Recently, I had the unique opportunity of meeting with four Iraqi evangelicals at a conference in a country near Iraq. They were young church leaders. Despite the circumstances in their country, they were upbeat and gracious. Having never been to Iraq, nor having personally met an Iraqi, I was eager to hear their perspectives on current events. My conversations with them helped me understand to a greater degree the true complexity of war.
One of them was a church planter in a large city in Iraq. When he spoke about his people, he was enthusiastic. He talked about how Iraqis were responsive to the gospel in times of peace. But when I pointedly asked him about the war and made it clear he could be honest with me, his response was a mixture of anger and depression saying, "It has been a disaster. My church has been destroyed. Christians had more safety and security under Hussein than we do now."
Another told me that her street was called the "Street of the Dead". The corpses from surrounding areas are collected and deposited on her street. Everyday she sees them; she walks by them; she smells them in her home. One looked at me with eyes full of desperation saying, "my entire life has been a war. I hate war."
I had made it clear to my four conversational partners that they could speak their minds. I also let them know that, on the basis of my religious conviction, I had been opposed to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Nevertheless I was startled at how angry and frustrated they were about their dire situation. All four of them, two women and two men from three different regions, assured me that life had been better under Hussein. I asked them what the other Iraqis thought. They said everyone they knew, Christians included, felt the same.
Later I mentioned this to an American evangelical who quickly retorted that they sounded like the Israelites after they had been brought out of Egypt. The intent of his analogy was to parallel the Israelites' desire to return to Egypt with the Iraqis' desire for the way things were. I responded, "Then who is God in this analogy? Who is Egypt? Who is Israel?" Though he did not respond, it seemed clear to me that he equated the related decisions of our current administration to the liberating acts of God. This shows the complexity of religion in the context of war.
I assured my new Iraqi friends that I would return to the U.S. and would try to find a place for their voices. I would try to convince others to see the complexity of war and face the fact that too often we equate the decisions of our nation's administration with the will of our loving God.
In a parting discussion, I asked them what message would they like to send to their brothers and sisters in the USA; what would they like for us to do? They unanimously said the following:
1) Insist the U.S. government make security its priority,
2) Help to develop the economy of Iraq so all Christians don't have to leave the country to find a job and
3) Please no more war in the Middle East.
Whether there is ever a "just war" is a matter of debate, but there is never "just a war."
Mark L. Russell (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Director of Spiritual Integration at HOPE International, a network of 13 Christ-centered Microenterprise Development organizations. He has a Ph.D. in Intercultural Studies from Asbury Theological Seminary, a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and a Bachelor of Science in International Business from Auburn University. Mark lives in Boise, Idaho with his wife Laurie, and their children, Noah and Anastasia.