ESSAY- WWJB: What would Jesus bomb?
"Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness, and pride of power and with its plea for the weak." —Dietrich Bonhoeffer
As bombs explode throughout the Middle East and images of the charred bodies of innocent women and children begin to surface, the evangelical Christian church's response to the carnage— complete and utter silence— is reaching deafening levels.
It would be naïve to think that war can ever be wholly avoided— obviously, some wars need to be fought— but it's how warfare is conducted that's in question. And when innocent civilians are deliberately targeted (news reports indicate that Lebanese passenger buses and a refugee camp have come under fire), one can only wonder at the reasoning behind such tactics.
Certainly, the decision to unleash the kinds of weapons raining down on the Middle East right now, where civilian casualties continue to mount, is a military one. Obviously, it's also a political one. But is it a Christian one?
In a twisted play on the popular refrain "WWJD?"— What Would Jesus Do?—some anti-war activists have begun asking "What Would Jesus Bomb?" It's a question for which President Bush, a self-avowed Christian, seems to have no answer, at least if one were to judge by his authorization of bombing campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan and his silence over Israel's latest military actions in Lebanon.
Yet most of the people I polled, a mixture of Christians and non-Christians, do not suffer the same confusion. "What or who would Jesus bomb?" they were asked. Their answers never varied: "Jesus would not bomb or kill anyone."
When pressed to explain, the responses ranged from "Jesus would have shown compassion rather than killing anyone" to "God is love" to "Jesus was always looking to love his enemies"— and so on.
Mind you, Jesus was no stranger to anger. There were times in his life when he reacted with anger, most often at injustice. The most famous incident may be the time when Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers in the Jerusalem Temple.
Clearly, however, he loved peace more than violence. And he trusted God to bring about justice in his own time. Even when the hour of his death neared and Roman soldiers pursued him, Jesus instructed his disciples: "Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword." In the Beatitudes, Jesus preached, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God."
And when pressed to name the greatest commandment, Jesus responded that it was to love God with all of our being, adding that we should also love our neighbor (that is, all humans) as we love ourselves. In other words, we love God by loving our fellow human beings.
Jesus, the "Prince of Peace," came to heal the sick, set the captives free and give sight to the blind. His ultimate purpose was to promote life, not to damage or destroy it. He once said, "The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy, but I have come that they may have life, and they may have it abundantly."
The present administration insists that we are fighting for the freedom and livelihood of the Iraqis, Afghans, etc. But what about the freedom of all the innocent civilians who are caught in the crossfire, their deaths explained away as "collateral damage"? For example, the civilian Iraqi war dead number at least 50,000, with some estimates as high as 100,000— again, many of them innocent women and children.
If President Bush and those evangelical Christians who support him sought to have their actions match up with Jesus' values, wouldn't they be more inclined to value innocent life– especially when we risk bombing not just our targeted enemies, but those who have nothing to do with the conflict itself?
Bombing innocent civilians and using violence to accomplish one's means is ultimately not an attribute of Christ. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, "The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it... Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
It is telling that on October 22, 2004, the United Methodists of America chose to speak truth to power, much like the early Christians in the Bible, when they issued a signed statement to President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, both self-proclaimed Methodists, which reads:
We, the undersigned, are also very much disturbed by President Bush's many references to the significance of Christian faith in the decisions that he has made as President of the United States. George W. Bush has called Jesus his "favorite philosopher," said that Jesus changed his life, and that his decisions are often guided by prayer. In fact, we feel that most of his actions as president have directly contradicted the philosophy of Jesus. Jesus said to feed, clothe, and shelter the 'least of these,' not to starve, strip, and bomb them.
Who would Jesus bomb? You tell me.
Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute and author of the award-winning Grasping for the Wind.