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FIRST-PERSON: Connecting the dots

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–After political pundits first began to emerge from their rhetorical foxholes in the early weeks and months following the Sept. 11th terrorist assaults on America, these professional talkers — at first in tentative suggestions and questions, and later in accusatory assertions and demands — decried the failure of our government’s intelligence agencies to “connect the dots.” Why, they asked repeatedly, did we not see 9/11 coming?

Later, it was revealed that, indeed, some government agents had seen and noted disturbing evidence of al Qaeda’s activity that should have called for greater diligence, even though no one could predict the exact time and means of their evil intentions. Further, no one suggested that the president could have done anything to prevent the attack.

Why didn’t we connect the dots?

Today, I’m compelled to ask, why do critics (both foreign, but especially domestic) of President George W. Bush’s determined policy to remove Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction fail to connect THESE dots? Responding to the declarations of Bush and his allies at the Azores Summit on March 16, Hussein removed any question of his connection to the worldwide campaign of terrorism when he said, “When the enemy starts a large-scale battle, he must realize that the battle between us will be open wherever there is sky, land and water in the entire world.”

In his speech to the nation March 17, President Bush provided a clear, convincing and morally just case for the removal by force of Hussein. A war is necessary now because Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction and because of his demonstrated will to use those weapons against his own people — as well as the unquestionable likelihood that he will one day use them against the United States and Israel, if not other nations.

“We are now acting because the risks of inaction would be far greater,” the president said. “In one year, or five years, the power of Iraq to inflict harm on all free nations would be multiplied many times over. With these capabilities, Saddam Hussein and his terrorist allies could choose the moment of deadly conflict when they are strongest. We choose to meet that threat now, where it arises, before it can appear suddenly in our skies and cities.

“The cause of peace requires all free nations to recognize new and undeniable realities,” he continued. “In the 20th century, some chose to appease murderous dictators, whose threats were allowed to grow into genocide and global war. In this century, when evil men plot chemical, biological and nuclear terror, a policy of appeasement could bring destruction of a kind never before seen on this earth.”

Explaining the need for preemptive action, the president warned: “Terrorists and terror states do not reveal these threats with fair notice, in formal declarations — and responding to such enemies only after they have struck first is not self-defense, it is suicide. The security of the world requires disarming Saddam Hussein now.”

The president has connected the dots.

Some Christians decry any military action on the basis of Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9) and “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45).

They also point to other New Testament passages that seem to argue for non-resistance against evildoers, especially the apostle Paul’s admonitions in Romans: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. … Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing so you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:14-20).

I believe when the entire biblical witness is taken into account, however, it’s clear government has an obligation to punish those who do evil, including sometimes by means of the use of lethal force. We should not miss the fact that Paul’s admonitions in Romans 12 are followed by his teaching on the role of civil magistrates in chapter 13.

In this passage, Paul asserts that among the chief responsibilities of government is to punish those who do evil (vv. 2-4). There is no contradiction between what Paul asserts in chapter 12 and 13. Appropriate duties of God-ordained government are not the same as the obligations of peacemaking required of individual Christians.

Citing Romans 13:1-7 in the wake of 9/11, Baptist pastor and author John Piper noted, “God wills that human justice hold sway among governments, and between citizens and civil authority. He does not prescribe that governments always turn the other cheek. The government ‘does not bear the sword for nothing.’ Police have the God-given right to use force to restrain evil and bring law-breakers to justice. And legitimate states have the God-given right to restrain life-threatening aggression and bring criminals to justice. If these truths are known, this God-ordained exercise of divine prerogative would glorify the justice of God who mercifully ordains that the flood of sin and misery be restrained in the earth” (World magazine, Sept. 22, 2001).

While government has the God-ordained duty to punish evildoers, it must do so in a morally just manner. Any endorsement of military action against Saddam Hussein is no green light to undertake such actions without regard to morality.

The conduct of a morally just war in Iraq must be characterized by certain principles. Given its first Christian articulation by Augustine in the 5th century, a theory of morally just war has been advocated by Christians for centuries. Richard Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, outlines the principles of just war as follows:

— It must have a just cause. War is only permissible when it is done to resist aggression and to defend victims.

— It must have a just intent. Securing justice is the only acceptable motive.

— It must be a last resort. All other opportunities for resolution should have been rejected or have failed.

— It must have legitimate authority. In America’s case, approval by Congress is necessary.

— It must have limited, or achievable, goals. Annihilation of an enemy or total destruction of a civilization is not acceptable as a goal.

— It must be proportional to its objectives. The good gained should justify the cost in lives and injuries.

— It must have noncombatant immunity. War should not be targeted at civilians and should seek to minimize inadvertent civilian casualties.

Land and Daniel Heimbach, professor of ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a former adviser to President George H.W. Bush, have been at the forefront of national discussion regarding the ethics of war. Although differing on some details and applications of just war theory, both believe a war against Iraq is morally just.

Heimbach differs from Land on the question of just cause. Land believes regime change is consistent with just war criteria, while Heimbach argues war against Iraqis is morally just as a means of enforcing the violated terms of Iraq’s surrender after the 1991 Gulf War. Regime change “may be the effect, but it cannot be the purpose without crossing the line into crusade morality,” asserts Heimbach, who is a Vietnam War veteran. Unlike Land, Heimbach disagrees that just war criteria is consistent with preemptive military action. Evangelical leader Charles Colson, a member of First Baptist Church in Naples, Fla., holds views consistent with Land on both the questions of preemption and regime change.

“The doctrine of Just War, we must remember, flows out of the Christian command to love your neighbor,” Colson said in his March 18 BreakPoint commentary. “It is an act of love to wield the sword against evil and against threats to innocent lives. A justly fought war against Saddam Hussein will be … just such a war.”

While no Christian can take pleasure in the prospect waging war, I believe a war against Iraq, as outlined by President Bush, is morally just and absolutely necessary.

The dots have been connected.
Smith is executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness.

    About the Author

  • James A. Smith Sr.