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Backward, Christian Soldiers - by Joseph Loconte

Backward, Christian Soldiers

Wall Street Journal
November 4, 2005

Peacemaking has always been a major theme in Christianity, and pacifists a strong voice within the Christian tradition. The founder of the faith, after all, is hailed by believers as the Prince of Peace. Yet modern pacifists, for all their citations of Scripture, seem miles away from the moral insights of biblical religion.

Nowhere is this gulf more striking than in their posture toward terrorism. Despite the record of gruesome violence since 9/11, many Christian leaders still refuse to confront the radical evil of militant Islam. Just last month, for example, England's House of Bishops released a report -- "Countering Terrorism: Power, Violence and Democracy Post 9/11" -- that managed never to mention the horrific intentions of Osama bin Laden in the course of its 100 pages.

Instead, al Qaeda is likened to the Irish Republican Army. As the bishops put it: "Terrorism, however destructive, has to be understood, first of all, in political terms." The real problem, they imply, is U.S. foreign policy, and the solution is "a political settlement" that "meets some of the terrorist concerns."

Young men who blow themselves up in cafés, behead civil servants and murder women and children do not have "concerns." They have ambitions, stated openly and repeatedly. These include: the eradication of Western influence from Muslim lands; the forced conversion or elimination of alleged infidels; the use of nuclear weapons against civilian populations; and the establishment of a Taliban-like empire extending from Iraq to Indonesia.

Any religious critique of terrorism that fails to acknowledge these ambitions is deeply impoverished. It produces a political theology that helps to rationalize terrorist rage. It refuses to distinguish between the acts of murderers and the use of government force to stop them.

Nevertheless, this theology is inspiring church manifestos on both sides of the Atlantic. We hear it in the "Beatitudes of Peacemaking" from Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches. To Mr. Edgar, the "axis of evil" is composed not of rogue states or religious movements but of "the pandemic of poverty" and "the environmental degradation of planet earth." The solution? A $50 billion peace fund to address the "root causes" of terrorism: lack of health care and education. Not a penny, however, to counter the propaganda outlets that saturate the Arab world in an ideology of violence and victimhood.

These same pacifist assumptions are repeated by the United Methodist Council of Bishops in a paper long on sloganeering and short on logic. Peace and security will arrive, the bishops write, "when all have access to and enjoy food, housing, clothing, medical care...and a living wage." No mention of how a living wage might tame bin Laden's cult of death. Finally, there is the document from the liberal magazine Sojourners called "Confessing Christ in a World of Violence," signed by scores of theology professors, ethicists and church leaders. It rejects the "crude distinctions" being made between Islamic radicalism and Western democracy. "The distinction between good and evil does not run between one nation and another, or one group and another," the petition reads. "It runs straight through every human heart."

It's important to be aware of our own temptations to hubris, even in wartime. But moral equivalence has nothing to do with the ethics of the Bible. In the political arena it becomes a substitute for responsible action. The theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, writing in early 1941, when most of Europe was under Nazi control, assailed such thinking as a kind of perfectionism derived from secular culture. "This utopianism," he warned, "contributed to the tardiness of the democracies in defending themselves against the perils of a new barbarism."

Another form of barbarism now threatens the civilized world, what some have called "fascism with an Islamic face." The danger of the pacifist illusion is its campaign to persuade democracies to ignore the true nature of this barbarism -- and to throw down their defenses in the name of peace. Led by pacifist theologians such as Stanley Hauerwas, the advocates of this campaign would make the Sermon on the Mount a road map for U.S. foreign policy. "I do not have a foreign policy," boasts Mr. Hauerwas. "I have something better -- a church constituted by people who would rather die than kill." Oddly, the hands-off attitude of religious utopians looks like a more extreme version of the moral neutrality of foreign-policy "realists."

Christians have never viewed peace as the highest good. There are other goods: protecting human dignity and restraining evil, for example. A just peace can be the final result of these pursuits, God willing. But if peace is made the supreme goal, if it consumes all other virtues, it becomes an idol -- and a snare to the statesman as well as the saint.

--Mr. Loconte is a fellow in religion at the Heritage Foundation and editor of "The End of Illusions: Religious Leaders Confront Hitler's Gathering Storm."

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