Two days after 9/11, straight-talking Jerry Falwell went on The 700 Club and said, "The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad." He went on to criticize pagans, feminists, homosexuals, and secularists generally.
Mr. Falwell was offering the classic Christian perspective that God judges nations as well as individuals. He made a mistake in tying this specific disaster to particular sins, implying as he did that people who commit one sin are responsible for another. His timing was bad and his statement was wide open to distortion (I've also made statements that could readily be taken out of context, and paid the public-relations penalty).
Liberal publications, of course, jumped on Mr. Falwell, who the next day released a statement that should have ended the matter: "I hold no one other than the terrorists and the people and nations who have enabled and harbored them responsible for Tuesday's attacks on this nation." Publications continued to dump on him, though, and the verbal tar-and-feathering of this blunt but godly man illuminates one reality: Our new war on terrorism does not mean that our American culture war is over.
It's a culture war that will have to be fought in a new way. Pro-lifers and pro-aborts will need to work together for the common defense, without overlooking the inconsistency of those who defend born life against terrorists while exposing the unborn to long knives and chemical warfare. It was like that during the American Revolution as well, when anti-slavery and pro-slavery patriots could not overlook the incongruity of battling for liberty while keeping human beings in chains.
Those on both sides of the slavery issue had to work together then, and so will we. Maybe we can start by acknowledging our own sins of selfishness and self-righteousness. Instead of seeming to point the finger at others constantly, we should spend more time pointing at ourselves and praying that in relation to terrorists and everyone else, we seek justice and the saving of lives, not revenge.
The left is already equating with revenge any U.S. military action against terrorists. On the Unitarian Universalist website, a leading indicator of religious left attitudes, clergypeople worried about "national leaders and opinion shapers who are so eager to retaliate" with "acts of vengeance and retribution." They want the United States to "engage in constructive dialogue, to make adjustments and concessions," particularly because "Jesus the Jewish peasant was in some obvious ways very much like the Palestinians of our own times."
Some of the UUs twisted Bible phrases, and others on the religious left will be doing so a lot. We'll be hearing repeatedly, "Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord," as if vengeance is the reason the United States is going after the 9/11 murderers. But it's not. When a serial killer leaves a message, "I'll murder again as soon as I can," scrawled with his latest victim's blood, the manhunt formed to stop him is working for prevention, not retribution.
We'll also be hearing, yanked out of context, Christ's exhortation to "turn the other cheek." But that's in the context of a personal indignity: If Osama bin Laden, invited to a White House reception, spat on the president, Mr. Bush would be right to turn the other cheek to him. Since, though, we are to love our neighbors, we are not to be complicit in their murder by ignoring a man who has vowed to murder them. The apostle Peter wrote that government is established by Christ "to punish those who do wrong."
Biblical Christians will need to fight the Scripture-twisting that is likely to emerge from those lying low now but ready to resurface when flag-waving diminishes. This new war needs to be fought in the just manner that J. Budziszewski outlines on pages 28-29 of this issue, but it clearly needs to be fought.
The casualties that could emerge from new terrorist attacks might well lead to an appeasement campaign. I pray that the 9/11 disaster is the worst thing the United States has to face, but a terrorist attack using biological or chemical weapons could be much worse. Losses have a way of escalating in wars. The last time a war was fought on American soil, people were shocked by the nearly 4,000 casualties at Bull Run (Manassas), the first battle of the Civil War. At Gettysburg in 1863 the total was 51,000.
So let's be prepared for internal debate as well as external struggle.