A faith-based group calling itself “Christians Reviving America’s Values,” or CRAVE, is concerned about the way the war in Iraq is being fought. As a Christian group we might think they are alarmed by the level of violence. Or maybe they are worried about the use of weaponry that unintentionally, yet inevitably injures and kills civilians. Or maybe, in the spirit of many Christian leaders over the centuries, they believe that war itself represents a failure of Christian ideals.
Sadly, this group of believers is not concerned that there is too much violence in the Iraqi conflict. On the contrary, they are upset that our troops are restricted from being even more violent. In the name of Jesus, they want our soldiers to be able to kill more freely.
Don Swarthout, President of CRAVE, has a long list of complaints about some of the restrictions placed on our troops as part of their rules of engagement. He cites in particular a seven step mental check list that troops go through before pulling the trigger. He is also critical of restrictions that keep our troops from entering Mosques as part of combat operations.
“How foolish can we be?” Swarthout told the Christian Newswire. “I was amazed to learn about these restrictions on our troops. It is time for America to fight this war to win.”
Somebody say Amen?
In the first place, the rules of engagement which our troops follow are intended to minimize civilian causalities. Urban warfare of the sort we are engaged in Iraq is very difficult and dangerous. The enemy is not in uniform, does not march under a flag, and wears no insignias or emblems of rank. The insurgents, up until the moment they start firing at our troops, look exactly like ordinary Iraqis who are only trying to live and have a life.
If counting to seven minimizes the number of innocent people killed, that’s a good thing. If a careful evaluation of each combat situation keeps us from killing women and children, that’s the sort of thing Christians should appreciate. It’s sort of like being militarily pro-life.
Don’t get me wrong, it is perfectly legitimate to question the rules of engagement. Military tacticians, politicians, and even ordinary citizens all have the right to question the techniques and practices that affect our troops.
Just don’t make the practice of warfare a “Christian virtue,” because it is not. Arguing for practices that allow our troops to engage in more killing with less measured engagement practices in densely populated areas is about as far from traditional Christian ethics as you can get.
In order to be faithful to the teaching of the New Testament, Christians should be in the forefront calling for an end to the war. And until the war ends, we should be at the front of the line demanding that the war be fought in the most just and humane manner possible—as if “humane” and “war” can even be spoken in the same breath.
Jesus once asked what good we accomplish if we gain the whole world, but lose our soul. In the context of military conflict, that wisdom sounds like this: If we unleash the full and unrestrained fury of our military might, inflicting death and pain on all in our path—innocent and insurgent alike—we may win the war, but we will have lost everything else we were fighting for.
James L. Evans, a syndicated columnist, also serves as pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.
James L. Evans is a retired Baptist preacher living in Alabama. Over 35 years, he served churches in Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia. In support of his pastoral work, Evans published 5 books including “First and Second Corinthians: Immersion Bible Studies” (Abingdon Press (2011).