“Lay all your cards on the table,” I once exhorted my hearers, seeking to enhance their sense of dedication to Jesus.
I was a student preacher at the time and my mentor later suggested I avoid sermonic images and illustrations drawn from questionable practices. Card-playing fell into that category of “questionable practices” as did dancing and drinking during my adolescent years.
He was right, I suppose, and I now relate that story to my own preaching students.
But the lyrics of a Kenny Rogers song keep running through my head as I think about the cacophony of questionable practices now occupying the time and attention of American soldiers on the far side of the world.
“You’ve got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, know when to run.”
What works at the card table can also work on the battlefield.
It is time to fold our tents, pack our guns, and hand to somebody else the task of reforming Arab society in the deserts of Iraq.
What the president proclaimed last year is doubly true today: mission accomplished.
The only reasonable mission justifying our incursion into Iraq has been accomplished. Saddam has been toppled and no weapons of mass destruction have been found. We have supported our troops. We have prayed for their safety and success as they followed the commander in chief. However, it is time to bring the soldiers home.
The longer we stay, the worse it will be.
Already, the war has disrupted more lives, killed more people, demanded more money, and misdirected more energy than ever imagined.
The recent revelations of mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners demonstrate that American soldiers, instead of resisting the evils we pledged to eliminate, have been drawn into the very vortex of violence that we once vigorously denounced. We are justly shocked.
On top of all of this, the American invasion of Iraq has damaged what little credibility we once enjoyed in the region. The longer this Western army occupies that Eastern land the more deeply ingrained in imaginations of the people will be a deep dislike for all things American.
This includes our religion.
It is time for Muslim soldiers and statesman from all across the globe to take up the task of building a civil society in Iraq. It is time for Christian soldiers and statesmen to return to their families and their employers all across these United States.
If the wider Muslim community, from England to Indonesia, feels no obligation to assist in the rebuilding of Iraq, none of the ideas, activities, or investments of Americans will succeed in bringing to Iraq the ideals and institutions we hold so dear.
It is time for Muslim people to address Muslim situations. It is time for Middle Eastern countries to solve Middle Eastern problems.
It is time for what the psychologists call differentiation—clarifying our role as an outsider to the core conflict, removing ourselves from the center of action, and leaving the primary parties to work through their differences.
In spite of our good intentions and our great resources, there is only so much Americans can do. Leaders of the United Nations might fare better.
Regardless, it is time to bring our soldiers home.
Other empires might succeed where we can not. Other empires might succeed because they engage in the type of massive brutality unacceptable to us.
When Jerusalem rebelled against Rome in the year 66 of this era, the Roman legions simply leveled the city and killed its inhabitants—man, woman, and children. When the Jews rebelled again 50 years later, the Romans engaged in even more severe destruction and devastation.
Empires of the past offer many illustrations of this type of problem-solving: Hebrew, Babylonian, Mongol, European, and Chinese—not to mention both Christian and Muslim.
But the current public outcry at the military mismanagement of Iraq prisoners demonstrates that American people would not tolerate the type of brutality other regimes have used to quell resistance.
Such tactics are not acceptable to American people. Neither are they acceptable to the Iraqi people.
Neither are they acceptable to the Christian and Muslim communities today.
It is time to bring the soldiers home.
Dwight Moody is a writer, preacher and theologian living in Lexington, Ky.