October 17, 2006

Is God Really Pro-War?

Memo To: Jerry Falwell, Liberty University
From: Don Emmerich
Re: Your support of the Iraq War

Mr. Falwell, I recently read an article you wrote for WorldNet Daily ("God is pro-war") in which you make various biblical arguments in favor of the war in Iraq. Although I do not question your moral integrity and good intentions, I feel that your arguments are deeply flawed. Please allow me the opportunity to explain.

In making your case for the Iraq War, you try to debunk the belief that Jesus was a pacifist. You do this by citing certain passages from the Book of Revelation in which Jesus is described as bearing a "sharp sword" and ruling nations with "a rod of iron." If I may be so blunt, Mr. Falwell, it seems to me that you’re confused here by the use of figurative language. Just as people today sometimes use figures of speech (e.g., "It’s raining cats and dogs outside"), they also used figures of speech in Jesus’ day. Yes, Revelation talks about a sharp sword coming out of Jesus’ mouth, but this is almost certainly not a literal sword but rather a symbolic reference to God’s judgment. The iron rod also seems to be symbolic, indicating that he will rule with great strength. And it’s not just me saying this, Mr. Falwell; the majority of scholars agree.

Jesus, Mr. Falwell, was certainly a pacifist. There are no biblical accounts of him using physical violence, even when he was being beaten to death by the Roman soldiers. And he repeatedly preached non-resistance. Although you referenced a passage talking about a figurative sword, you seemed to have forgotten a passage dealing with a real sword. I’m referring to John 18, where Peter draws his sword to protect Jesus from a group of soldiers. And what does Jesus do? He commands Peter to put the sword away.

You go on to talk about various times in the Old Testament when God ordered Israel to go to war against different nations. And I certainly don’t deny your interpretation of these passages. But I fail to see how they justify the Iraq War. God may have ordered Israel to fight the Philistines, but from that it certainly doesn’t follow that all acts of aggression are justified.

So when is war justified, Mr. Falwell? You seem to believe that war is justified when "God’s people" are "called to defend themselves." You also seem to believe that Americans are God’s people. If these premises are true, then it follows that America might have been justified in invading Iraq. But if I’m reading the New Testament correctly, it seems that all believers, regardless of their nationality, are God’s people. This means that neither Americas nor people of any other nationality can claim that to be God’s chosen people—for God has chosen those who believe in him, whether they are Americans or Europeans or Africans or, yes, even Iraqis.

You then attempt to justify the war by claiming that it is being fought to "defend innocent people" and that this goal is supported by Proverbs 21.15. Now I agree that defending innocent people is a worthy goal—but it’s for that very reason that I oppose the war. Did you know, Mr. Falwell, that the United States has killed far more Iraqi civilians than Saddam Hussein ever did? Did you know that the ten-year-long U.S.-led embargo against Iraq killed around 500,000 Iraqi children? Did you know that since March 2003, U.S. troops and bombs have killed over 30,000 Iraqi civilians? Did you know that many of the mass graves in Iraq contain men and women who were killed by the U.S. military?

Finally, you claim that the church has an obligation "to stop the spread of evil, even at the cost of human lives." The church is obligated to stop the spread of evil, even if this means killing people? That’s strange, Mr. Falwell, because I don’t see that principle anywhere in the New Testament. The New Testament writers tell us many things that the church is obligated to do—to proclaim the Gospel, to care for widows and orphans—but nowhere do I see an injunction to fight, let alone to kill.

I don’t doubt that you’re a well-intentioned man, but, if I may be so presumptuous, your essay seems far more influenced by The Weekly Standard than the New Testament. I suggest that you immerse yourself in the New Testament, that you learn from its wisdom. If you do, you’ll see a wonderful plan for human living, one that is, by any reasonable interpretation, completely antithetical to the Bush Doctrine of brutal, preemptive war.

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