department of Commerce, which also ostensibly works for American taxpayers, demanding it investigate and sanction those same taxpaying Americans for their measured opposition to the policies of a foreign power – policies often employed using U.S. taxpayer money and military hardware – the question has to be asked: who do those members of Congress think they represent, Americans or the Israeli government?
Perhaps feeding Congressional insolence – and bad judgment – is AIPAC (the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee) which openly identifies itself as "America's Pro-Israel Lobby" and is ranked by Fortune Magazine as the second most powerful lobby in Washington, behind only The American Association of Retired Persons. AIPAC has 65,000 members in 50 states, many of them in highly influential positions, and is known to generously reward Israel's Congressional partisans and ruthlessly crush those who believe the U.S. government should put American interests before those of Israel.
Well-known Congressional casualties targeted for defeat by AIPAC and other pro-Israel forces include Senators Adlai Stevenson and Charles Percy, and Reps. Paul Findley, Paul McCloskey, Earl Hilliard, and Cynthia McKinney, all of whom ran afoul of Israeli interests in one way or another and were summarily eliminated from Congress with resources that came largely from Israeli lobbies or those acting on Israel's behalf.
Adding insult to American taxpayers is the fact that the foreign power on behalf of which these Israeli-backing bullies are twisting arms is one that has been on the U.S. foreign aid dole to the tune of tens of billions dollars spanning several decades – more than any other country in the history of U.S. foreign welfare. Given the close relationship between Israel and its various lobbies in the U.S., it is highly likely that some of that money is recycled back to America to defeat those who oppose blank-check U.S. aid to Israeli.
On top of all that influence, add the heft of millions of Evangelical Rapturists, who believe their support of Israeli expansionism is hastening the conditions necessary to trigger the return of Jesus. Messianically similar to some Ultra-Orthodox Jews, who believe the Jewish Messiah won't arrive until Israel has regained the West Bank (biblical Judea and Samaria), Rapturists want to see Israel return to its biblical geography, populated by a sufficient number of Jews (who have converted to Christianity) to bring about the Second Coming.
This bizarre theology holds that prior to Armageddon, a small percentage of worthy Christians (including, presumably, those who worked to create the needed conditions) will be "raptured" halfway up to heaven where Jesus will take them the rest of the way. Most other Christians and other nonbelievers will die in the calamitous events that follow on earth, including natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare. The Evangelical Jesus will later return to earth with the raptured and destroy any remaining enemies.
Because of the turnout of millions of Evangelical voters, who were urged to the polls on behalf of George W. Bush in the latest presidential elections, it is now believed that Evangelical beliefs hold special sway within elements of the U.S. government.
Given the various forces at play, it is little wonder that a deeply-rooted Israel entitlement mentality has afflicted the Congressional psyche.
The difference, of course, is that in the past that mentality was directed primarily at defaming and dispossessing the Palestinians. But now it appears to be turning on American Presbyterians – and any other group with the effrontery to question Israeli government actions.
Unfortunately for the Congressional commissars, the Presbyterian Church and its 2.5 million members aren't going to take the government's intimidation tactics lying down.
In a spunky response to Berman's claim that the Presbyterians' actions had caused "terrible distress," the Church issued a reply through the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick citing "terrible distress" of its own.
No, Kirkpatrick didn't whine about the threats to burn down Presbyterians churches. His concern was far more selfless in nature, over "the failure of the U.S. Congress to be a balanced arbiter for peace in the region or [condemn] the illegal expansion of settlements in the West Bank."
"It has been very disappointing to us that the U.S. Congress has not proven to be an ally or a balanced arbiter in the negotiations for peace in the region," said Kirkpatrick. "While Congress has passed repeated statements against the Palestinian Authority, it has never passed a resolution condemning the continuous illegal construction of settlements in the West Bank. There has been nothing done by Congress to pressure Israel to adhere to international law. Rather, Israel has been encouraged by Congress to violate international law."
That defiant reply may signal the beginning of a new mainline Protestant movement determined to stand up to the Israeli lobby, the Evangelicals, and their minions in Congress.
Also considering divestment is the Episcopal Church, whose governing board recently resolved to "investigate what corporate actions might be appropriate with companies that contribute to the infrastructure of Israel's ongoing occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip."
Taking a more reticent approach than the Presbyterians, the Episcopalians said they would also look at companies with connections to organizations responsible for violence against Israel, and consult with, among others, the Anglican Peace and Justice Network before making any divestment decision. But based on the Anglican's recent conclusions from a fact-finding mission to Israel, the writing is on the wall.
In their September visit to Jerusalem, the Peace and Justice Network found that Israel, with the assistance of the U.S government, seems to be deliberately thumbing its nose at efforts to advance peace in the region.
"We conclude from our experience that there is little will on behalf of the Israeli government to recognize the rights of the Palestinians to a sovereign state to be created in the West Bank – which includes East Jerusalem – and Gaza," the group said in a statement issued after the visit.
"Israel, with the complicity of the United States, seems determined to flaunt international laws, whether they are the Geneva Conventions, United Nations resolutions, or the most recent decision of the International Court of Justice in declaring the separation wall illegal."
What appears to be emerging from the mainline Protestant establishment is a counterbalance to what has heretofore been the domination of U.S. government policy toward Israel and the Middle East by a religiously tormented coalition that is reckless, biased, and deeply fatalistic.
Because Israel possess up to 200 nuclear weapons, and because the Israel lobby in America seems intent on encouraging – indeed, enabling – its increasing belligerence in order to advance apocalyptic theological agendas, the emergence of a politically organized Christian counter force in America may well be all that stands between the world and self-fulfilling Armageddon prophecy.


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Milton Frihetsson, 2:30 PM | link | |