For Christians, Easter is not just a day — it is a season, and, indeed, a way of life. This week is Easter: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and so on. Likewise, hope, the message of Easter, is not a feeling, but rather a decision — a choice we make day after day. Hope isn’t easy, but the decision to hope keeps the world going.
Now we have a choice to make: a decision whether to pursue a tough diplomatic process for peace to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. The United States and Iran — along with the U.K., Germany, France, Russia, and China — now have the beginning framework of a deal that could accomplish just that. But we would have to give it a chance. Much has to be worked out by the June 30 deadline, and it won’t be easy.
Should we give this hope for peace a chance? I believe Christians should answer yes. Here’s why.
Christians should try to prevent wars. And in situations of conflict, which is an inevitable byproduct of human beings in our fallen world, Christians should be the peacemakers — not those who quickly and continually call for war. Both our Scriptures and different faith traditions call for that. Whenever we approach conflict, Christians of all theological persuasions or political stripes should begin with the instruction of Jesus to all his disciples, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”
Both Christians who subscribe to “just war” theory, and those who seek to emulate the nonviolence of Jesus and his followers like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., should 1) be peacemakers first, and 2) move to the use of military force, if at all, only as the very last resort if all else has failed. That means Christians should always prefer diplomacy to war. Only after all efforts to resolve conflicts by diplomatic means can Christians painfully consider the use of force, and only then by just war standards that protect civilians. War is the result of failed diplomacy, but diplomacy should not fail simply because it has not been tried! The hard negotiations of diplomacy must be given a patient and persistent chance to succeed.
Diplomacy is never perfect, but when it succeeds, it is far superior to war, where the consequences and costs are always greater than expected. That is why we should give this potential nuclear agreement with Iran the chance to succeed, albeit with intense scrutiny every step of the way. The framework announced last week was better than most people expected.
The surprisingly diminished numbers of Iran’s centrifuges, significant restrictions on developing the nuclear materials necessary for a bomb, the “break-out” time for the development of a bomb reduced from 2-3 months to a year, and the repurposing of key Iranian facilities, are all good signs. Yes, Iran is allowed to keep some of its nuclear infrastructure, but this agreement forestalls the country’s ability to build a bomb for at least a decade and maybe longer. As we know, the perfect should not be the enemy of the good. But most importantly, Iran’s acceptance of a highly intrusive international inspections process with little notice is unprecedented and will allow us to detect cheating. The White House says the historic transparency of this agreement is not based on trust, but mistrust. Hope for something as important as nuclear non-proliferation should not just be built on trust, but as Republican President Ronald Reagan once reminded, “Trust but verify.”
The critics who want a more perfect deal must answer President Obama’s challenge to “provide a reasonable alternative.” With the leading nations of the world and the U.N. part of this deal, tougher multilateral sanctions will not be possible. And military action could not end Iran’s nuclear program for more than a few years. On the contrary, war with Iran would most likely accelerate it — ultimately leading to another American war with a Muslim country rallying an increasingly pro-American and young Iranian population around their ayatollahs.. Many of us will not send our sons and daughters to another disastrous American war.
The worst thing we could do is make the Iran nuclear deal a partisan affair. House Speaker John Boehner recently said this about the broader instability in the Middle East: “The world is starving for American leadership. But America has an anti-war president.” In the context of our faith — or even in the context of conservative ideals — is leadership that prevents war something to be maligned? Does the Republican Party now identify as just one of war? And will they allow a diplomatic deal that prevents a nuclear Iran to fail simply because of partisan disagreements with the Obama administration?
My favorite senator ever was Mark O. Hatfield of Oregon, a fiscally conservative Republican who questioned wars and fought hunger. We need that kind of bipartisan reflection and discernment again today — not political leaders who play power games with real foreign policy implications, especially those of war and peace. The stakes are too high in terms of nuclear weapons and the growing volatility of the Middle East, and American wars have only made things worse.
Patience, persistence, and wisdom are now required of us all. It’s a season of hope. It’s time for a choice to “hope but verify.”
Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, The (Un)Common Good: How the Gospel Brings Hope to a World Divided, the updated and revised paperback version of On God’s Side, is available now. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.