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The Global Church and America's War

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From my blogs this week, readers can rightly conclude that I believe Gen. Petraeus' claims of modest security gains in certain sectors of Iraq do not justify extending the U.S occupation, especially when four years of occupation of Iraq have not produced the political reconciliation that would be necessary for real security and stability. The fragile security improvements are not sustainable without a political solution, which is simply not forthcoming. And without a clear path to political progress, the realization that what Petraeus proposes, and President Bush will likely endorse tonight, is simply more of the same failed strategy, and a scenario of American occupation in the midst of bloody sectarian warfare with absolutely no end in sight.


And contrary to some comments on this site, I have suggested several times an alternative strategy that would have to involve serious international intervention and regional engagement to secure Iraqi security and stability -- the kind of bold, strong, and creative multilateral strategy that is completely obstructed by the ongoing unilateral American occupation. Permanent U.S. military bases and unique American claims to future oil revenues and contracts for Iraqi reconstruction are among the U.S. prerogatives that would have to be sacrificed for such international solutions to be possible -- along with a massive American financial commitment to rebuild the shattered country that our war has broken. But exercising American responsibility without U.S. control is not likely to occur on the Bush watch. So we can only look and hope for a future change of direction.


But let's turn from politics to theology and ecclesiology. The vitriol against Christian Iraq war dissenters from the handful of neocon war promoters who regularly clog the comments to this site forget both. Both the teachings of Jesus (remember, "blessed are the peacemakers" and "love your enemies") and the rigorous criteria of the "just war" from Augustine and others in the Christian tradition clearly leave believers with at least a presumption against war. And the ignominious origins and now-disputed rationales for this war in particular, along with its enormous human cost, clearly put the burden of proof on the war's supporters much more than its critics -- that is, if we are to be Christians about all this, and not just American nationalists or neoconservative apologists for American hegemony in the world.


That brings me to a second point -- about the body of Christ and our loyalty to the global Christian community. Outside the borders of the United States of America, a vast, vast majority of the world's people are steadfastly against the American war in Iraq and the foreign policies of the U.S. in general. Take out all the non-Christians from that global population sample and among the people of God the opposition remains the same. Even reduce that number to only evangelical Christians worldwide and you are still left with an overwhelming majority of born-again, Bible-believing Christians who are against American policy in Iraq and, indeed, the entire Middle East region.


Because of my work and transatlantic family ties, I travel extensively around the world, frequently talk to others who do, regularly read the international press, frequently host international Christian leaders, and often attend international Christian gatherings. Last week, I wrote on this site about my recent journey to Singapore to join 500 leaders of World Vision from 100 countries. And I will tell you that, once again, the great majority of those evangelical believers, especially from the global South, but also including Europeans, Australians, and even many Americans who work globally, are now completely opposed to the Iraq war, to U.S. policy in the region, and to the way the United States conducts its "war on terrorism." In other words, my experience convinces me that the body of Christ, internationally, is against the U.S. war in Iraq and the whole direction of current U.S. foreign policy. Many Christians I've spoken to go further and say that America's aggressive role in the world today has hurt the cause of Christ globally, especially when an American president dangerously conflates America's role with God's purposes. And if you don't know that perspective, you simply haven't had much experience with Christians outside of the United States.


So if the international body of Christ generally doesn't support America's war in Iraq, or U.S. foreign policy generally, what do some American Christians know that the rest of the global Christian community doesn't? Is the rest of the church just wrong? Do we have access to information that they don't have? (Actually, they have much more access to information and different perspectives than most Americans have, which is a big part of the problem.) What don't they understand that we do? Or, from the perspective of the Christian warriors who try to dominate the commentary section of this blog, what do they know that world Christianity has yet to learn?


Personally, to be frank, I think it is because far too many American Christians are simply Americans first and Christians second. The statement that got the most enthusiastic response in Singapore was not about politics but ecclesiology: "We are to be Christians first, and members of nations or tribes second." That simple affirmation, if ever applied, would utterly transform the relationship of American Christians to the policies of their own government.


For all the vitriolic debate about politics this week in relationship to the war in Iraq, I think the real issue is our theology and ecclesiology. Many American Christians are simply more loyal to a version of American nationalism than they are to the body of Christ. I want to suggest that the two are now in conflict, and we must decide to whom to we ultimately belong. That's the real issue.

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