Mark Kleiman created quite a dust-up in the blogosphere with this post:
Am I the only person who couldn't care less about the opinions of a bunch of preachers about policy toward Iraq ? If I don't pay any attention to what Jerry Falwell thinks about same-sex marriage, why pay attention to what the National Council of Churches thinks about foreign policy?
I think Mark was being needlessly rude, but I also think I see the point he's driving at. In fact, I raised a very similar complaint about an antiwar sermon last year at All Saints:
For one thing, he lapsed into that frequent failing of political Christians, speaking outside his area of expertise. Talk soon moved away from the ideals of Christ towards practical ideas of how to deal with the current conflict, through international law and so on, that seem like a matter of policy on whose efficacy people with the same goals can disagree. They should not be confused with religious doctrine. (Leftist Christians are hardly the only guilty parties here; the Assemblies of God, for instance, opines in its doctrine that pornography isn't covered by the First Amendment.)
The other problem is the nature of the reasoning in the letter. In the interests of keeping it short, I suppose, they don't spell it out in great detail. But they seem to be following a kind of similar line of thinking as the priest mentioned above, in assuming that if you start with certain principles it will lead you inevitably to a certain course of action. And so, we travel from the principle that every person is a child of God to the assertion that a U.N. takeover of Iraq is the only way to "foster any chance of a lasting peace." I am sure that Mark and many others like him would also like to see a lasting peace in Iraq, but don't necessarily agree with the latter assertion -- because of the U.N.'s spotty record elsewhere, or because the U.S. might generate more anger by ducking out, or whatever. Why the NCC believes that this is the best method is really not stated, other than a kind of broad support of internationalism.
Look at it this way: Suppose I ask my pastor to recommend a good restaurant in town. I would not be appealing to his authority as a pastor, but as a guy who loves food and has lived in L.A. all his life. So his answer to me would not be from pastoral authority, and it would not demand any reference to Scripture. But when a group of pastors puts their policy advice in a letter mixed in with pastoral advice, it's no surprise that they seem to be speaking from religious authority all the way through.
This matters, I think, because it's not only irritating to political scientists like Mark, but it carries theological implications I'm not happy with. What is the goal of this policy advice? Ultimately, it appears to be figuring how the greatest number can survive and prosper. America, the letter says, has provoked hostility by occupying Iraq, so withdrawal isn't just good for Iraq but for America's self-preservation. It will leave everybody better off. The ultimate argument is basically utilitarian.
Compare that with Fr. Jake's commentary on Christian pacifism, especially this bit:
And there's the rub; the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ laid bare; we will die before we resort to violence. To accept that truth, we have to let go of our desperate drive to survive. Is survival what it's all about in God's kingdom? I think not; it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
As it is, though, it's not really very clear if the church body's goals are that different from the goals of any decent-minded person. Make the world as peaceful and happy as possible. Avoid war as much as possible. Gain the world's respect. All those are worthy goals, and few would disagree with them, but that's why Mark didn't really see it as falling under religious expertise. Do Christians have anything unique to bring here?Posted by Camassia at May 27, 2004 04:04 PM | TrackBack