One of the greatest sources of historical shame for Christians is the way that Church leaders blithely approved of unjust, destructive wars.
From the wars against Native Americans to our own civil war — in which slaveowners quoted the Bible to justify their fight — to colonial conquests in Asia and Africa, all too often believers and pastors, bishops and generals, have overlooked the strict criteria which Christians have always accepted for what makes a war “just” or not. These ecumenically accepted conditions are narrow and demanding:
- the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
- all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
- there must be serious prospects of success;
- the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.
Some conflicts absolutely meet this test. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and Germany declared war on the U.S., only deluded pacifists would have denied that we should fight. When Afghanistan harbored Al Qaeda in the wake of 9/11, again the answer was obvious.
But all too often our leaders are willing to send our troops into war when the conflict is not necessary and wouldn’t even be wise. Rulers throughout the centuries have launched unnecessary and foolish wars for a long list of reasons. Sometimes they wanted to assert their nation’s strength, at others to promote the national ideology and impose their own system of government on another country that was unwilling or unready for it. Some adventurous politicians today want to throw American weight around and spread “democracy” in a Muslim world that has shown no aptitude for it AND no commitment to protecting the rights of religious minorities. Christian churches and villages from Benghazi to Baghdad lie in rubble as a result.
Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and John Kasich have said that the U.S. should go way beyond fighting ISIS—that we should send our pilots to confront Russian airplanes and threaten to shoot them down. For what purpose? To topple the dictatorship of Bashir Assad in Syria, and make room for the Islamist militias that are fighting to take the country—militias allied with Al Qaeda and funded by the bigoted regimes in Saudi Arabia and Turkey, where few Christians dare to live. None of these powerful militias are committed to religious tolerance. Few Christians are left alive in the areas they control.
Indeed, the proposed U.S. invasion of Syria seems likely to go like Iraq all over again. In that conflict American soldiers stood idly by—following misguided orders from the State Department—while more than a million Christians were killed, robbed, raped, or driven into exile. I have worked with, met with, and talked with Iraqi Christian survivors. And what they ask us is this: “How could you American Christians, and your Christian president, do this to us? The people you put in power let Muslim militias ethnically cleanse our villages, burn our 1700-year-old monasteries and churches, drive us into unheated containers to freeze in the winter and sweat in the summer. You paved the way for the rape squads of ISIS. What did we ever do to you?”
What can we say? That we thought it more important to rally around the Republicans, who were led by a school of utopian dreamers? That we didn’t bother to think about what would happen to them? That because they weren’t Western, we lumped them in with Muslims? At least we had some reason to consider Iraq a threat to the United States. No one even pretends that the embattled Syrian government poses any danger to us today.
We don’t have access to the statements of Iraqi Christian leaders before the U.S. invasion, but there are Christian leaders in Syria now, and we owe it to them to listen to what they have to say before we decide on electing a president committed to invading their country and turning them over to their intolerant Islamist enemies—men little better than ISIS. Here is what the local bishop, Gregorios III, the worldwide leader of millions of Melkite Catholics, told Aid to the Church in Need:
If [the West] helps moderates in Syria in a direct way, [it is] helping ISIS in an indirect way. If you give money to the weak, moderate groups one day, it will get into the hands of the powerful, militant groups the next. We see this happening every day…
Under pressure from U.S.- and Saudi-backed Islamist militias as much as from ISIS itself:
every day people are leaving the country, some with visas, some without. Sometimes, people take with them thousands of dollars in the hope of getting to Europe—leaving themselves open to exploitation or worse.
Other religious minorities, such as Syria’s Shiites and Alawites, are also in danger of genocide and of falling victim to Sunni Muslims’ century-long project of “cleansing” Arab countries of “infidels” and “heretics,” which began with the Armenian genocide exactly 100 years ago. Countries such as Iraq and Turkey that once boasted rich religious diversity, with Christian and Jewish communities living side by side, are now monolithically Sunni Muslim, and monasteries and churches that date back to the second century are now being used as mosques or lying in heaps of rubble. That is not an accident. It a program, and Syria is next on the list.
I don’t see how Christians can support such a policy, or a candidate such as Marco Rubio who favors it—any more than they could support a defender of partial birth abortion. I challenge my fellow Christians to listen to the voices of the martyrs, the plea of our brother Christians threatened with persecution. We rightly spoke out when the HHS mandate imposed itself on our religious freedom, when judges attacked Christian business owners, as in Oregon. How dare we take freedom away from unarmed, besieged fellow Christians in Syria in the name of spreading “democracy” or asserting U.S. prestige? If we are complicit in using our nation’s military to subject our fellow Christians to violent persecution — out of misguided patriotism, lazy idealism, or rank partisan loyalty — do we deserve such freedom ourselves?”
Jason Jones is the co-author of The Race to Save Our Century.