Why Are We Still Misquoting Faith Leaders to Justify War? | Sojourners

Why Are We Still Misquoting Faith Leaders to Justify War?

I wonder if Pope Francis knows that he’s being used to justify bombing Syria.

After an all-day debate on Dec. 2, the House of Commons authorized the British government to begin bombing ISIS in Syria. Hours later, RAF Tornadoes attacked an oil field in eastern Syria.

During the debate, Caroline Spelman, the member of parliament who represents the Church of England in the Commons, noted that, “The Archbishop of Canterbury made it clear that, in his view, force might be necessary to keep the refugees safe.”

Then, citing Pope Francis, she said, “‘Where aggression is unjust, aggression is licit against the aggressor.’ These are views which I share, which is why I will support the motion.”

The motion passed 397-223.

Never mind that the pope never actually used the phrase “aggression is licit.”

In fact, his actual words were, “Where there is an unjust aggression I can only say that it is legitimate to stop the unjust aggressor.”

Nor did Spelman mention Pope Francis’ very relevant proviso: “I underscore the verb 'to stop'. I am not saying 'bomb' or 'make war.'”

The notion that Pope Francis can be name-dropped in order to bolster the humanitarian cred of a bombing campaign is an example of either culpable ignorance or intellectual dishonesty.

Nevertheless, the question must inevitably arise: if we do want to “stop the unjust aggressor,” what do we do besides bombing ISIS? They don’t seem particularly inclined to sign a treaty. Or won over by the sterling moral character of the western world.

I don’t know. But here’s what I do know: when western nations bomb and invade Middle Eastern nations, the result is never stability. The result, in the case of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, was ISIS.

Which makes me wonder: if the Iraq invasion led to ISIS, what will sustained bombing of ISIS lead to?

I know with certainty it will not be a flourishing civil society with respect for the rule of law, ready to engage in open, productive diplomacy with the rest of the world.

And I’m hesitant about more bombs for another reason — I know what my scriptures say.

Jesus doesn’t usually speak in rules. In the gospels, he usually tells stories about seeds and farmers, or he enacts stories by doing strange things like cursing fig trees and miraculously producing wine.

But sometimes he does speak in rules. The Sermon on the Mount is one of those times.

“Do not resist an evil doer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.”

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

My deepest point of concern with Caroline Spelman’s speech in Parliament is not, actually, the way she twisted Pope Francis’ words. It’s the fact that, faced by ISIS, Christians in the public square haven’t much tried to grapple with Jesus’ rules in the Sermon on the Mount.

If the church has an enemy, then ISIS — who crucifies Christians — most certainly fits the bill. So why haven’t I heard anyone ask about how to love ISIS?

I guarantee that if a member of parliament had suggested Jesus’ words from his sermon on the mount as a viable alternative to bombing, it would have been deeply countercultural. After all, Prime Minister David Cameron called anyone in the opposing party who would criticize the bombing plan “terrorist sympathizers.”

In his address to Congress, Pope Francis made Dorothy Day’s social justice work cool. But when she and her fellow Catholic Workers advocated pacifism during WWII, she lost 100,000 subscriptions to the Catholic Worker newspaper.

Pope Francis also mentioned Dr. Martin Luther King in that speech. We love Dr. King, but do we remember that he vehemently opposed the Vietnam War? Do we actually believe him when he said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that?”

Dr. King knew that war creates more war. Since then, we’ve dressed up the theory in fancy phrases, like “the myth of redemptive violence” or “the blowback hypothesis.”

But Jesus also knew it, two thousand years ago.

“All who take the sword will perish by the sword.”

Even King David the warrior-poet knew it.

“The nations have sunk in the pit that they made; in the net that they hid has their own foot been caught.”

In our rush to be reasonable, the church has overlooked the fact that Jesus might not be asking us to be reasonable.

He might be asking us to love our enemies.

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