The ranks of Americans protesting against military action on Iraq include intellectuals, celebrities and students. And commentator Joseph Loconte gives his opinion now of some who come to the anti-war movement with a theological viewpoint.
Name almost any political or social issue and you'll find advocates who insist Jesus is on their side. Nutritionists publish books with titles like "What Would Jesus Eat?"; environmentalists issue a declaration explaining what would Jesus drive. With talk of war in the air, we're now hearing what would Jesus do about Iraq, assuming he were a member of the UN Security Council.
A growing cadre of religious leaders believes that Jesus would veto a war against Saddam Hussein. Back from a trip to Baghdad, a delegation of the National Council of Churches expressed no doubts. `As disciples of Jesus Christ, the prince of peace,' they said, 'we know this war is completely antithetical to his teachings.' A coalition of ministers put a full-page ad in The New York Times that called it 'inconceivable that Jesus Christ would support this proposed attack.' It was signed by officials of the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, Jim Wallace of Sojourners magazine and dozens of others.
I think these critics should meditate a little longer on the traditional Christian approach to the problem of sin. Taken as a whole, the teachings of Jesus make it clear that evil can possess individuals and entire regimes. Once that happens, the time for dialogue is over. The Bible insists that such evil must be resisted, sometimes with force. War opponents admit that Saddam Hussein runs a brutal regime, boasts a record of murderous aggression and is determined to possess weapons of mass destruction. Yet they offer no realistic plan to effectively oppose him.
Saddam Hussein may not be the devil himself, but who doubts the darkness of his intentions were he not restrained by the threat of war?
In the Gospel accounts, Jesus never soft-pedals evil, he never negotiates with it. Instead, we see him rebuking hateful mobs, casting demons into the abyss, driving religious charlatans out of a temple with a whip. The same Jesus who told us to love our neighbor also promised to crush Satan under his feet. Yet some of these war critics think the best way to overcome a servant of the evil one is to let him die of old age. They deride President Bush for an arrogant unilateralism, but it's they who could stand a little more humility.
Unlike his critics, the president has never claimed to know the mind of Jesus about Iraq. Instead, based on military intelligence, President Bush is pretty sure he knows what's in the mind of Saddam Hussein. We expect Christian leaders to invoke the example of Jesus, but not as a cover for sloppy moralizing about his foreign policy. After all, the same figure hailed in the Bible as the prince of peace is also called the lion of the tribe of Judah, the one who judges and wages war.
Joseph Loconte, religion fellow at the Heritage Foundation, is editor of the forthcoming "The End of Illusions: America's Churches and Hitler's Gathering Storm, 1938-41.''
First aired on National Public Radio's All Things Considered