Our role in the war on terror

"Our role in the war on terror" Continued...

Issue: "Islam and teroris," Oct. 27, 2001

During the first three centuries of American history, disasters regularly led to national self-examination: Were we, sinners still, at least living in part by biblical principles? (See WORLD, Oct. 13.) In the 20th century a secularized version of the idea became common, often with use of a sentence from the writings of a French visitor to this country during the 1830s. Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, Hillary Clinton, Colin Powell, and Pat Buchanan all presented this purported quotation from Alexis de Tocqueville: "America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great." House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt used that same line on Sept. 14.

Tocqueville never wrote those words, but the message is nevertheless true. We can learn from Cold War I: Secretary of State Dean Acheson noted in 1947 that "suspicion and resentment" over the treatment of poor minorities in America hurt the nation internationally. John F. Kennedy argued that Jim Crow in the South had to be defeated for Communism to be defeated in Africa. We need greater federal expenditures to follow the constitutional mandate to "provide for the common defense," but when it comes to the subsequent clause-"promote the general welfare"-we need a government that understands the need between providing and promoting. "Promoting" is urging volunteers to come forward, and not getting in the way of compassionate conservative impulses that have shown their effectiveness.

Charities are raising hundreds of millions of dollars for relief for those who have already suffered from terrorist attacks and those who will suffer. If the federal government offers billions in its bureaucratic way, bad charity will drive out good as it often has over the past century, and those in need will once again feel like numbers rather than human beings. Nor should the government get in the habit of bailing out groups hurt by the changed environment. Individuals and organizations are seeing the need to reduce expenses that suddenly seem unimportant. They are applying their dollars to individual, organizational, and national survival. That's as it should be.

One way the United States can display goodness to other countries is through offering food to refugees, as President Bush is wisely having us do in Afghanistan. As much as possible, this should be done using the experience and talent of church relief groups, so that in one stroke we can show how wrong the Taliban is to target with hatred and death threats those who come in love.

Terrorists put all of us on the front lines, and when we're preyed on we tend to pray. Churches have a tremendous opportunity here, particularly if they are seen as serious places to learn about and respond to God's holiness, rather than church lites that merely make us feel better when we remember that the world is not a Garden of Eden. We need to make use of hymns and other historical resources that teach us how other Christians have recognized the inevitability of pain and responded to it. What separates Christianity from not only Islam but every human religion and philosophy is Christ, the Redeemer, and we need to unabashedly preach and teach about the need for and offer of redemption.

On a cultural level, up to now many Americans have tended to ape the moral anarchy of western Europe, home to deserted churches and rapidly increasing single parenting-but that's as much an extreme as Islamic tawhid. America's founders fought for both liberty and virtue, thereby providing a middle road between anarchy and unicity, and that's what we must fight for also. If the struggle is American anarchy vs. Muslim repression, many will ask for plagues on both our houses. But a fight for both liberty and virtue can, with God's grace, win the world's favor.

American patriots in the 18th century built a coalition against the British that included both Christians and those who had different faiths but admired a society built on biblical principles. Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry, who today would be labeled members of the religious right, worked alongside Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, both of whom displayed hostility to Christianity. Christians today must follow the Founders, turning the other cheek at personal offenses so as to turn a united and resolute face against terror.

It's sad that we have to talk about terror. Part of the American dream is for parents to make life better for their children. When I was 11, in 1961, we had nuclear bomb drills in school. I thought the generation growing up now would be spared that, but it looks as if biological and chemical warfare drills might be coming. Will we come through Cold War II without an attack that kills not 6,000 but 60,000, or more? I suspect the odds, again, are against us. More than ever we need fervent prayer that, out of God's abundant kindness, He will once again show mercy.


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