Falwell's Folly

Jerry Falwell has done it again. Just like Jacob’s sons Simeon and Levi made him “stink among the inhabitants of the land” (Genesis 34:30), so Falwell has made Christians stink. Case in point – Falwell’s recent WorldNetDaily article in which he made an attempt, and a very feeble one, to justify, with Scripture, President Bush’s invasion of Iraq – an invasion which has resulted, and continues to result, in the senseless deaths of American servicemen. And if the article itself wasn’t bad enough, he had the audacity to entitle it: “God is pro-war.” As a Christian of the Independent Baptist persuasion (like Falwell), I am almost ashamed to identify myself as such. Although Falwell has been an embarrassment to Independent Baptists for years, his recent article is just too much to stomach.

Falwell is certainly correct when he says about war that “the Bible is not silent on the subject.” Yes, it is true that “just as there are numerous references to peace in the Bible, there are frequent references to God-ordained war.” And yes, it is true that Jesus is depicted in Revelation 19 as “bearing a u2018sharp sword’ and smiting nations, ruling them with u2018a rod of iron.'” And yes again, it is true that “the Song of Victory in Exodus 15 hails God as a God of war.” Furthermore, no one can deny that “God actually strengthened individuals for war, including Moses, Joshua, and many of the Old Testament judges who demonstrated great faith in battle.” And finally, it is true that “the Bible tells us war will be a reality until Christ returns. And when the time is right, Jesus will indeed come again, ending all wars.”

Falwell is also correct when he says about society that “we continue to live in violent times.” And yes, “America continues to face the horrible realities of our fallen world. Suicide bombings and terrorist actions are beamed live into our homes daily.”

The problem with Falwell’s article is not with these observations that anyone who read the Bible and watched the nightly news already knew. The problem with the article is the numerous distortions of Scripture and the truth that occur in it.

Falwell’s first distortion is the inappropriate use of that portion of Scripture that prefaces his article: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born . . . , a time of war.” This implies that the present war in Iraq is just because, after all, there is “a time of war.” If the United States was invaded then it would certainly be “a time of war.” But it would be a morally justifiable defensive war against an aggressor. The war in Iraq is neither defensive nor against an aggressor.

Falwell’s second distortion is the title of his article itself: “God is pro-war.” To say that because God permitted wars to take place, and even commanded the nation of Israel in the Old Testament to conduct them, that he is “pro-war” is ludicrous. We know from the Bible that God is pro-holiness and pro-righteousness, but to say that God is “pro-war” doesn’t sound like any description of God’s attributes that I ever read in a systematic theology book. Was God pro-Crimean War? Was God pro-War of the Austrian Succession? Was God pro-War of the Roses? Whose side was he on in these conflicts? What Falwell really means is that God is pro-American wars. Falwell’s shameless pseudo-patriotism is a violation of the third commandment in the Bible he professes to believe: “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain” (Exodus 20:7).

Falwell’s third distortion: “God even gives counsel to be wise in war. Proverbs 20:18: ‘Every purpose is established by counsel: and with good advice make war.'” How this verse is supposed to mean that “God even gives counsel to be wise in war” is beyond me. Nothing in the verse or the context suggests that God is giving the counsel or the advice. Did God give Hitler and Stalin counsel to be wise in war? Did God give Pol Pot and Ho Chi Min advice to make war? Oh, I guess it just means that God only gives U.S. presidents counsel and advise to be wise in war? But could that even be the case? Did God give Lincoln counsel to invade the South after Lincoln said: “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”? Did God give advice to Wilson to make the world safe for democracy after Wilson sought reelection on the slogan “he kept us out of war”?

Falwell’s fourth distortion: “It is apparent that our God-authored freedoms must be defended. Throughout the book of Judges, God calls the Israelites to go to war against the Midianites and Philistines. Why? Because these nations were trying to conquer Israel, and God’s people were called to defend themselves.” But what does invading Iraq have to do with defending our God-authored freedoms? For this analogy to be credible, several things must of necessity be true. First, Iraq would had to have been trying to conquer the United States – which it wasn’t, and couldn’t possibly have done so if it tried. Second, the citizens of the United States would have to be God’s people – quite strange in view of the fact that God and his Bible are unwelcome in most of the country’s schools. Christians can quote 2 Chronicles 7:14 all they want, but it still won’t change the fact that America is not made up of God’s people like Israel of the Old Testament. Third, invading another country would have to be a means of defending our God-authored freedoms. That is, we owe our freedoms to offensive wars by the United States military away from American soil in places that most Americans couldn’t locate on a map. And fourth, the state would have to be the defender of our God-given freedoms. But who has always been the greatest opponent of anyone’s God-authored freedoms? Why, the state, of course.

Falwell’s fifth distortion: “President Bush declared war in Iraq to defend innocent people. This is a worthy pursuit. In fact, Proverbs 21:15 tells us: ‘It is joy to the just to do judgment: but destruction shall be to the workers of iniquity.'” Well, first of all, according to that archaic, neglected document in Washington known as the Constitution, the power to declare war belongs exclusively to Congress (Art. I, Sec. 8, Par. 11). The fact that Congress hasn’t officially issued a declaration of war since World War II doesn’t change anything. It only demonstrates that the Iraq fiasco is not any more constitutional than the Korea or Vietnam fiascos were. Secondly, I thought the war was all about finding weapons of mass destruction, destroying chemical weapons labs, or uncovering Iraq’s nascent nuclear capability? If the United States is so interested in defending innocent people in Iraq then why was not Saddam Hussein removed during the First Gulf War? Why let them suffer all these years? And why stop at Iraq? Why not defend the innocent people in North Korea who have suffered under oppressive regimes for decades? And if it is such a worthy pursuit to defend innocent people in Iraq, then why not defend innocent people in America? How many millions of unborn children have been slaughtered in the United States since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision? How many thousands of people are languishing in U.S. prisons for victimless crimes? There are also two problems with Falwell’s equating the destruction of Iraq by the U.S. military with the destruction of the workers of iniquity. First off, I don’t recall reading in Proverbs that it is the job of the United States to destroy the workers of iniquity. And second, if “destruction shall be to the workers of iniquity,” then the United States is in trouble, for we have worked iniquity all over the globe for the past fifty years.

Falwell’s sixth distortion: “One of the primary purposes of the church is to stop the spread of evil, even at the cost of human lives. If we do not stop the spread of evil, many innocent lives will be lost and the kingdom of God suffers.” I thought one of the primary purposes of the church was to preach the gospel? I thought one of the primary purposes of the church was to teach converts? There is no mention anywhere in the New Testament of the church being commanded to stop the spread of evil. Only God himself can stop the spread of evil. The Apostle Paul preached the gospel and taught converts (Acts 14:21), he didn’t waste five minutes trying to stop the spread of something as nebulous as evil. And then there is the “cost of human lives.” Should the church practice evil to stop evil? Does the end justify the means? Falwell apparently thinks it does, even though the Apostle Paul said it was slanderously reported that he was saying: “Let us do evil, that good may come?” (Romans 3:8). Falwell’s attitude is like the then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Madeleine Albright, in 1996, saying that the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children because of U.S. sanctions was “worth it” in order to punish Saddam Hussein.

Falwell’s seventh distortion: “Some reading this column will surely ask, u2018Doesn’t the sixth commandment say, “Thou shalt not kill?”‘ Actually, no; it says: u2018Thou shalt not commit murder.’ There is a difference between killing and murdering. In fact, many times God commanded capital punishment for those who break the law.” Falwell is exactly right, there is a difference between killing and murdering. The question then is this: Is dropping bombs on countries thousands of miles away for dubious reasons killing or murdering? I think the answer is quite obvious.

In addition to mentioning war, the writer of Ecclesiastes also says that there is “a time to keep silence” (Ecclesiastes 3:7). Mr. Falwell, are you listening?