What Christians Critics of the Iraq War Forget

What Christians Critics of the Iraq War Forget March 22, 2013

A guest post from Mark Tooley:


It’s now been 10 years since the launch of the Iraq War.   And some religionists have exploited the anniversary as a time for national regret and spiritual repentance.

Former McCormick Theological Seminary President Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, in a Washington Post online column, represents many of these voices  by condemning the Iraq War as a “moral, fiscal and geopolitical disaster for the United States,” which “broke the rules of war by ignoring them or so completely ‘re-defining’ them that they lost their meaning.”

Thistlethwaite cites “enhanced interrogation,” which is really “torture,” while also remembering the degradation at Abu Ghraib, as evidence of America having “lost our soul.”  She also cites polls ostensibly showing most evangelicals support “torture,” although she declines really to define “torture,” as many critics of “enhanced interrogation” have.

The Iraq War was a “war of choice, a pre-emptive war,” violating Just War principles, Thistlethwaite also complained.  The early church was “pacifist,” she asserts, and Augustine and Aquinas developed Just War to emphasize “self-defense” and defense of the “vulnerable other.”  Instead, the U.S. waged a “preventive war” with an absence of “imminent” threat and with no discoverable weapons of mass destruction, which she rather conspiratorially claims the U.S. government actually knew.  She also claims that pre-emptive war has been “subtly corrosive” and facilitated public support for the U.S. drone program as “ pre-emptive violence.

Thistlethwaite asserts that the Iraq War created “more terrorists” and “more enemies” instead of “reducing the threat to our nation from terrorism.” She concludes:  “Ten years is a long time and it is long past time for the people of the United States, and our leaders, to engage in self-examination in how we got to such a state that we are willing to unilaterally attack another nation, engage in torture, deceive about the pretext for war, and count the real costs, morally, fiscally and geopolitically.”

In a similar but more explicitly pacifist vein, Florida pastor and peace activist Craig Watts, writing for Tony Campolo’s “Red Letter Christians,” denounces the Iraq War as “immoral and unjust.”  Indeed, “only those who view the world through the thickest ideological lens and those who have benefited the most economically claim the war was ‘worth it.’”  He cites 134,000 dead Iraqis, nearly 4500 U.S. dead service personnel and 3400 U.S. contractors killed.  He claims “increased radicalism in the region.”  And he also notes the exodus of Iraqi Christians since the war.  “The American public and nationalistically inclined religious leaders too quickly and uncritically accepted the dubious justifications for invading Iraq,” Watts claims, specifically criticizing U.S. evangelicals for supporting the war.   Unlike Thistlethwaite, he does not cite Just War teaching, because presumably he does not believe in it.

Watts and Thistlethwaite, like most secular critics of the war, don’t dwell on the downside of Saddam Hussein’s reign, nor do they describe preferred alternatives to removing Saddam circa 2003 or beyond.  Their critique would be more serious if it admitted Saddam directly murdered hundreds of thousands, while robbing, torturing and raping many more, waged war against at least 4 of his neighbors, was effectively still at war with the U.S. and other coalition nations since the ceasefire of the 1990 Persian Gulf War, had ties to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, had attempted to assassinate former President George H. W. Bush, was funding Palestinian terrorism, had links with a network of terror groups including al Qaeda (although not an ongoing collaborative relationship, as the 9-11 Commission specified), had joined Afghanistan’s Taliban regime as one of only two governments in the world to publicly endorse 9-11, had an ongoing chemical warfare program that was resurrecting although lacking discoverable, deployable weapons, and was exploiting the international sanctions against his further weapons procurement to enrich himself and his Baathist Party at the expense of reputedly hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who were prematurely dying for lack of food, clean water, and medicines, even as those international sanctions were eroding, thanks partly to Russians, French and others who were themselves profiteering off Iraqi oil.

The war critics, religious and otherwise, usually omit that Saddam’s continued reign required an ongoing U.S. troops presence in Saudi Arabia, which was politically problematic and perhaps unsustainable.  Osama bin Laden cited this infidel presence in the land of the Prophet as a specific motive of 9-11.  There was also in 2003 the by then 13 year U.S. and British air force no-fly zones imposed upon Iraq to prevent Saddam’s further slaughter of the Kurds to the north and Shiites in the south.  This largely humanitarian military project was perhaps also unsustainable and would now be 23 years old. Of course, Saddam’s rule also necessitated U.S. troops in Kuwait, which he previously invaded.

Hardheaded realists have argued and do argue that continued military containment of Saddam, even with all his ongoing murderous horrors, was preferable to war in 2003.  These realists are at least transparently consistent.  But more idealistic religious critics of the Iraq War, and of usually all wars, simplistically assert a stark choice between war and peace, without admitting more may die and suffer from a supposed peace than from war, or that avoidance of war may in fact only delay it, often facilitating an even wider and more horrific war.

Christian pacifists of today reject all war at all times, while only rarely admitting the increased suffering that may actually result.  Many religionists who profess Just War adherence often demand maximalist, unattainable standards that default towards a functional pacifism.  Actual policymakers, many of whom are often Christian and seriously regard church teachings, cannot and should not heed utopian demands from academics, activists and clergy who intone from on high and do not plausibly transmit the Just War tradition to which the vast majority of The Church has long adhered.

Serious Christians must apply their teachings with discernment about the real world, not a preferred dream sequence.  There must also be historical perspective.   Would the world really be better today if Saddam’s murderous Baathist regime were still in place? How so? American anti-war activists, religious and otherwise, have been in high dungeon since the Vietnam War, but rarely if ever consider the genocide, slavery and suffering that ensued after the U.S. withdrawal they sought.  The Korean War killed 10 times as many Americans and Koreans as the Iraq War, and was far more disastrous in many ways, leaving North Korea’s tyranny in place and South Korea a dictatorship for another 40 years.  Yet historically, 60 years later, it is now considered a measured success, a key moment in the West’s survival during the Cold War that spared now prosperous and democratic South Koreans from North Korea’s dark, impoverished servitude.  World War II was the “good war” that killed over 400,000 Americans in under 4 years and that entailed the U.S. air force’s incinerating countless German and Japanese cities while in alliance with a Stalinist tyranny little if at all morally better than the Nazis, and leaving half of Europe in captivity to that surviving tyranny.  And yet the alternatives were even worse.

The U.S. war most resembling Iraq was the now largely forgotten Philippines Insurrection after the Spanish American War, which killed about the same number of Americans, with Filipino deaths on par with Iraqis.  U.S. forces were accused of torture and atrocities against the guerrillas.  Like Thistlethwaite, critics of U.S. imperialism like Mark Twain and William Jennings Bryan warned America would lose its soul. At the start, President William McKinley told his fellow Methodists he chose to retain the Philippines for America after prayerful consideration that other imperial empires would have gobbled them up otherwise.  Likely he was right, and probably Japan would have seized the Philippines about that time as it did Korea, inflicting decades of notorious cruelty until overthrown by American force of arms over 40 years later.

Christians must address the world as it is, not as we wish, advancing incremental justice when possible, with the available instruments at hand.  We must realize that power vacuums will always be filled by some force, and some earthly powers are decidedly preferable to others.  We also have to admit that all human endeavors, warlike or peaceful, even when noble, are flawed by human sin and finite wisdom, and usually will have unintended negative consequences.  Sometimes relative justice has been advanced by the severity of war.  And sometimes injustice and disaster are precipitated by the inept pursuit of peace.

In his marvelous new book Shaking Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, United Methodist theologian William Abraham of Southern Methodist University notes the “world is shot through with evil and sin; people deliberately and systematically reject the full resources of grace in their private and public lives; the default position in human life is war not peace.”  Theologically grounded Christians should understand this basic truth, but how many truly do?

Americans of both left and right, religious and otherwise, are inherently idealistic and often expect a perfection impossible in war or peace.   Such perfection will be possible only when God’s Kingdom is fully consummated.  Until then, Christians can modestly work for what is attainable by God’s grace.


Mark Tooley is President of the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

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  • Mark did an excellent job explaining the reality and necessity of war. To wish for more without force is foolhardy!

  • “Serious Christians must apply their teachings with discernment about the real world,..”
    And thus did Charles Spurgeon in his day: “The Lord’s battles, what are they? Not the garment rolled in blood, not the noise, and smoke, and din of human slaughter. These may be the devil’s battles, if you please, but not the Lord’s. They may be days of God’s vengeance but in their strife the servant of Jesus may not mingle.”

    “..the truth as to war must be more and more insisted on: the loss of time, labour, treasure, and life must be shown, and the satanic crimes to which it leads must be laid bare. It is the sum of all villainies, and ought to be stripped of its flaunting colours, and to have its bloody horrors revealed; its music should be hushed, that men may hear the moans and groans, the cries and shrieks of dying men and ravished women….”

  • DougH

    That article pretty well sums it up. I can remember the situation in the Middle East just before we liberated Iraq – the collapsing sanctions regime, the way the presence of out troops in Saudi Arabia was destabilizing the country and acting as a rallying cry for extremists, the games Hussein was playing with the arms inspections and how he was supporting terrorist attacks on Israel. And that doesn’t take into account the millions of dead that Hussein was responsible for.

    While I have real problems with the neocons and how they bungled the occupation of Iraq beyond belief, they at least had foreign policy goals based on principle rather than just blatant national self-interest, and their list of enemies was one a man can be proud of.

    • Noah172

      Your first paragraph is illogical.

      The sanctions regime was not “collapsing” in the sense that Hussein was able to build a WMD program or even strengthen his conventional forces (his military was substantially weaker in 2003 than in 1991). The sanctions were a failure morally in that they hurt the Iraqi people without really loosening the tyrant’s grip on power, which is typical of sanctions policies.

      Our military presence in SA was indeed a casus belli for Osama bin Laden, but how does that fact then lead to invading Iraq? Why couldn’t we have just left SA? After all, the Saudis have plenty of money and a large enough population (relative to Iraq’s certainly) to defend themselves, which is in any case every sovereign nation’s responsibility.

      If Hussein was supporting terrorism against Israel, then that was Israel’s problem. Israel is not — repeat not — a treaty ally of the US, and has powerful conventional and nuclear forces of its own (lavishly subsidized by the American taxpayer). As for Hussein’s crimes against his own people, I must say with sadness that there are many murderous tyrants in the world, and that Saddam Hussein was neither the first nor the last nor the worst. As a practical and even moral matter, America cannot invade every country with a bad leader. The US has negotiated with and even allied itself with similar and worse despots (Stalin, Mao) — heck, the US supported Hussein himself during the Iran-Iraq War!

      On your second paragraph, any nation’s foreign policy *should* be based on national interests rather than utopian, messianic fanaticism masquerading as “principle”. Revolutionary France set Europe aflame to advance their “principles” of overthrowing monarchy, disestablishing the Church, and all that “liberte, egalite, fraternite” claptrap. It was a catastrophe. The neocons are a blight on our body politic. Their list of enemies included many patriotic Americans, including military veterans and intelligence professionals, who did not believe, or came to disbelieve, the neocons’ various justifications for the Iraq War.

      • Bill Goff

        Thank you, Noah, for saying so well what I was thinking. To paraphrase President Obama, “I am not against all wars, but I am against dumb wars.” In my view Iraq was a dumb war. And it was even dumber to borrow money to pay for us and sink us deeply in debt.

        • DougH

          The liberation of Iraq wasn’t dumb at all, it was planned and carried out brilliantly. The occupation that followed was bungled beyond belief, both in its total misreading of the nature of the Iraqi people, its attempt to keep a light hand, and its attempt to be handled on the cheap. The result was a cost in both lives and treasure, ours and the Iraqis, that was much greater than it needed to be.

          But the combined Iraq War and occupation has hardly sunk us “deeply in debt.” During the two Bush terms our debt increased about $5 trillion and Obama has added another $5.7 trillion in his first term, while so far the number I can find for the Iraq War/occupation is $812 billion – a number that is still growing and will for decades as we pay out for interest and soldier’s benefits, but still at the moment less than $1 trillion. That’s less than 1/10 of the debt we’ve accumulated since Bush took office. So while it has certainly contributed, you’ll need to look for the blame for most of our recent debt elsewhere.

      • DougH

        The sanction regime was collapsing as in, “not going to last much longer.” Opposition was growing to it for the very reasons you give, the damage it was doing to the Iraqi people without weakening Hussein’s grip on power. If we hadn’t invaded we would have soon done exactly as you suggest, pulled out of Saudi Arabia as the sanctions vanished. The result would have been Hussein unfettered, able to rebuild both his military and his WMD program, his reputation boosted by his real victory over the US and our allies, right in the middle of perhaps the most important region in the world for our own economy.

        As for our foreign policy, you missed a word in my comment: “JUST blatant national self-interest.” I agree that our own national self-interest needs to be advanced by our policies, especially when combat is involved – I find the idea of spending the lives of our young people purely for other nations’ benefit, when they signed up to serve and protect the US, totally abhorrent. But our foreign policy also needs a moral element, so that both parts of the equation are answered in the positive: “does it serve our national interests” and “is it moral.” Overthrowing Hussein and liberating Iraq certainly matched both those criteria at the time the decision was made. And certainly the neocons’ goal of expanding freedom and democratic republicanism was a good one, I have no problem with that. I do have a problem with their assumption that it would be easy or cheap, or even necessarily possible.

  • Noah172

    I respect much Mr. Tooley’s stance on the immigration issue, and am disappointed with his remarks here. The Iraq War was unjust in its origins and its execution, and a catastrophe for the United States and many Iraqis, particularly that nation’s ancient Christian communities, some of the world’s oldest.

    I am partly pleased that Tooley at least mentions the Philippine war and rightly compares it to Iraq, but the conclusion he draws therefrom is wrong and hubristic. The US waged an imperial war over a territory that we had no intention of annexing to the US and granting citizenship to its inhabitants, against a people who wanted to govern themselves. Whether or not some other power *might* have invaded the Philippines decades later was not America’s judgement to make, and not America’s responsibility to “protect” the Filipinos by killing them and laying waste to their towns and cities.

    Tooley says nothing about the scandal of the lack of shared sacrifice in the Iraq War. Why was there no conscription? Why was there no tax increase, as in every other American war, but rather an egregious tax reduction while our troops were in harm’s way? Why was the burden of fighting placed entirely on a tiny number of volunteers, hardly any of whom came from the upper classes? Why was the burden of paying for the war placed entirely on future generations in the form of trillions in new debt? Why was not any sacrifice demanded or even asked of the broader public?

    • Basil

      I think Noah nailed the primary arguments why this was both immoral, and extraordinarily idiotic. The WMD arguments were transparently non-credible – Iraq was crawling with international inspectors, in addition to having the U.S. air force freely flying over on a regular basis. There is no conceivable way that they could have had a nuclear weapons program in 2002/3, as that would have required a functioning economy (not a crippled shell that Iraq was in 2002), and a massive industrial effort to mine and enrich uranium to a weapons grade. There was no way that could have been hidden. As for chemical weapons — Iraq did have chemical weapons, which they used in the 1980’s in the war with Iran. But those weapons have a shelf life, of maybe 5 years, before the chemical compounds to break down, and that is an overestimate — since the quality of the chemical bombs and artillery shells manufactured by the Iraqis in the 1980’s was pretty poor. By 2002, they certainly had long lost any usable capacity to deploy chemical weapons. All of this was known and knowable in 2002, when we were having our debates about this war.

      What was also known, and knowable, was that the occupation of Iraq was never going to be easy or cheap. Anyone with even a basic understanding of Iraq’s modern history would have understood that — the British created Iraq after the World War I out of three provinces of the Ottoman Empire that they had conquered (with great difficulty) in 1917 with an army of 600,000. And yet, despite this overwhelming military presence, by 1920, Iraqis launched a massive national uprising against the British occupation, which was only supressed by — aircraft dropping chemical weapons. So anyone, with even a passing knowledge of Iraq, would have understood, this was never going to be a cheap and easy war, and that the Iraqis were never going to be easily cowed.

      All of this was knowable 10 years ago. Yet we went to war anyways. We thought the Iraqis would behave like backward savages, overwhelmed by our “Shock and Awe”. And anyone who disagreed, was castigated as some sort of unpatriotric, un-American, terrorist shill. And those responsible for this moral, financial and political catastrophe have never been held to account for their misdeeds.

  • Dorfl

    What defenders of the Iraq war tend to forget is that the original rationale for the war was that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. These weapons turned out not to exist. This makes the war a spectacular mistake: the international equivalent of punching someone out because you think he’s holding a gun, and then realising it was actually a cell phone.

    It is possible that the war had the unintended positive consequences of making Iraq safer and protecting the world peace. Maybe. But those rationalisations did not turn up until the war effort was already well on its way.

    • What you apparently forget is that every major intelligence agency in the world & the UN thought that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Are we absolutely certain they didn’t exist? Regardless, his regime was itself a weapon of mass destruction, murdering how many Iraqis?

      • Dorfl

        I think the most you can say is that every major intelligence agency wasn’t certain that Iraq didn’t have weapons of mass destruction. Successive layers of yes-men made sure that the actual decision-makers were certain that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, but the actual information available was never enough to justify that certainty.

        Are we absolutely certain that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction? No. Nor are we absolutely certain that Switzerland, Denmark or Luxembourg do not have weapons of mass destruction. It is pretty much impossible to know for certain that something does not exist. Hence the number of people who believe in Bigfoot, Nessie, UFO:s, etc. Are you going to claim that not being sure that a country doesn’t have weapons of mass destruction is in itself a good reason to invade it?

        About Saddam’s regime being a “weapon of mass destruction”, the war was justified by claiming that Iraq had literal weapons of mass destruction. That is: nuclear, biological or chemical weapons. Trying to make this justification seem not to be false by arguing that the regime itself was metaphorically a weapon of mass destruction, is the kind of retcon through word games that a mediocre screenwriter might use to skim past a plot hole in his sf trilogy – not something that you can hope to get away with in the real world.

  • Jeremy Forbing

    As much suffering as Saddam Hussein caused in Iraq, years of civil war, occupation, and sectarian violence caused more. And Iraq’s closeness to Iran is a threat to U.S. interests that would not have occurred were Hussein, admittedly and evil madman. I do not think Christians should necessarily oppose all wars, but as servants of the Prince of Peace, they should at the very least demand an airtight case for warfare from their government; they certainly did not get one in this instance.

    • Exactly, Jeremy. I hope everyone has seen Noonan’s piece. It’s okay to say, “we were wrong, and we’ve made a bad situation far worse.” I agree with much of what Mark says but his conclusion is off.

  • daalch

    Tim, I think the book link goes to the wrong book and author.

  • David Trawick

    Billy Abraham’s book is: Shaking Hands With the Devil: The Intersection of Theology and Terrorism.

  • John Haas

    It’s not everyday you see someone compare the Iraq and Philippine Wars to actually recommend the former. But it’s a good point. Just imagine, if we hadn’t stopped those Filipinos there . . .

  • Here’s link to Billy Abraham’s book on war and terror cited in second to last para: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0615708897?ie=UTF8&force-full-site=1&ref_=aw_bottom_links

  • “Until then, Christians can modestly work for what is attainable by God’s grace.” This talks right past the issues of torture, civilian death, etc. The fact remains that this was not a ‘Christian war’ nor was it led by the ‘Kingdom of God’ or reflective of it. I’m not so sure of this formula of ‘gospel utilitarianism’ you’re using here. As Christian’s, our battle is not against flesh and blood, period. If you want to argue that the war was politically wise, fine. Look at the argument you make about how the U.S. ‘had to be in Saudi Arabia’. They didn’t have to be for righteousness’ sake. They had to be for war’s sake, for policy reason. Let’s not pretend like this war is reflective of the character of God or as if it were overwhelmingly beneficial. We went into the war on false pretenses, for Pete’s sake! Is that war good And while you’re at it with the utilitarian arguments, let’s actually get fully removed from the situation before we judge this as the next Korea. It’s not as if a righteous democracy that’s favorable towards the U.S. is rising up.

  • Eh, my computer had some issues so let me make an edit: 4 lines from the bottom is supposed to read, “Is that war good which is based on a lie? I think not.” Then “And while you’re at it….” That, plus 3 grammar mistakes I made have brought me only self-loathing.

  • David

    Mr. Tooley,
    Saddam H. was a bad leader. He was embraced by the very people who came to loathe him when he fit into their plans. That is the slippery slope of accommodation. Cozy up to a Saddam or Osama today and you run the risk of being bitten later.
    How did we Americans come to think that we should make the world a better place by ‘taking people out’?
    Saddam was already marginalized in 2002. public fear was played to political advantage after9/11.
    Remember how the world said”we are all Americans now!” after 9/11?
    A much more productive and life saving approach that should have been advocated by the American christian community would have bermn to flood the world with humanitarian aid after 9/11.
    That would have shown that the terrorist were wrong about America and could possibly have consolidated the initial support. Instead we acted out of our rage and millions of lives were lost for questionable gain. The proper question is not are we better without Saddam. The proper question is are we better than we have shown ourselves to be?

  • mitch

    This author loses me immediately by dismissively, saying “serious Christians” would think as he does. Iraq war was an utter disaster and I consider myself a serious Christian. Just last week Amnesty International reported that the Iraqi government was rife with human rights abuses, taking political prisoners, and employing torture. 4- 6 Trillion will be the total bill to displace Saddam.100 Billion in fraud and theft. At least he acted as a buffer to Iran. The new regime has strengthened Iran’s position in the region. 176,000 dead, 2 million plus displaced, close to 5,000 Americans dead, 32,000 wounded. . Mission Accomplished?

  • Rick

    Find me a war critic who says “the country was doing great under Saddam.” You can’t. That’s a massive straw man upon which the entire post is based.
    Instead, please be honest and acknowledge the actual arguments the critics are making: 1). The justification for war included the assertion that Saddam had WMD’s, aimed at us. Total fabrication. 2.) A related justification is that Iraq and Saddam were in bed with the people who had just aimed planes at the World Trade Centers. Again, untrue. 3.) The war itself was carried out abysmally, with the braintrust of Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Rice making one foolish decision after another regarding Iraqi factionalism, Iraqi ability to self-govern, Iraqi attitudes toward an occupying army, and a zillion other mis-steps. The U.S. seemed to have zero knowledge of culture and combat, and even less ability to adapt. The result was body-bags and lots of soldiers with metal legs. 4.) The war became such a mess that our old-school leaders resorted to torture. The fact that some Christians are even able to justify that is proof the Right-Wing church has lost it’s soul.

  • jerry lynch

    “No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Timothy 2:4).
    This article seems to suggest that Christians come to some practical compromise with worldliness, become hardheaded realists with needed “entanglements” or they are simplistic and foolhardy.

    “the default position in human life is war not peace.” Theologically grounded Christians should understand this basic truth, but how many truly do?
    Turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, and love your enemy are nice ideals but the “theologically grounded Christian” should know the proper response is to strike back?

    “Serious Christians must apply their teachings with discernment about the real world, not a preferred dream sequence.”
    The world is fallen. Entanglements with this state of affair is living a nightmare: being at enmity with God. No one said advancing the kingdom would be easy. For thousands of years, world peace has been sensibly avoided by that calm and rational voice that cautions, “C’mon, now, let’s be practical.” Prayer is not the answer now, the thinking of this articel seems to run; this situation is too serious and big, needing a worldly and immediate solution. Kill them. “For those that caused the least of these to stumble…”

    Living as Christ is wholly impractical. How we are asked be in the world, but not of it, is “not a preferred dream state” but the hard reality of sacrificial love. This sacrificial love is not sacrificing another for the nation’s best interest or even our own survival; it is the willing laying down of our own life.

    As to the actual questions about this war, there are a number of fine posts dispelling the articles assertions. And I especially enjoyed the quotes from Spurgeon, a man who was obviously not a “theologically grounded Christian” living in “a preferred dream state.”

  • jerry lynch

    Following Christ is not a democracy. That “the Just War tradition to which the vast majority of The Church has long adhered” is meaningless: we go by the word, not the majority.

    I found this in my files. Sorry I have no more information on it:

    Your campaign letter has been received and I want to respond, since I know you as a brother in Christ and think well of you. As a Christian I do not believe I can vote for you, or any other candidate, and be in accord with the mind of God. Allow me to explain.

    I believe Christians should pray (not vote) for “Kings and all that are in authority; that we (true believers) may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all Godliness and honesty” (I Tim.2:2). Our calling is unto Christ and a path of separation from “this present evil world” (Gal.1:4). Read also Matthew 7:13-14; John 17:14-17; Romans 12:1-2; I Cor.1:26-31; Eph.2:1-10; Eph.5:11; II Tim. 4:9-11; Titus 2:11-14; James 1:27; James 4:4; I John 1:3-6; I John 2:15-17. I do not find anywhere in the Word of God that believers should be involved in political affairs or any other worldly activities, but rather the opposite (II Cor.6:14-18).

    The picture God gives us, I believe, is of a world condemned and waiting for judgment to fall (see also Gen.19:29; John 12:31; I John 5:19; Rev.6,8,9,11,16). God is saving souls out of it. Christians are viewed by God as pilgrims and sojourners here in this wilderness land. Our citizenship is in heaven (Psa.39:12; Phil.3:20; Heb.11:13; I Pet.1:17). We are left here as ambassadors (John 17:18; II Cor. 5:20), not political activists. We are to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Luke 20:24-25), obey the laws (Rom.13:1; Titus 3:1), and “walk circumspectly” (Eph.5: 15). We are not to be “yoked together” in this world’s schemes (II Cor. 6:14-18).

    God has a great deal to say about this world that rejects His Son, but little to say to it. The world belongs to God and He loves all souls, but not the flesh and the world system. It is altogether corrupt and condemned (John 3:16-19). The saints might long for righteousness and moral order, but we must wait for Christ to come—that is the hope of the church. One day, “A King shall reign in righteousness” (Isa.32:1).

    “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (I Tim.1:15). He did not come to make the world a better place (John 12:46-47; John 17:6,9,14). He did not run for public office or establish His kingdom (John 18:36). His work was redemption, not social reform (John 4:34; John 12:24,26; John 14: 21-23). The message of God is repentance and separation, and that should be our testimony in conforming to Christ (Rom.8:29; Rom.12:2; II Tim.1:8-12).

    Let us not settle down “in the well-watered plains” like Lot (Gen.13:11). It proved to be a shame and very costly for him (Gen.19). We are born of God by the Spirit and are not of this world (John 1:12-13; Gal.6:14; I John 4:13). Brother, it is not the time to reign (Rev.5:10). I can understand Christians wanting to change government and the laws for good, but that is not the work of an “ambassador”. I don’t believe we should go beyond Scripture and reason our way. Let us bow to the Word of God.

    Well, dear friend, I pray for your good. I hope you will not take offense with my remarks. I just wanted to share my understanding of the Word of Truth. Kindest regards to you and Carol.
    – In Christ, (R.L.D.) – early 1970’s

  • Zeke

    “Would the world really be better today if Saddam’s murderous Baathist regime were still in place? How so?” For starters, ask the families of the 4500 US service personnel coping with the death of a loved one.
    Neoconservatism: never look back; never question; never take responsibility; always avoid accountability. Just seek power. Then wage war.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      I don’t think the point was that it’s illegitimate to question the Iraq war – just that those who would question the Iraq war need to take into account the full picture of positives and negatives. “Ask the families of the 4500 US service personnel” is more bumper-sticker rhetoric than an actual argument. Ask the families of those whose children were *not* killed because Saddam Hussein was no longer in power. Have a hard time knowing how to measure that? So do I – and that’s the point.

  • Joe Chip

    It is quite disheartening to find an apologist for the Iraq invasion getting ‘post time’ here at Patheos, but what’s one to do? If so-called Evangelicals are wondering why Western youth are increasingly shutting their ears to their murderous, violent rhetoric, one has to look no further than this post, where “loving God and your neighbor” is somehow translated into starting wars for the extension of global state power. Most people have by now admitted that the Iraq war was not only unjust, it was unneeded, wicked, and made war criminals of much of the leadership of the United States. This ugly “might makes right” pablum dressed up in Christian-ese is not only unconvincing, it’s vile.

    The world will always have it’s Mark Tooleys, who lie and spin the historical record to promote their own political ends, but we should endeavor to limit their speaking platforms lest they influence us further. Tooley omits that the US leadership lied regarding the (non-existent) WMD as a case for war, that the war was illegal as it was not authorized by the UN, and he glosses over the real human cost in lives, treasure, and loss of moral standing, preferring to play at guessing games of “what if” to justify an evil war of aggression. The fact that Tooley promotes such murderous wars while simultaneously claiming to hold to the teaching of “The Prince of Peace” Jesus Christ is, frankly, ludicrous.

  • Y

    I suspect that the strikes by drones would be seen as “acts of God” by many of our more primitive people. Ultimately Good? Ultimately Bad? I don’t know, and neither do all the self-righteous Monday morning quarterbacks who make pronouncements with no knowledge.

  • Dallas

    As a 24-year Army veteran (and still going), I have to say I agree with most of the dissenting voices in this discussion. I appreciate the author’s points, but I think that even considering if Iraq would have been better off had we never invaded is asking the wrong questions. The invasion of Iraq was simply not justified, and I although Saddam was violent, I think his evil was exaggerated. However, most of that could have been more readily forgiven if we hadn’t stretched the truth about WMD’s — but more importantly, most that would have been forgotten if we had not bungled the war’s aftermath so badly. It took us a month to break the country – practically record time for modern warfare – but 10 years (plus trillions of $$ and too many lives) later, Iraq is still pretty much broken. Was that price, plus the extra hatred of millions of Muslims, worth it? Time will tell — but in my humble opinion, we should have taken proper care of Afghanistan first, while containing Iraq, before we wend on Bush 43’s crusade to vindicate his legacy. The neocon addiction to war is by far one of the most insidious problems in this country; dubious justifications after the fact don’t make things better.

  • RedWell

    Tooley would be better served by taking a clearer fixed position about the Christian’s relationship with war: is it o.k. or not? Under what conditions? Tooley loses control of his argument by drawing upon a somewhat inconsistent mix of theology, just war theory and recent history, which invites the familiar debate about who was right, are things better off now, etc.

    Worse yet: Tooley appears to say that Christians should know better than anyone that the world is imperfect and that we would be hard-pressed to say anything definitive about the good and evil of any given war. Is this “Christian realism” in the mode of Reinhold Niebuhr? Is it “just war theory”? Should we focus on outcomes or simply do what is morally correct?

    Tooley’s critics here tend to over-simplify the Bush administration’s logic and justifications for war, but Tooley offers no solid ground from which to assess the Iraq War, which was neither prudent nor well-conceived. What criteria can we use to assess the war? Tooley only tells us that humans are sinful and the world is messy, but that view is neither specifically helpful nor particularly Evangelical.

  • Wondering how the Iraqi Christian community feels about their lives pre and post Saddam…

  • Herbert W Johnstok, B.S., D.D. (hon)

    WAR is great, and WAR is good, and we thank WAR for our food.

  • John

    I quote from a new report from Harvard. At a time when so much vitriol is flying about US federal budget deficits, this is a timely report – for many reasons. Mr. Tooley says above that “Christians must address the world as it is, not as they wish it to be.” It would have helped had people given more thought to probable costs of these wars, or as he says, “the world as it is.” Now, we are “paying the price”, literally, in political and governing turmoil.
    Yes, Mr. Hussein was a bloody dictator, and yes he was doing dreadful things – the same can be said for Stalin.


    “Linda Bilmes on U.S. engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan: “The most expensive wars in US history”
    March 28, 2013
    by Doug Gavel
    “A new exhaustive analysis undertaken by Harvard Kennedy School Senior Lecturer Linda Bilmes indicates that the U.S. military engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq have resulted in “the most expensive wars in U.S. history.” And, as a result she argues, the federal government will face some extremely difficult defense budget tradeoffs in the years ahead.

    “Bilmes, who is a former CFO of the US Department of Commerce, calculated all direct and indirect war related expenditures, “including long-term medical care and disability compensation for service members, veterans and families, military replenishment and social and economic costs.” The total pricetag, she calculates, will amount to between $4 and 6 trillion dollars. …