I was recently engaged in conversation with a friend who recounted an interesting dialog. He was being asked a number of questions about Islam. Since it was unclear where the questioner was heading, my friend asked. The response went something like this: “Well, I want to know if you take radical Islam seriously, which means you would have to favor U.S. military action in Iran.” My friend found this a shocking conclusion to draw. I must say that I find myself with my friend. Let’s explore why this is so.
First, one has to wonder how one reads the overarching biblical narrative in such a way as to support this way of thinking. The tradition has consistently held that Jesus both provides the unsurpassable revelation of God and the concrete manifestation of the life that pleases God. How does one read the Incarnation so as to allow us to think of others (even enemies!) in this way? Or, how does one respond to the call to imitate the life of Christ and conclude that “taking radical Islam seriously” requires “military action in Iran”? Some try to separate “public” and “private” life in such a way as to negate the significance of the incarnation for “public life.” It is hard to see, though, why one would think that we can so easily avoid the call to imitate Jesus.
Second, from a purely pragmatic stand point, the war in Iraq has hardly demonstrated that military action is the path one should follow in this struggle. If anything, the vast majority of studies have shown that the ability for the likes of Osama bin Laden to recruit supporters has grown as a consequence of the war. One definition of insanity is to continue to try the same techniques while expecting different results. Notwithstanding the natural human tendency to respond to perceived threats with violence, there is no reason to think there is a military solution in this case.
Third, the example of Christ coupled with the quagmire in Iraq should be compelling evidence of the imperative of peacemaking and the futility of war to make peace. However, for Christians unable to embrace pacifism, any proposal for military action must, at the very least, be based in the just war theory. Would the just war criteria be met? Well, going back to the questioner’s claim, it is hard to see how the perceived threat of radical Islam could constitute a just cause for war against Iran. This movement is hardly a problem that is resolvable by attacking Iran. Even if this were otherwise, given the resistance to talks with Iran, it is very hard to see how the criteria that war only be undertaken as a last resort has been satisfied. Finally, as suggested above, the consequences of the war in Iraq make it clear that it would be very hard to make an argument for reasonable likelihood of success. If anything, experts have pointed out that war with Iran would be an significant increase in difficulty over that faced in Iraq.
Finally, we Christians have to ask ourselves the extent to which willingness to embrace a military response to “radical Islam” is little more than a failure of confidence in the gospel. We seem far more willing to put confidence in our own cleverness and in our economic and military might than in the power of the Spirit. Is it remarkable how little we trust in the power of the gospel to transform the hearts and lives of those who are “other” to us. The point here is not that all will be converted to Christianity, but rather that the ability of truly evil men to recruit others can be substantially reduced. In fact, to put more trust in the power of the gospel than in our own cleverness would be to recognize that nothing has more potential for success than interacting with “others” in ways that imitates the life of Jesus. This is the longer term promise of the gospel, a thing we Christians have lost sight of and have become increasingly unwilling to even try.
Chuck Gutenson is a professor at Asbury Theological Seminary and blogs at http://www.imitatiochristi.blogs.com/