Why do oldline Protestant spokespersons and officials continue to ignore historic Christian teachings about Just War and pretend that our fallen world is other than what it is?
A recent letter to President Obama signed by United Methodist, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Church of Christ, and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) officials, along with pacifist Quakers and Brethren, and liberal Catholic orders, condemned military action against ISIS in Iraq.
ISIS of course is the brutal Islamist insurgency that has conquered much of Syria and Iraq, raping, beheading and terrorizing all but its supporters and co-belligerents. Iraq’s dwindling number of Christians, at least those who had not yet fled, were warned by ISIS to convert, pay a special tax to Islamist supremacy or die. ISIS recently beheaded two U.S. journalists, among other victims. President Obama authorized limited U.S. airstrikes against ISIS in northern Iraq to forestall its further advance. The U.S. also is trying to bolster Iraq’s shattered military and help the Kurds’ defense capacity. Many refugees have found refuge in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.
But these church prelates don’t like military solutions, even against ISIS, although they profess to want to “protect” the victims of ISIS. How to protect against a rapacious conqueror without military defense? These peace activists want United Nations diplomacy and non-violent resistance, like Gandhi or Martin Luther King.
“We understand and deeply share the desire to protect people, especially civilians,” the church officials declare. “However, even when tactics of violent force yield a short term displacement of the adversary’s violence, such violence toward armed actors is often self-perpetuating, as the retributive violence that flares up in response will only propitiate more armed intervention in a tit-for-tat escalation without addressing the root causes of the conflict. We see this over and over again. It is not ‘necessary.’”
So what is “necessary,” in the view of these church officials? They commend “long-term investments in supporting inclusive governance and diplomacy, nonviolent resistance, sustainable development, and community-level peace and reconciliation processes.”
Some of these suggestions might be advisable for the long-term. But they would not help the current victims of ISIS. Such counsel is like telling a woman being chased down the street by a rapist that instead of seeking an armed police officer she should urge her aspiring assailant to get counseling for his anger issues.
“Lethal weapons and airstrikes will not remove the threat to a just peace in Iraq,” the church officials assert. Maybe not altogether “remove,” but lethal force will, if deployed effectively, push back ISIS and save many victims who otherwise would perish.
Particularly interesting is the church officials’ suggestion to dispatch “professionally trained unarmed civilian protection organizations to assist and offer some buffer for displaced persons and refugees.” It sounds like they’re commending Christian Peacemaking Teams, which deploy pacifist activists to engage in “interpersonal conflict transformation.”
Suppose you were a Christian living in an Iraqi village about to be conquered by ISIS, and you’ve already heard about your co-religionists murdered at the conquered village up the road. You have the choice between fleeing to a just arrived team of U.S. church pacifists trained in “interpersonal conflict transformation.” Or you could accept the protection of U.S. armed Kurdish or Iraqi armed forces, supported by U.S. air power. Which would you choose?