Southern Baptist leaders call for war … or something

Southern Baptist leaders call for war … or something March 3, 2015

Southern Baptist Convention president Ronnie Floyd and 16 of his predecessors have penned an open letter to President Barack Obama, calling on him to do … something or other about ISIS.

This is one of the strangest documents I’ve ever seen produced by a group of religious leaders. Here is the body of the letter, unedited, in its entirety:

Since ISIS is a continuing threat to world peace in a way unknown to us since the Nazis of World War II, we humbly call upon you to use the influence and power of your distinguished office to take the necessary actions now in this urgent hour to bring an end to these human atrocities. The abuse, brutalization, and murder of children, women, and men that is occurring before the world calls our country to lead forward to bring this to an end.

As you do this, please know that we are not only praying for you, but assure you that you will have the unequivocal support of the vast majority of America’s largest, and some say most multi-ethnic and multi-lingual, Protestant denomination in America. The world will applaud your courage and compassion as you defend those that Scripture calls “the least of these.”

Mr. President, just as Esther led forward for the deliverance of the Jews in her day, we believe you also “have come to the kingdom for such a time as this.” You have been given an historical moment to lead in protecting the people and the principle of religious freedom in the world. We are praying for you to have wisdom and courage in this hour.

These former presidents of our Convention join me, the current President of the Southern Baptist Convention, in making this humble, but urgent appeal to you.

I don’t just mean that this open letter is strange because its a bunch of churchmen calling for war in Jesus’ name. That’s pretty kooky, but not surprising or even unusual for Southern Baptist leaders. They’ve often publicly argued that the Prince of Peace wants another war.

And yes, using the parable of the sheep and the goats to argue for military intervention is a creative and innovative interpretation of that text. (“Then the Son of Man will say, I was hungry, and you crushed my enemies, saw them driven before me, and heard the lamentation of their women.”) But that’s not the strangest part of this.

The absence of any mention of the refugee crisis in Syria and Iraq is appalling and shameful, but it’s not strange. These are Southern Baptists, after all, and “America’s largest Protestant denomination in America” isn’t renowned for its hospitality toward foreigners of the wrong shade.

No, the weirdest thing about this weird open letter is that these pious churchmen who profess such deep concern about the threat of ISIS seem utterly unaware that the president they’re addressing has been bombing the hell out of ISIS for quite some time now.

That’s what makes this letter such a surreal document. That’s what exposes its signatories as utterly unserious. This is like an open letter to FDR calling for military action against Japan — in 1944.

It’s bizarre. But these Southern Baptists aren’t alone, as Steve Benen documented late last month:

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) complained Obama “won’t act” against ISIS after the president had already launched a military offensive against ISIS. Around the same time, Fox News aired an on-screen message that falsely told viewers there had been “no military action yet against ISIS.”

If I could explain any of this, I would. It’s as if much of the Republican Party sees American airstrikes against ISIS targets, but has chosen not to believe their lying eyes. …

The prerequisite to having a credible debate about U.S. military intervention abroad is acknowledging that U.S. military intervention abroad exists. We can’t have a serious debate when one side of the fight replaces our reality with their own alternate version where facts don’t matter.

Benen followed that up with a look at Sen. Marco Rubio’s proposal for a new approach against ISIS — which is pretty much exactly what the Obama administration as been doing since last August.

Kevin Drum put it this way: “The drumbeat for President Obama to ‘do something’ to fight ISIS is growing louder every day among prospective Republican presidential candidates. It’s all a bit weird, since Obama rather plainly is doing something, as interviewers repeatedly point out whenever the subject comes up.”

Perhaps the most memorable example of that was when Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin trotted out this “do something” language on ABC News’ “This Week,” but wasn’t able to clarify what he meant when Martha Raddatz asked him to explain:

WALKER: I think aggressively, we need to take the fight to ISIS and any other radical Islamic terrorist in and around the world, because it’s not a matter of when they attempt an attack on American soil, or not if I should say, it’s when, and we need leadership that says clearly, not only amongst the United States but amongst our allies, that we’re willing to take appropriate action. I think it should be surgical.

RADDATZ: You don’t think 2,000 air strikes is taking it to ISIS in Syria and Iraq?

WALKER: I think we need to have an aggressive strategy anywhere around the world. I think it’s a mistake to –

RADDATZ: But what does that mean? I don’t know what aggressive strategy means. If we’re bombing and we’ve done 2,000 air strikes, what does an aggressive strategy mean in foreign policy?

Walker couldn’t say. It’s hard to tell whether he genuinely was unaware that the U.S. military was already pounding ISIS with thousands of air strikes, or if he was just counting on the audience and the interviewer not knowing that.

The latter would be coldly cynical, and I would not wish to suggest that the current president of the Southern Baptist Convention and his last 16 predecessors are all so wholly cynical. So, to be more charitable, I will assume the best-case scenario — that these men all endorsed a call for the president to “do something” about ISIS without ever bothering to find out if their country was already doing something.

That incuriosity and ignorance is difficult to reconcile with these eminent Southern Baptists’ claim that they consider this a matter of great and urgent importance. They seem to think it’s important enough to write an “open letter” to the president about, but not so important that any of them needed to bother to read even a basic newspaper report about the U.S. military response that’s been going on for more than six months. Weird.

I suppose it could be that these men were just too excited to bother reading about this. They seem giddily thrilled by the idea of ISIS — “a continuing threat to world peace in a way unknown to us since the Nazis of World War II.” That makes no sense at all as any kind of objective assessment — grossly misrepresenting the scope and scale and potential of this brutal group. But that description has nothing to do with any objective assessment — or with anything resembling reality. It has to do with what Josh Marshall calls an “episode of war intoxication.”

Which is to say it has to do with exactly the same kind of self-aggrandizing fantasy role-playing that we talked about yesterday.

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