Christianity and the War

This talk was delivered, at the request of Congressman Ron Paul, to Republican and Democratic staff aides of the US House of Representatives in Washington, DC, on May 25, 2006.

Never in my life did I ever think that I would find myself agreeing with Senator Ted Kennedy on anything. But what he recently said about the war in Iraq is right on:

In his march to war, President Bush exaggerated the threat to the American people. It was not subtle. It was not nuanced. It was pure, unadulterated fear-mongering, based on a devious strategy to convince the American people that Saddam’s ability to provide nuclear weapons to Al Qaeda justified immediate war.

I find myself agreeing with more and more Democrats now-a-days, at least in their criticisms of the Bush administration’s Iraq policy. Democratic Representative John Murtha, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, has called for the pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq, labeling the president’s Iraq policy “a flawed policy wrapped in illusion.” Another Democrat, Representative Dennis Kucinich, has strongly criticized the president for being responsible for the death and destruction that has taken place in Iraq.

Are these Democratic criticisms of the president just the result of the usual partisan politics that we see everyday on the House and Senate floor? Perhaps. I suspect that the Republicans would be leveling the same criticisms of the war as the Democrats if it was a Democratic president that had launched this war.

But politics or no politics — the war in Iraq is an unconstitutional, unnecessary, immoral, senseless, unjust, and unscriptural undertaking. It is unconstitutional because only Congress has the authority to declare war. It is unnecessary because Iraq was no threat to the United States. It is immoral because it was based on lies. It is unjust because it is not defensive. It is senseless because over 2,400 U.S. soldiers have died in vain. But this war is also unscriptural, and, because I am a Christian — a conservative evangelical Christian — I intend this to be the focus of my remarks.

The percentage of Americans who identify their religion as Christianity is higher than that needed in Congress to pass a constitutional amendment or override a presidential veto. The percentage of members of Congress who identify themselves as Christian is even higher. But as we have now passed the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, support for the war among Christian Americans continues, funding for the war by a Christian Congress continues, and justification for the war by a Christian president continues. And we wonder why Muslims hate us?

The subject I want to address is Christianity and the war. What does Christianity have to say about this war? What should the attitude of Christians be toward this war?

If there is any religion that should be opposed to war it is Christianity. And if there is any group of people in America that should be opposed to war it is Christians. All wars are, in the words of George Washington, a “plague of mankind,” but this war in particular is a great evil. Waging the war is against Christian “just war” principles. Conducting the war is contrary to the whole spirit of the New Testament. Fighting the war is in opposition to the practice of the early church. Participants in the war violate the express teaching of the sixth commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.” Supporters of the war violate the first commandment: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

Waging this war is against every Christian “just war” principle that has ever been formulated. A just war must have a just cause, be in proportion to the gravity of the situation, have obtainable objectives, be preceded by a public declaration, be declared only by legitimate authority, and only be undertaken as a last resort. If there was ever a war that violated every one of these principles it is this war.

The only just cause for war is a defensive one, but this war is clearly both preemptive and offensive. Governments never find this to be a problem, however, and routinely offer up a myriad of reasons why their particular cause is just. Propaganda and demonization of the enemy play a large part in garnering public support for the war. But contrary to government propaganda, it really is just as simple as G. K. Chesterton once said: “The only defensible war is a war of defense.”

The “shock and awe” campaign waged by American forces is certainly out of proportion to the gravity of the situation considering that Iraq — a country with no navy or air force and an economy in ruins after a decade of sanctions — was never a threat to the United States. Iraq was merely the new enemy the U.S. military/industrial complex selected after the end of the Cold War.

What were our objectives in this war? Finding weapons of mass destruction? Removing Saddam Hussein? Enforcing UN resolutions? If one stated objective was found to be a lie another could quickly be offered in its place. The number and scope of these objectives shows that there were no legitimate objectives. So why did we invade and occupy Iraq? A student at the University of Illinois documented 27 reasons put forth by the Bush administration or war hawks in Congress before the war began. There have been even more since then. A report issued by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform found that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, and Rice made a total of 237 misleading statements in a two-year period about the threat posed by Iraq. And unlike some members of Congress who do not read the bills they vote on, I have read the report.

A public declaration is for the purpose of giving fair warning and an opportunity for conflict resolution — not a rubber stamp on something that was already in the works.

Was the Iraq war declared by legitimate authority? Since when does Congress have the authority to delegate its congressional war-making authority to the president? As the “father of the Constitution,” James Madison, has said: “The Constitution expressly and exclusively vests in the Legislature the power of declaring a state of war [and] the power of raising armies. A delegation of such powers [to the president] would have struck, not only at the fabric of our Constitution, but at the foundation of all well organized and well checked governments.” And is our authority to go to war the Constitution or the United Nations? The “Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq” that was issued in October of 2002 mentions the UN twenty-one times but the U.S. Constitution only twice.

Was the war in Iraq undertaken as a last resort? Hardly. As I just said, it was in the works. All that was needed was the “Pearl Harbor” of September 11th to give it some semblance of credibility.

But not only is this war against Christian “just war” principles, conducting this war is contrary to the whole spirit of the New Testament. Although the Bible likens Christians to soldiers, and the Christian life to a battle, the Christian’s weapons are not carnal and his battle is a spiritual one. The Christian is admonished to “put on the whole armor of God.” His only weapon is “the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God.” Avoiding conflict and strife and seeking to do good are recurrent themes in the New Testament; for example: “See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good.” If there was anything at all advocated by the early Christians it was peace, as we again read in the New Testament: “Live peaceably with all men.”

These themes used to be on the lips of Christian ministers. Back before the Civil War, a Baptist minister writing in The Christian Review demonstrated that Christian war fever was contrary to the New Testament:

Christianity requires us to seek to amend the condition of man. But war cannot do this. The world is no better for all the wars of five thousand years. Christianity, if it prevailed, would make the earth a paradise. War, where it prevails, makes it a slaughter-house, a den of thieves, a brothel, a hell. Christianity cancels the laws of retaliation. War is based upon that very principle. Christianity is the remedy for all human woes. War produces every woe known to man.

Another Baptist minister, writing in the same publication, lamented about the terrible truth of Christian participation in war:

War has ever been the scourge of the human race. The history of the past is little else than a chronicle of deadly feuds, irreconcilable hate, and exterminating warfare. The extension of empire, the love of glory, and thirst for fame, have been more fatal to men than famine or pestilence, or the fiercest elements of nature. The trappings and tinsel of war, martial prowess, and military heroism, have, in all ages, been venerated and lauded to the skies. And what is more sad and painful, many of the wars whose desolating surges have deluged the earth, have been carried on in the name and under the sanction of those who profess the name of Christ.

One of the most celebrated preachers of all time, the Englishman Charles Spurgeon, known as “the prince of preachers,” remarked about Christianity and War:

The Church of Christ is continually represented under the figure of an army; yet its Captain is the Prince of Peace; its object is the establishment of peace, and its soldiers are men of a peaceful disposition. The spirit of war is at the extremely opposite point to the spirit of the gospel.

If there is any war in history that is contrary to the whole spirit of the New Testament it is this one. All adherents of Christianity, of any creed or denomination, should be opposed to this war. So why aren’t they? Much of the blame must be laid at the feet of the pastors, preachers, and priests who have failed to discern the truth and educate their congregations. We need ministers who are as concerned about killing on the battlefield as they are about killing in the womb.

But not only is this war against Christian “just war” principles and contrary to the whole spirit of the New Testament, fighting this war is in opposition to the practice of the early church. Not only did the early Christians, following the example of the Lord himself, refuse to advance their ideals by political or coercive means, they condemned war in the abstract and did not participate in the state’s wars. Lactantius describes Christians as “those who are ignorant of wars, who preserve concord with all, who are friends even to their enemies, who love all men as brothers, who know how to curb anger and soften with quiet moderation every madness of the mind.” According to John Cadoux, the author of the definitive investigation of the early Christian attitude toward war and military service:

The early Christians took Jesus at his word, and understood his inculcations of gentleness and non-resistance in their literal sense. They closely identified their religion with peace; they strongly condemned war for the bloodshed which it involved; they appropriated to themselves the Old Testament prophecy which foretold the transformation of the weapons of war into the implements of agriculture; they declared that it was their policy to return good for evil and to conquer evil with good.

The early Christian aversion to war was revived and amplified in the Reformation age by the celebrated Dutch humanist, Erasmus. Although he lived many centuries ago, Erasmus’s age was not unlike our own. Wars and international conflict were the order of the day. Contention was brewing between the West and the Muslim world. According to Erasmus, the only just and necessary war was a “purely defensive” one to “repel the violence of invaders.” And because he believed that war is by “nature such a plague to man that even if it is undertaken by a just prince in a totally just cause, the wickedness of captains and soldiers results in almost more evil than good,” Erasmus insisted that “all other expedients must be tried before war is begun; no matter how serious nor how just the cause.” He chastised Christians for reproaches vomited out against Christ by nations of unbelievers “when they see his professed followers” warring “with more destructive instruments of mutual murder than pagans could ever find in their hearts to use.” Erasmus also recognized that rulers incite war “to use it as a means to exercise their tyranny over their subjects more easily.” As our Founding Father James Madison has said: “If tyranny and oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.” The authority of the legislature and the force of law that thwart government power in peacetime quickly diminish during times of war. “Once war is declared,” says Erasmus, “the whole business of the state is subject to the will of a few.” He even noted how the issues of national security and public safety were used by the government to elicit support for war. Although Erasmus had never heard of George W. Bush, he nevertheless remarked in his The Education of a Christian Prince that “it happens sometimes that princes enter into mutual agreements and carry on a war on trumped-up grounds so as to reduce still more the power of the people and secure their own positions through disaster to their subjects.” Here again is Madison: “Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.” Would the Founding Fathers even recognize the bloated monstrosity we call the federal government — a government that spies on its citizens, confiscates 30 to 40 percent of their income, and regulates every part of their life?

Participants in this war violate the express teaching of the sixth commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.” I have been told that this commandment does not apply to killing in war. Not to killing in a just war or a defensive war, but to killing in war. The result of this warped reasoning is the teaching that even if the war in Iraq is unconstitutional, senseless, immoral, and unnecessary, Christians can still in good conscience join the military and go to Iraq to bomb, maim, interrogate, and kill for the state simply because the state says so. U.S. soldiers killing for the state in Iraq cannot claim to be acting in self-defense because the war itself was not for self-defense. It was an act of naked aggression that was supposed to be a cakewalk, but it backfired with disastrous results for the United States. Is killing someone in a foreign country instead of on U.S. soil what distinguishes killing from self-defense and murder? Or is it the wearing of a uniform?

There has persisted throughout history, quite unfortunately, the idea among some Christians that mass killing in war is acceptable, but killing of one’s neighbor violates the sixth commandment. I have termed this the Humpty Dumpty approach. We can see this attitude in the ancient Romans. The aforementioned Lactantius said of the Romans of his day:

The more men they have afflicted, despoiled, and slain, the more noble and renowned do they think themselves; and, captured by the appearance of empty glory, they give the name of excellence to their crimes. Now I would rather that they should make gods for themselves from the slaughter of wild beasts than that they should approve of an immortality so bloody. If any one has slain a single man, he is regarded as contaminated and wicked, nor do they think it right that he should be admitted to this earthly dwelling of the gods. But he who has slaughtered endless thousands of men, deluged the fields with blood, and infected rivers with it, is admitted not only to a temple, but even to heaven.

Writing before Lactantius, Cyprian speaks of the idea held by some that “homicide is a crime when individuals commit it, but it is called a virtue, when it is carried on publicly.” Erasmus addressed his fellow Christians about this same thing, and Charles Spurgeon has likewise said:

If there be anything which this book denounces and counts the hugest of all crimes, it is the crime of war. Put up thy sword into thy sheath, for hath not he said, “Thou shalt not kill,” and he meant not that it was a sin to kill one but a glory to kill a million, but he meant that bloodshed on the smallest or largest scale was sinful.

Supporters of this war also violate the first commandment: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Many American Christians have a warped “God and Country” complex which inevitably elevates the state to the level of God Almighty. If the state dictates that an intervention, invasion, or war is necessary then by God we must support the president and the troops no matter what. But the government of the United States and Christianity is a most unholy alliance. It has been soundly argued by the Foundation for Economic Education president, Richard Ebeling that “there has been no greater threat to life, liberty, and property throughout the ages than government. Even the most violent and brutal private individuals have been able to inflict only a mere fraction of the harm and destruction that have been caused by the use of power by political authorities.”

When it comes to defending, believing in the legitimacy of, and carrying out the evil dictates of the state, Christians are under a higher authority. There are numerous examples of this in the Bible that the Christian can look to, like the Hebrew midwives, who were commanded by the state to kill any newborn sons, but because they “feared God,” they disregarded the command of the king.

Christian warmongers are idolaters, as the famed Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises wrote in Omnipotent Government:

Modern war is not a war of royal armies. It is a war of the peoples, a total war. It is a war of states which do not leave to their subjects any private sphere; they consider the whole population a part of the armed forces. Whoever does not fight must work for the support and equipment of the army. Army and people are one and the same. The citizens passionately participate in the war. For it is their state, their God, who fights.

The attitude of the Christian toward the state should be no different now than it was in the days of the apostles. Peter and John were brought before the authorities and asked: “Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? And, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” It was then that the apostles uttered that immortal line: “We ought to obey God rather than men.”

There is much more that could be said in opposition to this war besides the fact that it is contrary to every precept of Christianity. It was based on lies. It has created more terrorists than existed before the war. It has increased religious tension around the globe. It has done irreparable harm to the Middle East peace process. It has increased the hatred of America and Americans the world over. It has cost the taxpayers of this country over $200 billion, plus billions more for the forgotten war in Afghanistan. It has hurt the reputation of evangelical Christianity among non-Christians because of Christian support for the war. It is against the noninterventionist foreign policy of the Founding Fathers. It has wasted the lives of over 2,400 American soldiers. It has horribly wounded thousands more American soldiers. It has caused American families untold grief over their dead loved ones.

There can be no doubt whatsoever that this war is abhorrent to Christianity. The attitude of each individual Christian toward this war should be likewise. Unfortunately, however, this is not the case. Why? Why do some Christians continue to defend, tolerate, or make excuses for this unjust, immoral, and unscriptural war?

Here are five reasons why I think some Christians continue to support this war.

First, the September 11th terrorist attacks. Some Americans, including Christians I have talked to, continue to believe that Iraq was behind the September 11th attacks — even though the president himself now says otherwise.

Second, support for the nation of Israel. Evangelical Christians, as am I, are typically supporters of Israel, as am I. But what they fail to realize is that the nation of Israel is not the government of Israel — a corrupt government propped up by billions of dollars in U.S. foreign aid. And Iraq was no threat to Israel anyway.

Third, the religion of Islam. Some Christians are indifferent toward the war because it is just Muslims who are being killed. But what about the blood of over 2,400 dead American soldiers? Does killing Muslim infidels make their sacrifice worth it?

Fourth, the military. There is an unholy alliance between evangelical Christians and the military. Yet, the military in its present form does little to actually defend the country. Why isn’t the U.S. military guarding our borders and patrolling our coasts instead of guarding the borders and patrolling the coasts of other countries? The president recently called for the stationing of some National Guard troops along our border with Mexico. It is too bad these troops sent to guard the Mexican border weren’t taken out of Iraq.

And fifth, the conservative movement and the Republican Party. Many Christians, who by nature are conservative people, are in bed with the conservative wing of the Republican Party. But this is clearly a case of spiritual adultery. I am sorry to say that Conservatives have of late been known for their readiness to engage in military adventure throughout the world and the fact that they never met a federal program they didn’t like as long as it furthered their agenda. Conservatism is fast becoming a movement that puts love of the state and its leader above all else, including liberty. Lew Rockwell, president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama, has brilliantly summarized what is wrong with modern conservatism:

The problem with American conservatism is that it hates the left more than the state, loves the past more than liberty, feels a greater attachment to nationalism than to the idea of self-determination, believes brute force is the answer to all social problems, and thinks it is better to impose truth rather than risk losing one soul to heresy. It has never understood the idea of freedom as a self-ordering principle of society. It has never seen the state as the enemy of what conservatives purport to favor. It has always looked to presidential power as the saving grace of what is right and true about America.

The Republican Party has historically been the party of militarism, big government, plunder, compromises, and sellouts. Not in his wildest dreams could Lyndon Johnson have ever imagined his Democratic-controlled Congress increasing total spending or the rate of increase in spending as much as George Bush and his Republican-controlled Congress have done. And he too was fighting a war.

I do believe that the support of Christian evangelicals for the president and his war is waning. Perhaps it is not out of principle, but at least support for this war has diminished somewhat (although gullible Christians can be counted on to support the next intervention or war if a Republican president undertakes it). But it is a blight on Christianity that many of those who continue to support Bush and his war are evangelical Christians. To their everlasting shame, I suspect that it is evangelical Christians who will support Bush until the bitter end — no matter how many more U.S. soldiers are killed, no matter long the war continues, no matter how many more billions of dollars are wasted, and no matter what outrages the president commits against the Constitution, the rule of law, and Christianity itself.

What, then, should be done? We should immediately withdraw our forces from Iraq, not because the war is not going as planned, not because we have suffered too many casualties, not because we have removed Saddam Hussein, not because we have accomplished our mission, not because there are too many insurgents, and not because Iraq had an election. We should withdraw our troops because the war was a monstrous wrong from the very beginning. How many more dead American soldiers and billions of dollars will it take before we finally say enough is enough? How many more dead American soldiers and billions of dollars will it take before the members of Congress say enough is enough? King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, said that there was “a time of war.” This, my fellow Americans, is not the time.