Are the saints of social justice losing their faith?
Unsatisfied by the pace of President Obama’s withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, the pacifist Religious Left is demanding a quicker and more complete retreat. Mostly faithful Obama allies, including Sojourners chief Jim Wallis, a bevy of church bureaucrats, joined by the Islamic Society of North America, recently insisted in their letter to the president, “It is time to bring the U.S. war in Afghanistan to an end.” Not content with the interfaith manifesto, Wallis issued his own clarion declaration for a hasty American exit.
Realists also urge U.S. withdrawal, arguing that U.S. national interests do not require further vast exertions for Afghanistan’s sort of democracy. Ongoing drone attacks and occasional U.S. paramilitary operations, along with perhaps U.S. military advisers for the Afghans, should sufficiently contain al-Qaeda and the most threatening aspects of the Taliban, they assert.
But the Religious Left is not overly concerned about U.S. national security interests. Nor is it ever fully able to recognize evil in any anti-U.S. force, whether it is the Taliban, Saddam’s Iraq, Iran’s brutal theocracy, insane North Korea, or the various despotisms of the old Soviet bloc. Instead, bizarrely denying the spiritual aspects of geopolitical struggle, the Religious Left nearly always assumes that international conflict can be solved by a U.S. cash dump. Of course, they also claim that federal dollars can solve every domestic social and economic ill, so at least they are foolishly consistent with their blind faith in money.
In their June letter to Obama, the interfaith officials announced they “represent a diversity of faith communities – ranging from just war to pacifist traditions.” They also professed that “some of us initially supported the war in Afghanistan as a justified response to the September 11, 2001, attacks,” while “others opposed the war, believing there were better ways than military force to address the al Qaeda threat.” In fact, identifying any letter signer who publicly endorsed a military response to 9-11 is quite difficult. Nearly all signers, as nearly all the Religious Left, are pacifist absolutists or at least functional pacifists, unwilling to identify any situation that might attain their impossibly strict version of “just war.”
A typical signer of this recent letter to Obama is United Methodist lobbyist Jim Winkler. After U.S. military forces began striking al Qaeda and Taliban targets after 9-11, Winkler carefully announced, “We are praying for all who have lost their lives in the bombing of Afghanistan, just as we’re praying for those who lost their lives September 11.” At the directors meeting of his United Methodist General Board of Church and Society shortly after 9-11, the directors refused to acknowledge their denomination’s just war teaching. Instead, they resolved, “It is our firm belief that military actions will not end terrorism,” sagely noting that “violence will not bring God’s peace.”
Of course, no Christian tradition claims that war, or any human action, will achieve “God’s peace.” But mainstream Christianity has always taught that God ordained government for legitimate military defense and pursuit of justice. The Religious Left has almost entirely rejected that tradition for a utopian ideal of peace through good intentions and lots of U.S. foreign aid. The ecclesial letters writers to Obama told him of their own “prophetic vision,” and they claimed the Taliban is “largely motivated to drive out foreign troops.” They called for a “transition toward a plan that builds up civil society and provides economic alternatives for Afghans,” without admitting that a resurgent Taliban might inhibit “civil society,” or that the strife is based on more than competing “economic” goals. “We recognize that legitimate ethical and moral issues are at stake in Afghanistan,” they confessed. Obligingly, they cited “protecting” lives and “supporting democracy” in Afghanistan as important issues while insisting “there is a better way,” based on vague “interlocking arrangements.” Sheepishly, they acknowledged, “This alternative path is not without some risk, but it is preferable to the known dangers of war.” In other words, they offered sentiment but no substance. The signers included the usual suspects from the National Council of Churches, Old-line Protestant bureaucrats, a few leftist Catholic orders, and their natural ally, the Islamic Society of North America.
Although he signed the interfaith plea, Jim Wallis issued his own more mercurial and more bellicose demand for U.S. withdrawal. “War is good business for those who run the military-industrial complex that former President Eisenhower warned us about,” he intoned. “Generals always recommend more war because it’s their business. It gets them promotions and advances their careers.” Wallis has essentially rehashed his anti-Vietnam rhetoric for 40 years. He declared the war “can no longer be justified in Afghanistan,” without noting that, as a pacifist, he thought no force was justified after 9-11.
Wallis derided Obama’s continued U.S. military presence in Afghanistan as a “moral mistake.” And, in his usual refrain, he urged an urgent mobilization of “resistance” across the religious community against an “unnecessary and unjust war.” In contrast to President Obama, Wallis concluded, “Our message on Afghanistan must be: ‘War No More.’” But traditional people of faith understand there will be war so long as frail humanity is sinful. There may be legitimate arguments for a quicker U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan. But neither Obama, nor any chief magistrate, can take seriously the Religious Left’s surreal demand for a pacifist foreign policy.