In my last post, I briefly touched on some theological reasons for Christians (especially Orthodox Christians) to be anti-war as a general rule. Again, I think there are some instances when war is justified, but these cases are extremely rare. I tend to think Christians in the West – particularly in the United States – are too quick to support military operations and justify wars of aggression and occupation, all the while making themselves callous to the suffering of millions of people around the world who are more similar to everyday Americans than not and never threatened an American in his or her life. Watching most so-called conservative Christian pundits and preachers these days justify the status quo of American foreign policy, I can vividly picture the witches’ chant in Macbeth: “Fair is foul and foul is fair…”
For this post, I want to stay with the issue of war, but also expand on it a little, sticking more to the topic of politics. To put my point out there simply and rather bluntly, many American conservatives (most of whom would call themselves Christians and tend to make up the base of the Republican Party) identify themselves as being Pro-Life, but don’t fully grasp the meaning of the term. To be sure, the term “pro-life” when applied to politics is typically associated with being anti-abortion and most conservative Christians are serious about being anti-abortion, which is a fine and noble thing. But if we stop to think about this segment of American society, most conservatives in the US aren’t really pro-life at all. At least, they fail to take their position to its logical conclusion. What do I mean?
I’ll take you back to January, 2012 at the GOP Primary Debate in South Carolina – a state known for its deeply conservative, Christian roots. As happens from time to time in political debates, the candidates had the opportunity to speak briefly about foreign policy. Each of the Republican candidates vied for the position of “most hawkish”, “most pro-Israel”, and “most likely to blow up Iranians”. All of the candidates laid on the typical (frankly boring at this point) 8th grade level war propaganda. All of them, that is, except for one. Ron Paul was the exception. A man known for his unwavering conservative principles and while not overly outspoken, deeply held faith in Christ, Dr. Paul explained to the debate audience that January night that the foreign policy status quo is not sustainable. It is not carried out in the interest of the American people, nor is it carried out in the interest of everyday people around the world. Instead of maintaining our empire and engaging in endless war and reckless military spending, Ron Paul suggested that perhaps we should consider the advice of the Founders of our Republic and think about abiding by the Golden Rule when engaging in foreign policy. In South Carolina, a state deep in the Bible Belt, a foreign policy of peace – governed by the Golden Rule and the Constitution – was booed by the “conservative”, “Christian” members of the audience that night. Christians booed the Golden Rule – utterly rejected the command given by Jesus Christ to love our neighbor… much less forgive our enemies. And they did it in front of millions of people without a shred of shame.
I’m not saying that the members of that audience represent all conservative Christians in the States, but I do think the events of that night reveal a serious disconnect on the part of many conservatives in America… a disconnect that I think has a spiritual root. For now, though, I’ll stick with the political side of things. I’ve already touched on the theological side.
Again, I understand that the term “pro-life” is usually associated with the issue of abortion and most conservatives – especially those who happen to be Christians – tend to be anti-abortion. And again, this is a good and noble stance to take. Abortion is an extremely serious social problem, but I think it’s strange that most of the conservatives’ concern with preserving and protecting life (something that is precious because it is given to us by God) seems to abruptly stop at birth. As soon as that person is out of the womb, then it seems like the value of life suddenly drops off the radar for most conservatives.
Here’s the reality – the same conservatives who self-identify as “pro-life” and tirelessly campaign to end abortion are usually the same people who are quickest to justify a war, not thinking about the value of the lives ruined at home and abroad just because a politician or a well-liked pundit says bombing and shooting human beings in another country is necessary “because there’s a bad guy out there and we have to get him because we’re good and they’re bad”. I kid you not – that is the basis of most of the war rhetoric coming from the establishment these days. When you boil it down, that’s it. And conservatives buy into this, not thinking about the financial cost, the American casualties, the stress put on military personnel and their families and future medical, psychological, and physical tolls placed on those veterans who return.
Something you won’t hear in the presidential debates is the extremely high suicide rate for military personnel. In fact, when I was nearing the end of my enlistment in the Marine Corps, all non-commissioned officers were required to take training on recognizing and dealing with potentially suicidal Marines. This was mandatory training straight from the top. You also won’t hear about all the divorces and cheating and broken relationships that result from the stress of multiple deployments either. The tearful reunions and heartwarming stories of faithful families don’t provide the whole picture. That tearful reunion is always preceded by a tearful goodbye and there isn’t always a reunion for one reason or another. War ruins families, but that truth is not part of the narrative that we get in the major media outlets these days. All this, of course, is not even counting the human cost for our “enemies” who are completely dehumanized, as are the innocent casualties who die from mistakes in combat or starvation and disease from sanctions. What about their families? What about those lives? Aren’t they just as precious to God as American families and American lives? Don’t they cry and hurt and wish that their loved ones could still be with them, just as American families do?
Conservatives are also fooled into readily giving up precious civil liberties in the name of national security. Between the Bush and Obama administrations, we’ve lost a good chunk of our Bill of Rights and there’s hardly a word being said about it by the bulk of the mainstream conservatives out there. Many conservatives forget that the government that’s big enough to run the affairs of the world and take any life abroad is also big enough to run our lives at home and kill any of us at any time. American citizens have already been assassinated by the president and people in the GOP are more worried about the military budget not being big enough for their liking.
There’s also the issue of executions. Conservatives who readily make stopping abortions their number one issue during election season are all too willing to see prisoners executed for heinous crimes. This breakdown in consistency is bad enough, but what makes it worse is that innocent people are executed for crimes they’ve never committed; this goes on even today and an argument can be made that this form of punishment disproportionately affects the poor. How is it that people who call themselves “pro-life” can be so ready to see a life taken by the State – especially when mistakes are made and the method of “justice” affects the poor so much more than any other group? And then there’s the Christian conservatives who use the Bible – particularly the Old Testament – to justify the practice of executions. Isn’t it interesting how difficult it is to find a justification for execution in the New Testament – especially in the teachings of God the Son Himself?
It’s time for conservatives – especially conservative Christians – to wake up and recognize the vast disconnect between the rhetoric and reality of being “pro-life”. Am I saying that one has to be absolutely consistent in this regard in order to be credible? No. Morality and ethics are often complicated. And I readily admit that I’m not totally consistent either. While I am against abortion and against executions, I am not a pacifist. I genuinely believe that there are times to engage in violence – sometimes with lethal force. But again, those situations are very, very rare. In fact, it’s extremely difficult for me to think of a justified war since World War II. Indeed, looking back now, the overwhelming majority of American wars have been unjustified. Still, I can’t help but see the difficulty in my position of (even very limited) just war theory when I compare it against the history of the Early Church and the life of Jesus Christ. No matter how strict my definition of a just war may be, I recognize that it’s very hard to justify my position when I look to the Cross and the early martyrs of the Church, many of whom were soldiers who refused to kill ever again. How much more difficult is it, then, to justify America’s foreign policy of empire and endless war? I know that morality often comes in shades of grey, but as people who are “pro-life”, shouldn’t we strive to be as consistent as we can in this world?