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Yesterday Jim Wallis, the author of God’s Politics and the founder of Sojourners, a network of “progressive Christians working for justice and peace," published an op-ed article on the Huffington Post’s Web site, saying that the modest security gains in certain sectors of Iraq, as reported this week to the U.S. Congress by Gen. Petraeus, do not justify extending the United States’ “occupation.”
Oddly enough, his reasoning was theological — and as such, I think it was wrong.
In sync with other commentators on the liberal pages of the Huffington Post, Mr. Wallis rejected the general’s proposal, and now the president’s plan, to begin a gradual withdrawal of troops, as a way to assure sustainable security for Iraqis, long-term peace in the region and the protection of national interests.
Whether you agree with Mr. Wallis or not, he provides a legitimate opinion about a highly complicated ethical issue, about which I certainly don’t pretend to have a perfect solution. What is worrisome and offensive, however, about Mr. Wallis’ article is the theological dagger he throws at any Christian, like me, who wonders if the most responsible way forward in Iraq is really to shake the dust off our boots, lick our wounds and begin a mass exodus of American troops without any other plan in place. Mr. Wallis concludes that Christians who don’t share his understanding of just foreign policy, have sold our souls to nationalistic interests.
“Personally, to be frank, I think it is because far too many American Christians are simply Americans first and Christians second.”
Mr. Wallis is right to warn us against nationalism (defense of national interests at all costs) as opposed to patriotism (love of one’s country), and to subjugate our religious beliefs to partisan politics, but he loses credibility as a theologian and ethicist by failing to make the distinction between the decision to invade Iraq in the first place (I spoke out against it) and the present quandary about what to do now that we are there (I would not advocate immediate withdrawal). For him, you are either for the war or against it.
“And the ignominious origins and now-disputed rationales for this war in particular, along with its enormous human cost, clearly put the burden of proof on the war's supporters much more than its critics — that is, if we are to be Christians about all this, and not just American nationalists or neoconservative apologists for American hegemony in the world.”
Mr. Wallis is lowering himself and the ethical debate by saying the mess that is Iraq can be boiled down to a single moral judgment, either for or against it, that encompasses every aspect of the war. He brings us lower by suggesting that “to be Christian about all this” means either to agree with him about foreign policy or be a “neoconservative apologist.”
To Mr. Wallis’ credit, he doesn’t just complain. He points to “an alternative strategy that would have to involve serious international intervention and regional engagement.”
This looks good on paper, and it almost sounds like something I would write. Mr. Wallis and I agree the long-term solution to Iraq’s present crisis should be political, not military. Violence generates more violence. Diplomacy and dialogue must take center stage. My problem with Mr. Wallis’ proposal is that he presents diplomacy as the stark alternative to any military presence, instead of as the senior partner in the one business of peace.
Mr. Wallis seems to believe pulling completely out of Iraq right now would, in fact, create the necessary conditions for the kind of positive “international intervention and regional engagement” Iraq needs. Every current military officer I have heard speak about the scenario of big and immediate withdrawals of American troops predicts tragic results. People on the ground, who know much more about war and politics than Mr. Wallis and me, say the only regional engagement that would occur in a security vacuum would be that of Iran having free reign to expand its borders and the hateful ideology of its current regime.
But what do I know about solutions to Iraq? Nothing with absolute certainty. That is why I propose that people like Mr. Wallis and myself — theologians and ethicists — should stick to making absolute statements about things that are absolute. We can opine about social affairs from our unique perspective — and I think we should (Mr. Wallis does it well) — but we can’t pretend all foreign policy is black or white, Christian or anti-Christian.
There is a dangerous path of using the name of God to push our own agenda. In real life, things aren’t so simple and our hearts and minds aren’t so big as to be able to grasp perfectly and in all cases the holy will of God about all human affairs.
In this case, theology "a la" Huffington Post was not liberal at all. It was closed-minded and a tad bit offensive.
God bless, Father Jonathan
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