Many Christians stepped out of their pews into news about an American attack on Afghanistan Sunday.
Millions of Americans went from the Good News to troubling news, from worshipping the Prince of Peace to learning about strikes in the darkness a world away.
The timing of the strikes must create a moral awkwardness for thoughtful Christians. It forces stressful questions: Does a moral line exist between a military assault on a sacred day and the sacredness of human life? Is war making on Sunday morally wrong, if taking human life is a sad albeit morally acceptable duty in a sinful world? Does the day matter morally?
Historically, Christians observed Christ’s resurrection on Sunday. They transferred the Hebrew teachings on Sabbath to the Lord’s Day, as a day to refrain from daily routines. Sunday was the day of worship, a time to halt work for renewal and reflection.
In recent years, the 24/7 society extended the workweek into Sunday and clearly bleached Sunday’s sacredness.
From this perspective, war making on Sunday makes little difference, especially if Sunday has lost much of its holiness.
Ethics involves prudence, the practice of common sense. A noted Supreme Court justice said, “Ethics is knowing the difference between what we have the right to do and what is the right thing to do.”
The United States may have had the right to use force, but was using force on Sunday the right thing to do?
Was launching an attack on Sunday from a perceived Christian nation against a nation known as an Islamic state the right thing to do?
For the most part, the Bush administration and other elected leaders have astutely shied away from the crusade ethic. They have defended American Muslims. They have warned about discrimination against Arabs.
But enough mistakes have been made to worry about those Americans who see this conflict as a righteous religious war and those extreme Muslims who are looking for justification to call it a war against Islam.
After all, the term “crusade” was used. Some wanted to name the military campaign “infinite justice,” a phrase with religious tones. Others framed the conflict as the civilized against the uncivilized, a framework Christian missionaries once used. Still others chalked political speeches with religious language.
Launching attacks on Sunday may reinforce these mistakes and erode the positive efforts over the past 26 days to avoid demonizing Muslims.
Attacks on Sunday show a lack of moral prudence. Timing matters ethically. And time will soon tell whether the attacks will intensify the unfortunate perception of Christianity versus Islam.
Robert Parham is BCE’s executive director.