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America ‘the defender of freedom,’ Land says in debate

WHEATON, Ill. (BP)–Because of God’s special blessing on the United States, America has an obligation to defend and propagate freedom throughout the world, said Richard Land in a debate on “The Role of the United States in the World Community” at Wheaton College, in Wheaton, Ill.

“I do believe that God has blessed our nation in providential ways and that the Bible tells us that to whom much is given, much is required and that America has a special purpose in the world,” said Land, who serves as president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “And that purpose is to be the defender of freedom, the propagator of freedom, not in attempting to impose American ideals on the world, but our belief that these are universal ideals. Freedom is a universal ideal.”

The debate, sponsored by The Center for Applied Ethics of Wheaton College, took place Sept. 15 and also featured James Skillen, president of the Center for Public Justice, a Christian think tank and public policy center.

Land told Baptist Press that his concern with international affairs stems from Baptist principles, as articulated in the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message.

“My point of departure is the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message article on ‘The Christian and the Social Order,’” Land said in an interview. “… We have a call to be salt and light not just in American society but in human society.”

In the debate, Land argued that the U.S. must attempt to cooperate with other nations but should be willing to act alone if the causes of freedom and justice are at stake and other countries refuse to act. He cited Kosovo as an example of a country where America was justified in acting alone in order to stop ethnic cleansing but lamented America’s failure to act unilaterally in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda in order to stop genocide.

Skillen argued that the U.S. has an obligation to recognize its limitations and build organizations with other nations. Recent U.S. actions, including its military intervention in Iraq, do not effectively promote international justice and make America appear undependable to the world, he said.

“These rogue actions … [are] inexplicable, not fully understandable [and] have raised more and more cautions on people of whether the United States is really willing to keep the commitments, … participate in contributing to the betterment of … institutions or the replacement of weak ones with better ones,” Skillen said.

“The United States is now increasingly in question. And consequently … we are less effective and will be, if this continues, less effective in assuring justice even for American citizens.”

Land noted that his belief in America’s responsibility to the world does not stem from American pride, but from a sense of responsibility.

“I believe in American exceptionalism,” he said. “And that is not a doctrine of pride. It is not a doctrine of privilege. It is not an attempt to maximize our sovereignty. It is not nationalism. It is a belief that America has been blessed in this [world] in incredible ways.”

Skillen countered that the U.S. does not have the right to intervene in affairs of other governments, arguing, “The United States has not been chosen by the peoples of the world to be their government.”

“From a biblical point of view, this entire creation is now under the authority of Jesus Christ, who has claimed all authority in heaven and earth,” Skillen said. “That authority … is … a very patient, longsuffering rule and is not withdrawing from human beings their responsibility to govern.”

Land acknowledged that the United States cannot take military action in all countries where injustice occurs. Before acting, America must consider whether the costs of an intervention would be greater than the benefits that intervention would achieve, he said, citing North Korea as an example of a country where military action would be too costly to justify.

Before acting, America must also consider whether “American will and American resolve” is sufficient to see the action to completion, Land said, adding, “When you start something, you have an obligation to finish it.”

In his closing statement, Skillen stressed that justice, rather than freedom, should be our primary concern in U.S. relations with other nations.

“The history of the world is not the movement of freedom,” he said. “… The world is the history of God bringing about His purposes in creation and bringing judgment and blessing on peoples and states and individuals as they respond in obedience or disobedience to their responsibilities.

“… I find no biblical grounding for the United States to imagine itself, however humbly it tries to imagine itself, as the vanguard of freedom in the world such that on that basis it has the right to take unilateral action to decide who may and may not govern.”

Land closed by arguing that the U.S. should always attempt to build coalitions with other nations but must act alone when other nations will not act and freedom is at stake or when governments are committing gross atrocities against their citizens. He emphasized that creating free governments throughout the world is in America’s national security interest.

“If we want to maximize peace in the world, we need to maximize freedom and democratic self-governance in the world,” Land said. “And I believe America must lead the way in doing that.”