Moral Side Of The News

I was up late the other night flipping through television channels searching for something to fall asleep to. I stumbled across a local broadcast called "Moral Side of the News." Apparently, this show is the longest running community service program in the nation. I had never heard of or seen it until two nights ago. The show consists of a panel of clergy discussing the latest hot topics in the news from a "moral" point of view. The night I watched the show the panel was made up of a female Rabbi, a Catholic priest, two Protestant ministers, and an Imam.

The first topic they discussed and the topic that I would like to discuss is the mishandling of power and leadership in Syria. Last week in Damascus, the regime of president Bashar al-Assad, allegedly used chemical weapons in an attack on Syrian citizens in the suburb of Ghouta. The international medical organization, Doctors Without Borders, announced on Saturday that the death toll had risen to at least 355.

The panel was asked what the response of the United States should be. The answers were almost unanimous that the United States should send it's military to Syria and wipe out this murderous regime. The sole opposition came from the Catholic priest who suggested we find a way to boot Bashar al-Assad through sanctions before military involvement. It startled me that the clergy were so eager to thrust us into another conflict in the Middle East. Were the responses given by these religious leaders true to the values found in the Bible (and in the case of the Imam, the Qur'an)? Surely, any involvement by the United States or the international community in Syria will be met with opposing force. How long would this conflict last? How many more lives would be taken, innocent or guilty?

I began to think about war in general, especially from a Christian perspective. Is there such thing as a just war? Many Christians believe that the battles waged in the Old Testament were examples of just wars probably because they also believe God ordained them. This belief has been problematic for centuries. It has led to the slaughter of innocent men, women, and children. It has also led to the colonization and destruction of countless cultures and indigenous people. It is very convenient to label any violent conflict "just" by saying it was ordained by God. This trick is beyond played out, however. 

Many traits can be assigned to the "God of the Old Testament" such as jealously, being unforgiving, vindictive, bloodthirsty, homophobic, racist, and genocidal. The problem with believing that the "God of the Old Testament" can be described in such a manner is that you have to juxtapose those characteristics with love, mercy, grace, hope, and forgiveness which are attributed to the "God of the New Testament." To do that is to deny the immutability of God. 

I am not trying to escape the terror of the Old Testament. It is there. I struggle with it like every other Christian. But I think Derek Flood, author of Healing the Gospel, makes an excellent point.
"In reality the Bible contains a multitude of conflicting and competing voices, articulating opposing perspectives in the form of an ongoing dispute contained throughout its pages. More concretely, we find an ongoing dispute within the Old Testament between two opposing narratives: The first is a narrative of unquestioning obedience that condemns all questioning (often enforcing this through threat of violence). But within those same pages of the Hebrew Bible there is also a persistent opposing counter-narrative that confronts that first narrative as being untrue and unjust, and that upholds questioning  authority in the name of compassion as a virtue."
Traditionally, using the Bible to understand war has resulted in heinous crimes against humanity. But there is always an opposing perspective. Robert Clouse presents one of these perspectives in his book, War: Four Christian Views
  1. Just cause. All aggression is condemned; only defensive war is legitimate.
  2. Just intention. The only legitimate intention is to secure a just peace for all involved. Neither revenge nor conquest nor economic gain nor ideological supremacy are justified.
  3. Last resort. War may only be entered upon when all negotiations and compromise have been tried and failed.
  4. Formal declaration. Since the use of military force is the prerogative of governments, not of private individuals, a state of war must be officially declared by the highest authorities.
  5. Limited objectives. If the purpose is peace, then unconditional surrender or the destruction of a nation's economic or political institutions is an unwarranted objective.
  6. Proportionate means. The weaponry and the force used should be limited to what is needed to repel the aggression and deter future attacks, that is to say to secure a just peace. Total or unlimited war is ruled out.
  7. Noncombatant immunity. Since war is an official act of government, only those who are officially agents of government may fight, and individuals not actively contributing to the conflict (including POW's and casualties as well as civilian nonparticipants) should be immune from attack.
I do not like how the United States always plays the role of international police, but I cannot sit and watch innocent citizens lose their lives without demanding we intervene along with the international community. The dilemma is that rarely are our intentions limited to establishing peace. We usually have some kind of economic or ideological agenda.

As Christians our job is to find peaceful resolutions. Based on just war theories, war is to be the very last resort. After all, violence begets violence. If we were to send troops or air strikes to Syria it would only add fuel to the fire. Is a peaceful resolution possible? Can we avoid the consequences of military involvement in such a hostile region? I pray that we can do both. And I pray for the citizens of Syria. My fear is that it is already too late. 
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  1. Many people feel that the bible conflicts with itself, but that is because they are ultimately reading the Bible in an effort to "DO". The ultimate purpose of the two testaments is to show man the journey of getting over theirselves and their own efforts so that they can let God do. When you study the covenants of the bible you will come to realize that we are now under the covenant of grace. God gave the law of sin and death to people to make them realize that they will never be perfect, and so that we would recognize that we need a saviour. The Old Testament is filled with many prophecies of a coming Jesus Christ and the New Testament shows how these prophecies have been fulfilled, and how they will continue to be fulfilled.
    As far as the Syrian war goes, I myself don't believe it will be a just war. Something about it smells really fishy, and it is clear that we can't believe everything that we see or hear in the news, especially since it has been revealed that fighting this war means we will be fighting alongside Al-Qaida.

  2. I don't believe that Christians have to be pacifists, as you have aptly illustrated through the many Old Testament wars. But, entering into war shouldn't be taken lightly, either, or as appears to be the case here, to protect the ego or reputation of a leader.

    It's very weird how politicians justify themselves and a little scary, considering we may be on the verge of a world war here.