CURIOUSLY ENOUGH, MANY LIBERALS SEE GOD AS A stereotypical conservative, intent on preserving an ungodly status quo rather than delivering us from evil.
"Would you want to see the United States treated as Americans are treating Iraq?" one angry European reader asked. Absolutely: If the United States were ruled by a totalitarian torturer who used poison gas on the citizens of Michigan and helicopter gunships to mow down rambunctious Texans, I would pray that a coalition of the willing would liberate us.
"What is your Golden Rule, Marvin?" wrote another reader who hated a column I wrote that reluctantly supported war with Iraq: "What part of 'thou shalt not kill' is unclear to you? Does your Bible have an asterisk?" Actually, any translation that uses the word kill should employ asterisks, because the key Hebrew word in that commandment means "murder," not kill.
Killing in self-defense, if necessary, is biblically justified. No one who loves himself wants to be murdered, so if we follow the Golden Rule and love our neighbors as ourselves we should try to keep them from being murdered. Saddam Hussein has evidently murdered 2 million of his countrymen. How many more should we let him kill?
Should? None. Would? Probably millions more, if we weren't worried about Iraqi-allied terrorists and weapons of mass destruction hitting us. Let's admit it: The United States can't be "the world's policeman." We're fighting in Iraq not only to deliver Iraqis from evil but to protect our own lives as well. We can't liberate everyone-but when loving others is the same as loving ourselves, we're finally jolted out of passivity.
Let's also admit that war is hell. Innocent people die and brutal regimes display dead opponents not as tragedy but as dehumanized objects of joy. But if I were an Iraqi I'd still prefer a month of danger to more decades of Saddam & Sons. Since most of us in the United States would want to be delivered from evil, we should try to liberate others. This war may be tough, but when we have a reasonable likelihood of success the attempt is worth making.
Here come lots of caveats. My interpretation of the Golden Rule has been used to attack abortionists, but zealous shooters did not remember many of the conditions that must be met to fight a just war. They did not have legitimate authority-see Romans 13-and were not fighting as a last resort, since there are many other ways to reduce the number of abortions substantially. They also did not have a probability of success, since attacks on abortionists increased public sympathy for them.
For a war to be just, just intentions also are needed. "No blood for oil" demonstrators charge that the Golden Rule for the United States is to steal the riches of other countries, but the results of a century of American power belie that. Russians who invaded Germany from the east in 1945 disassembled German factories and took whatever machinery they could carry back to the Soviet Union. The United States helped the West Germans and Japanese get back on their feet and build powerhouse economies.
Yes, the United States often acted unrighteously to Indians in the 19th century (and furthered the damage by instituting socialist economies on 20th-century reservations). But in areas far from our shores U.S. military action has been probably the most benevolent in world history. We've come to the defense of countries under attack or under dictatorial control, with liberation rather than domination our aim.
We've also messed up plenty, but Christian teaching about helping the helpless has influenced our culture. Because I wrote two weeks ago about the positive side of Europe's "Bush the cowboy" slurs, two readers sent me the codes of conduct signed on to by children who loved Western movies and then television shows half a century ago.
One of the Roy Rogers Riders Club Rules was, "Protect the weak and help them." Gene Autry's Cowboy Code of Honor proclaimed, "A cowboy never takes unfair advantage." The Wild Bill Hickok Deputy Marshall's Code of Conduct asserted, "I will protect the weak and help them." The Texas Rangers Deputy Ranger Oath included this injunction: "Defend the weak."
Those rules were kids' stuff, but we should all defend the weak and hope that others will help us when we are weak. God defends the weak but not the status quo. When that status quo is ungodly, it's time to act, within biblical principles, when we can. That's what we're doing in Iraq. May God bring peace by rapidly eliminating from the world one nexus of evil.