A Christian Defense of the War
in Iraq

Removing a dictator, introducing democracy, staying the course in difficult times--it's right, noble, and it's just.

As president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the 16 million-member Southern Baptist Convention, the Rev. Richard Land is one of the most influential moral voices on the conservative Christian scene. He spoke to Beliefnet's Holly Lebowitz Rossi about why, as a Christian, he supports the war in Iraq as much today as he did when it began 3 years ago.

 
Do you support President Bush and the war in Iraq as it stands now, 3 years after it began?

I do. I think that the progress in Iraq has been very encouraging. After all, we've had 3 elections in the past 15 months where the Iraqi people, braving threats of violence and intimidation and retribution, have come out and voted in larger numbers than we did in our presidential election, which isn't very flattering to us and our commitment to democracy, but does tend to underscore the Iraqis' commitment to democratic self-government and the understanding that their votes make a difference.

Increasingly, the Iraqis are taking over the defense of their country. I'm told that about 60 percent of the country geographically has been turned over to the Iraqi army and police forces, and that by Labor Day, it'll be 80 percent. They are performing very well, and this is making a real difference. In the latest air assault [Operation Swarmer, in mid-March 2006], there were 1,500 troops—800 of them were Iraqis, and 700 of them were American paratroopers. The Iraqis give every indication of understanding what democratic self-government is, and understanding that they want it. I find it particularly intriguing, in light of public opinion in the United States, that the Iraqis, when they are polled, are more positive about their country's future than Americans are about their country, and certainly more than Americans are about Iraq.

That was your view of events from a political perspective. How do you reflect on the war as a Christian?

I believe in just-war theory, and the first item in just-war criteria is that it has to be a just cause. I believe our cause in Iraq was just; I think it was one of the more noble things we've done. We went to liberate a country that was in the grip of a terrible dictator who had perpetrated horrible atrocities and crimes against humanity, against his own people, as well as his neighbors. We removed him and we are giving the Iraqis the ability to defend themselves and to build a stable democracy.

 

I as a Christian believe that all human beings have unique dignity and the right to freedom, the right to freedom of conscience. I believe the Declaration of Independence, which says that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The people who were responsible for the drafting and approval of that were people who were operating mostly from a Judeo-Christian worldview. They understood that to be what the Bible taught, and I agree with them. The Iraqis have the same right to freedom.

 

I would also say that there's a very important principle in scripture that says that to whom much is given, much is required. As an American, I have been given much. We have freedoms that we didn't die for, we have freedoms that we haven't sacrificed much for. To use a biblical metaphor, we drink from wells we didn't dig, and we live in houses we didn't build. We benefit from tremendous rights that we didn't do much sacrificing for, at least not in my generation. My father did, my father was in a good deal of combat in World War II to help defend and secure those freedoms. But we have been given much. And to whom much is given, much is required. And I believe that makes it incumbent upon us as Americans to help others when we can to secure the same freedom that we have. The idea of American exceptionalism is not a doctrine of empire, it's not a doctrine of domination, it's a doctrine of responsibility and obligation. We have a responsibility and an obligation based upon the blessings that have been showered upon us as a nation and as a people to help others when we can.

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Obviously there are some situations, there are other parts of just-war theory that would mitigate against our ability to do so. North Korea comes to mind. North Korea is a situation where we certainly would like to help the North Koreans obtain their freedom, and there are certainly ways in which we can put pressure on the North Korean regime, but military action is not an option, because it would not pass the test of proportionality.

 

Even without nuclear weapons, the estimates are that if there were to be armed hostilities breaking out on the Korean peninsula, that close to a million Koreans, North and South, would die within a month. That's the level of armed might on both sides on the peninsula. So the last thing that any human being would want is to see an outbreak of military hostilities on the Korean Peninsula, conventional or nuclear.

North Korea isn't the only other dictatorship in the world. According to biblical principles, does the American military have an obligation to go into other countries that are suffering under unjust regimes, in Africa or Iran?

You have to use all of the tests. You have to use the test of just cause, just intent, you have to have a declaration of war or a joint resolution from Congress, it has to be authorized by legitimate authority, which in the case of the United States is the elected Congress of the United States. It has to meet the test of proportionality—will the good gained outweigh the suffering in the loss of life.

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Richard Land
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