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The Church of Pacifism By: Mark Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, December 25, 2006


Today’s Religious Left in America is almost completely pacifist. Its chief denizens reject or ignore traditional Christian “just war” teachings. But they are not always forthcoming about their pacifist absolutism.

Chief among these prophetic voices is “God’s Politics” author and Sojourners chief Jim Wallis. In his latest column, subtly titled “People Will Die Because Bush won’t Listen,” Wallis quotes General Colin Powell at great length. Wallis likes Powell this week because the general has said we are "losing" the "civil war" in Iraq. To Wallis’s delight, Powell has “put himself at odds with his ex-boss.”

In his column Wallis declines to mention that Colin Powell gave four decades to a profession that is, in the view of Wallis and the Religious Left, profoundly immoral, i.e. that of the soldier. Powell fought in the Vietnam War, which Wallis of course robustly opposed as the young Students for a Democratic Society street activist. Wallis would later oppose the first Persian Gulf War to extract Saddam Hussein’s army from Kuwait, over which Powell presided as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Earlier, Wallis had angrily denounced the Reagan military build-up, in which Powell was a major figure as Reagan’s National Security Advisor. And from the start, Wallis vociferously opposed any U.S. military action to depose Saddam Hussein, which Powell would publicly defend as Bush’s Secretary of State.

Like many if not most modern pacifists, religious or secular, Wallis views all “violence” as nearly morally equal and equally unacceptable. But for nearly a decade now, Wallis, who is at least politically astute, has striven to sound centrist, stressing his evangelical credentials over his Religious Left ones. So he carefully omits most mentions of his own uncompromising pacifism. Instead, he more pragmatically latches onto more mainstream critics of various U.S. military actions. In the same recent column, for example, he praises the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group because of its implied criticisms of the Iraq War. He believes their report supports his claims that the war is based on “lies, made worse by incompetence, and is pursued in sheer arrogance.”

But of course, not a single member of the Baker-Hamilton group would share Wallis’ pacifism. Instead, they question the war’s current course on “realist” grounds.

More direct than most Wallis’ pronouncements on war is a recent commentary from the National Council of Churches on the unacceptability of "violence" for Christians. Almost every one of the 35 Protestant and Eastern Orthodox communions that belong to the National Council of Churches historically has supported traditional Christian just war teachings. But much of the modern Religious Left curia has forsaken or forgotten historic Christianity in favor of a 20th century Social Gospel that emphasizes utopian social reforms. For 40 years, the NCC has consistently opposed nearly all U.S. military actions, no matter the circumstances.

The latest NCC commentary comes from an Eastern Orthodox seminarian who is interning at the NCC. Lengthy and not entirely unthoughtful, at least by NCC standards, the essay fulsomely knocks down a straw man, that Jesus advocated violence, in order to make an implied case for absolute pacifism. But almost no modern Christian just war theorist would claim that Jesus attempted to advance His Kingdom by the sword, like Islam’s founder, Muhammad. The Kingdom proclaimed by Jesus centered on voluntary faith and confidence in an eternal salvation to which all are invited.

Christian just war teachings don not theorize about a literally sword-wielding Jesus. Instead, these teachings depend on both the Old and New Testament in declaring that the state is divinely ordained to administer order and defend its people. Christians historically affirm and even participate in the state’s wielding the sword in legitimate causes, whether for police purposes against crime, or in pursuit of justice against external aggressors.

But the NCC commentary does not acknowledge these Christian teachings that date back to the Scriptures, especially to Paul’s letter to the Romans, in which the apostle described the state, when properly functioning, as God’s instrument, wielding the “sword” to “execute wrath on the wrong doer.”

Instead, the NCC commentary emphasizes that “the New Testament never allows for the use of violence by followers of Christ against physical adversaries.” Indeed, “reading an acceptance of violence into the New Testament is a distortion to the Christian gospel.”

The insistence that adherence to traditional Christian just war teachings is not only wrong but manifestly evil is a relatively new development, even for the Religious Left. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, much of the Religious Left, under the flag of “Liberation Theology,” tacitly supported Third World Marxist insurrections as divine instruments for overthrowing an unjust capitalist order. Those insurrections mostly having failed, the Religious Left has harkened unto a strict pacifism, mostly because it is a theological bludgeon to wield against the United States .

Tediously, the NCC intern wades through countless New Testament references to the “sword,” and argues fairly conventionally that the sword there is merely a metaphor for the spiritual work of Jesus’ followers. Undoubtedly. But nearly all the scriptural references to which the NCC commentator refers relate to Jesus and His church. They do not address the responsibilities of the state.

“It should be clear from these brief reflections that the martial imagery employed by the New Testament is not a license for Christians to use physical violence against physical enemies,” the NCC internist concludes. “Christians must confront earthly evil, of that there is no doubt, but the methods they use are ubiquitously non-violent according to the New Testament scriptures.”

In other words, according to the NCC commentary, Christians may only follow the path of Gandhi. This analysis, of course is ridiculously facile, confusing admonitions against violence in spreading the Gospel with rejection of the proper duties of a legitimate state.

The Jesus of the Bible did exactly what the Religious Left does not do today: preach eternal salvation and urge personal piety, self-denial and charity. He carefully avoided the political disputes of His day and never critiqued the Roman authorities. Neither He nor His apostles demanded that the Roman soldiers they encountered abandon their martial professions.

Traditional people of faith understand that in a fallen world, governments must sometimes fight extreme evil, domestic or foreign, with force. But the Religious Left, which has divorced itself from the historic faith in favor of modernist ideologies, prefers utopian visions to realism grounded in historic teaching. In the Bible, the state, properly functioning, exists primarily to restrain evil. But for the Religious Left, an endlessly expanding state must attempt to meet every human need except exercising its traditional police, judicial and military functions.

Religious Left groups like Sojourners and the National Council of Churches may employ the language of faith. But the radical causes they serve are often less than faithful to the Christian tradition upon which profess to rely.

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Mark Tooley is president of the Institute for Religion and Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.


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