There’s a schizophrenic Christian Left denunciation of killing Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, claiming it’s“murder” and violates the “teachings of Jesus.” It insists Jesus opposes killing anyone. But then it also tries to mobilize Just War doctrine, which is mainly about when it’s proper to kill people.
The declaration is just latest example of collapse in Christian public policy moral reasoning across the spectrum. Signers include pacifist activist Shane Claiborne, profiled yesterday in The Washington Post, liberal Baptist evangelist Tony Campolo, Rev. William Barber of “Moral Mondays,” Episcopal writer Diana Butler Bass, Emergent Church thinker Brian McLaren, and Kansas pastor/author Brian Zahnd. Interestingly, Jim Wallis of Sojourners isn’t included.
According to their decoration:
Christ himself put it plainly: “You’ve heard it said ‘an eye for an eye’…But I tell you this, love your enemies…” (Matthew 5:38, 44). We believe that when Jesus said we are to love our enemies, at a minimum he meant we shouldn’t kill them. Anytime we rejoice in death, we betray the One who loved his enemies so much he died for them.
So Christianity requires that nobody ever be killed? Here is the pacifist absolutist stance, supported by Claiborne and some but not all other signers. It effectively nullifies all governments, all of which are sustained with lethally armed police and militaries, without which they could not function. Incoherently, most of the signers, including Claiborne, advocate larger, more powerful government, with ever growing coercive power over the details of people’s lives, to implement the ostensible agenda of Jesus, who wants an expansive welfare and regulatory state.
As Jesus did not resist His enemies, preferring death on the cross, so this declaration strongly implies the U.S. government should prefer the death of its people and of other innocents over force against an assailant. Jesus never made this claim on governments, nor certainly did He regard governments as salvific, claiming that authority only for Himself. Of course, Jesus never disputed the vocation of soldiers He met. And certainly Jesus would have favored protecting the assaulted victim, whom the Good Samaritan rescued.
The pacifist Jesus preferred by this declaration is set aside briefly in favor of Just War teaching:
Not all Christians are pacifists and some adhere to the theology of “just war theory” popularized by Augustine in the fourth and fifth century. We invite all Christians to join us in denouncing this recent act of aggression by the Trump Administration.
We recognize that the murder of General Qassem Soleimani not only violates the teachings of Christ, but also violates the core principles of just war doctrine which includes last resort (all other peaceful means have been exhausted), right intention (not just revenge), just cause, proportionality (violence must be proportionate), and competent authority.
There’s no further elaboration, and presumably this ad hoc reference to Just War teaching was to placate the several non pacifist signers like Campolo. Did the U.S. government lack competent authority to strike Soleimani? Was the strike disproportionate to the aggressions of Iran enacted through him? How much more strategic patience should the U.S. have exercised before acting against him? Was the intent not only vengeance but also deterrence? And aren’t states ordained towards some acts of vengeance in pursuit of justice?
Since this declaration isn’t really interested in the Just War teaching, it doesn’t try to answer any of these questions. Sometimes pacifists will deploy Just War in an effort to claim no forceful action can ever perfectly attain its standards, which is actually a rejection of the teaching’s purpose.
Note the declaration condemns killing Soleimani as “murder.” Pacifists essentially believe anyone killed by police or military in pursuit of their duties is “murdered” because no killing is ever morally justified. The declaration doesn’t mention Soleimani‘s or his regime’s many thousands of slain victims, whose sufferings apparently don’t merit concern. Nor does the declaration offer any counsel as to how the USA and others might rebut Iranian aggressions. Only perceived USA misdeed are apparently of concern to them. They lament Soleimani’s death as an “historic act of aggression,” which apparently exceeds all Iranian actions in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. And they speak repeatedly with certainty on behalf of Jesus:
“Violence does not quell the fires of hostility and hatred, it perpetuates them. This act of violence is a direct confrontation of the core teachings and example of Jesus.”
Presumably Jesus also cares about all the people Soleimani killed and was plotting to kill. Presumably Jesus prefers more than preening political declarations and desires policies that lead to peace and stability for the largest number of people. Presumably Jesus isn’t a big fan of Iranian backed militias that subvert other nations on behalf of the strategic goals of Iran’s theocratic theocracy. But these concerns of Jesus are not the concerns of these Christian Left activists.
These activists condemn “violence,” but if from America. Christian teaching offers no blanket condemnation of violence. It opposes wrongful violence, and distinguishes between aggression and just force. Often such judgments are not easy and require careful thinking. But there’s nothing careful in this declaration.
There are weighty arguments against killing Soleimani. Perhaps his death won’t deter further Iranian aggressions. Perhaps it will further destabilize Iraq. Perhaps the USA is unprepared for Iranian retaliation.
But this declaration singularly lamenting Soleimani’s death isn’t concerned with serious arguments. Sadly, neither is much of today’s Christian political discourse, which prefers trite claims about Jesus and truncated Scripture to substantive debate. How can we do better?