Obama's Afghanistan Policy and Christian Political Humility
On the eve of the election last November, I wrote a thinly-veiled endorsement of Barack Obama and blasted it out to my friends and family. Now, after President Obama's speech trying to sell the American people on his decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan, there's a verse of scripture that's taken on a profound new significance, "Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man in whom there is no help" (Psalm 146:3).
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By all accounts, it looks like President Obama is about to commit a colossal mistake. For starters, 30,000 troops is a drop in the bucket for what's truly needed for an effective counter-insurgency. The Russians tried to do the same thing we're doing, and it turned out to be the death of their empire. And to top it off, we're sending our men and women to spill their blood in order to prop up a government of war criminals that brutalize women, oppress their people, and use the tax dollars of hard-working Americans to fleece their people and fill their coffers. Is this change we can believe in? No, it's not. At least for me it's not.
Then again, I could be wrong. Let's do a hypothetical and imagine that by a heavy dose of divine intervention combined with an equal dose of strategy and good luck, Obama's plan works. In 18 months, the threat of the Taliban is neutralized, the Karzai government does a 180 and cleans up its act, and the war is responsibly brought to an end. If I were to attach God to my political views and make it the "Christian view" that the escalation is wrong, then what will I have done to the credibility of the Christian message if I turn out to be wrong? Even worse, what if I made that a part of the kingdom gospel that I preach? Come to Jesus and end the war in Afghanistan!
Progressive evangelicals often chide their right-wing counterparts for focusing on a narrow set of issues and claiming that their political solutions are God's solutions. It seems to me, however, that both sides of the political aisle run the danger of pimping God to endorse their political views. It's all too easy to take the big three of the Manhattan Declaration (abortion, gay marriage, and religious liberty) and replace them with the big three of progressive evangelicals' agenda (war, poverty, and the environment). If both sides claim that God sides with their political views or that their issues are the most important, then how are they really that different from each other? If either side takes a position that turns out to be wrong or endorses a candidate that turns out to be disappointing -- as I'm sure that right about now there's a degree of buyers' remorse for religious leaders who endorsed Obama -- then whose credibility is damaged?
Perhaps a better approach for Christians is to preach the gospel, serve humanity with good works, focus on living a kingdom lifestyle within the life of the church, and recognize the ambiguity in all political solutions to earthly problems. I may know that abortion is wrong and never counsel a woman to have an abortion because of my religious beliefs, but that doesn't mean that I'm privy to special knowledge on how to translate that into a political solution that will save the most unborn lives. I may refuse to serve in combat because I believe that killing in war is a violation of Jesus' command to "love your enemies," but that doesn't mean that I have God's perspective on what should be done about Iraq and Afghanistan. If I claim that I do, then the credibility of the gospel that I preach is damaged in the end. If Obama's decision has taught me anything, it's that political humility isn't just an option for Christians; it's a necessity.
Aaron D. Taylor is the author of Alone with A Jihadist: A Biblical Response to Holy War. To learn more about Aaron's ministry, go to www.aarondtaylor.com. To follow Aaron on Twitter, go to www.twitter.com/aarondtaylor. Aaron can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.