The Common Good

The Global Church and America's War

Sojomail - September 13, 2007


We want to emphasize that the hanging of a noose from a tree is not a prank, it is a hate crime.

- Rev. Ernest Johnson, president of the Louisiana National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, commenting on the town of Jena where six black youth have been indicted on felony charges, including attempted murder, for a fight that took place after white students hung nooses from a tree at their high school.(Source: The Washington Times )

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The Global Church and America's War

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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Join the Prayer Surge for Peace

This week, Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, testified to Congress about the troop "surge," through which the Bush administration has escalated the war by sending an additional 20,000 American combat troops. As people of faith, we believe in the power of prayer to soften the hardest of hearts and open the way to peace and reconciliation.

So, as General Petraeus testifies, we're planning to match his surge with one of our own-20,000 prayers for Congress to bring an end to this war. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) has agreed to read from a selection of your prayers during the House debate on the war later this month.

Click here to let your senators and representatives know you're praying for them to end the war in Iraq.


+ See what's new on the blog of Jim Wallis and friends

The Spanish Debate (by Gabriel Salguero)
On Sunday evening, Univision, the nation's largest Spanish-language network, aired what I believe is the first Spanish-language presidential candidates' debate. The University of Miami became the locale for this historic event that has many political implications. The courting of Latino voters is no surprise to many, as projections by the Pew Hispanic Center are that 10 percent of the U.S. electorate will be Hispanic in the 2008 election. Both Democrats and Republicans have made some efforts in the last decade to appeal to Latino/a voters.

Hagel to Petraeus: 'For What?' (by Jim Wallis)
Gen. Petraeus faced much tougher questions in the U.S. Senate on his second day of testimony, Tuesday, than he did before the House committees on Monday. The senators, many quite experienced in foreign policy matters, were far less impressed by the general's reports of modest tactical success on the security front when there was no evidence of political reconciliation. This became more and more apparent as the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, was confronted with a bipartisan grilling.

Pick-and-Choose Theology (by Daoud Kuttab)
It is perfectly appropriate to love Jews in the same manner as God wants us to support women's equal rights, fight poverty, and love the poor. But it is very difficult to look at the Bible on such a pick-and-choose basis. You can't look at the verses about the Jews, women, or the poor without also looking at the verse that says in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, no man or woman, no lord or slave (Galatians 3:28). If we don't look holistically at the general ethos of the Bible we miss out on what is of extreme importance in our Christian life. Prophetic interpretation cannot, and should not, be done in such a manner.

How I Celebrated 'Patriot Day' (by Shane Claiborne)
A few weeks ago we looked at the calendar and saw that Sept. 11 is now officially titled "Patriot Day." We started thinking of what would be an appropriate way to celebrate and remember this day, especially for those of us who have caught a little of the ex-patriot spirit of a new kingdom -- you know, an "in the world but not of it" sort of thing. Then we heard that the film The Camden 28 was going to debut nationally on PBS, and with suspiciously brilliant timing -- on Patriot Day. My Sept. 11 was surreal, heart wrenching, and with a little mystical dazzle. We'll get to the film in a minute.

And the Killing Will Go On (by Jim Wallis)
President Bush said the "surge" was to create "breathing space" for political reconciliation among Iraq's warring factions. And that has clearly not happened, despite the reports of mild security improvements in some areas. In fact, on Sunday's Meet the Press, Gen. Jones said the opposite was true -- that real security in Iraq was not possible without political reconciliation. And because there has been no political reconciliation because of the surge, it is so far a policy failure. Despite the surge, sectarian violence still reigns in Iraq, young Americans remain caught in the crosshairs of a civil war, and the bloody insurgency/counter-insurgency continues the kill each week.

Six Found Guilty Of Trying to See Their Senator (by John Dear)
On Thursday, Sept. 6, 2007, six of us were found guilty in federal court in Albuquerque, New Mexico, by a federal judge for trying to visit the office of our senator. We will be sentenced in a few weeks. It all started one year ago on Sept. 26, 2006. That day nine of us entered the Federal Building in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and tried to take the elevator to the third floor to the office of Sen. Pete Domenici to present him with a copy of the "Declaration of Peace," a national petition campaign aimed at stopping the U.S. war on Iraq, bringing our troops home, and pursuing nonviolent alternatives and reparations. More than 375 similar actions took place across the nation that week.

Don't Be an Alibi for Social Justice (by Jim Wallis)
One of the high points of the recent World Vision Triennial Council meeting in Singapore was a remarkable address by Jan Egeland, former U.N. under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator. Egeland has been deeply involved in the resolution of intractable conflicts in places such as northern Uganda and the eastern Congo, and was one of the early voices to bring Darfur to the world's attention.


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