The drone attack that killed a top Iranian general brings into sharp focus that the new year has not lessened the propensity for state actors to commit acts of violence. This attack is especially dangerous as it was perpetrated, not against a leader of a non-state terrorist group but against an official member of another nation’s government. The analogy here is that it would be similar to the assassination of a member of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of the General Staff, which would rightly be considered an act of war.
I don’t need to spend a great deal of time on the practical case against this action. The president claims it was done to avert a war. If this is the case, then why is the U.S. military on heightened alert? Why have we positioned additional forces in the region? Does any reasonable person think that the Iranians won’t respond in some sort of violent fashion? We should also take with a 55-gallon drum of salt the U.S. claim that this Iranian general was preparing some imminent attack. Given the long history of U.S. lies regarding military action we should assume they are lying now and shift the burden of proof to them to prove it to us. From FDR’s violation of the Neutrality Acts prior to U.S. entry into WW2, to the Gulf of Tonkin incident to the run up to the Iraq invasion in 2003 the U.S. military/intelligence apparatus has produced a long tissue of lies to justify its wars. From the Pentagon Papers to the recently released Afghan Papers the U.S. government has an nearly unbroken record in lying to its citizens about issues of war. This action also underscores the clear fact that the U.S. invasion of Iraq has produced a massive failure.
So, if this action cannot be justified based on practical concerns, what is left for us to consider? It is always an opportunity at times like this to revisit the moral case for military action. First, let us consider the secular case for state military action. Obviously as individuals we have certain rights. Rights are things that we may defend against the incursions and violations of others, with an appropriate amount of force. One thinks of defending yourself against a home invasion or an armed robbery. The argument then runs that this may be expanded to the societal level to produce a moral case for defense of your communities or nations. At the international level this produces an argument for defending a nation’s territorial integrity, its sovereignty and its transit on the high seas. It should be obvious that none of what the U.S. is doing militarily fits these justifications. In fact, all justifications for the current action against Iran are as a result of the U.S. being and doing things it has no moral right to do in the first place.
I will admit, that at least in theory a “just war” is possible under this secular standard. As a practical matter, however, it is nearly impossible to justify state action based on the clear violations of the rights of noncombatants. This piece makes a remarkably strong case for this position. So, it would seem that even under a just war theory “horizontal conflict”, that is state to state military action, would seem to be morally proscribed.
However, we should not be drawn into the moral claims of the secularists in our world. They may be well-intentioned, but they do not reflect the values given to us by Christ and they should never be our template for action in God’s Kingdom. There is simply NO case for violence based on the life and teachings of Jesus. I defy anyone to produce an argument for this based on Scripture that justifies violence against anyone in this world. Whom did Jesus kill? Whom did Jesus say it was alright to kill? Whom did the Apostle’s kill or say we could kill? There is debate among historians of the church as can be seen here. The strongest cases for Christians to embrace pacifism can be found here and here. I think any of us upon reflection can see that Jesus demands non-violence as He himself practiced it even unto death upon the Cross.
The problems begin when Christians contort themselves into moral pretzels by claiming that this ethic is not binding upon us now. They make two basic claims: that either this “Jesus ethic” is for the heavenly places or for some far-off time when He returns to Earth. Both of these come up short. Even a cursory review of the texts shows that Jesus’ call for us is for us here on Earth (“thy will be done on Earth, as it is in heaven”) and that His call is immediate (as in RIGHT NOW). More importantly if we wish to dismiss the clear implications of Jesus’ life and teachings, we must ask ourselves this damning question: if Jesus did not come to Earth to show us how to live a fully human life, then why did he come here at all?
The next set of contortions regarding Jesus’ teachings on violence will revolve around so-called practical considerations. The claim is that we will be destroyed if we follow this path and that disaster will befall us. I have addressed the practical case for peace here. Suffice it to say that this argument, while seductive, is entirely false. How does society benefit from war? How are we made materially better off? How is the world more peaceful? How does any proponent of this position address the clear cycle of violence that this “practical” approach entails? Just a few of these questions directed at these “realists” should be enough logic to puncture specious argumentation.
So, what should the Christian response be? Stand against all war and military action. Write your governmental representatives and tell them to cease and desist this wanton violence. Make a case for peace whenever someone makes a case for war, especially if that someone claims to be following Christ. Direct people to the War Prayer to remind them that working for victory in war entails working for the destruction of people God loves as equally as you and me. None of this is easy, it risks the loss of relationships and social ostracism. Then again, no one said following our Savior was going to be easy. This may very well be the Cross we bear for the proclamation of the Gospel, if so, then so be it. He died for us, what else should we be doing in His name? The moment is upon us, let us do all we can to wage ceaseless peace in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.
Praise Be to God