British forces are in action in Libya in a campaign that has the potential to be hugely divisive.
No war has ever had the universal support of the population, and one of the burdens of government is that our leaders have to make unpopular decisions.
But the broad national and international support this action has attracted rests on assumptions that have not yet been thoroughly tested and plays to certain myths that do need to be examined.
One is that of the plucky rebels taking on the wrath of a tyrant. Another is that one man can be legitimately demonized and become the epitome of evil.
Another is that of the overwhelming effectiveness of Western military might, and the omnipotence of the technological solution. Another is that democracy has a mystical power to conquer hearts, minds and well-equipped armies if only it’s given the chance.
Christians should be very slow to pronounce on the rightness of the campaign that has been launched. Our faith does not give us an automatic right to an opinion.
For that we need not just an understanding of theology in the abstract, but of the political, strategic and tactical issues that have led us to this point.
Claims that bombing is counterproductive, or – given our military aid to Libya and other oppressive regimes – hypocritical, for instance, ring rather hollow to the inhabitants of Benghazi, who were facing the vengeance of an army unfettered from conscience and with a record of atrocity.
What we can do, though, is interrogate the myths in the name of the Gospel.
Yes, the rebels had a cause, but Gaddafi loyalists are good Libyans, too. He himself is not a demon, but a human being, flawed no doubt as are the rest of us.
The limitations of intervention from the air are increasingly evident; risk-free video-game warfare is looking like only the beginning. And no political system comes with a divine blessing attached.
Life, politics and death are messy. Christians may speak truth to power, but we do so with care and with humility.
Mark Woods is editor of Britain’s Baptist Times, where this column first appeared.
Mark Woods is a Baptist minister and managing editor for ChristianToday.com. He served previously as the editor of The Baptist Times of Great Britain.