Beginning with Jesus' words, "For all who take the sword will perish by the sword," I explained how this admonition applied to all people -- in today's context of terrorism and war, and in the wake of the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict -- Christians, Jews, Muslims, whomever.
Bill O'Reilly's interpretation, however, was less equitable; if Muslim extremists were currently living by the sword, then it was up to the United States to wield the sword and justifiably wipe them out.
I am troubled by this biblical misinterpretation -- after all, Jesus spoke these words, not to the Roman soldiers who had come to arrest him, but to his own followers who were trying to defend him -- and how it is shared by many Christians in the U.S. today.
So what moral alternatives can more moderate Christians offer instead in the fight against terrorism?
First, we must relentlessly and smartly pursue the terrorists, and not divert resources from this task. In Britain, it was police and intelligence networks -- not the British military -- that prevented the terrorist threat against U.S.-bound airliners. A similar approach will work in rightfully bringing Osama bin Laden and other terrorists to justice.
Second, we must not pursue policies guaranteed to inflame extremists and instead pursue policies that alleviate situations that are exploited by extremists. Poverty, social marginalization and lack of opportunity are the conditions that breed terrorism. They are manipulated by terrorists whose dubious visions of martyrdom appeal to young people who have no other hope.
Third, we cannot lump all problems into one monolithic terrorist movement and lump all solutions into one military campaign. Different contexts call for different actions:
-- In Israel-Palestine, we must deal squarely with the Palestinians. Violence in the Holy Land can be traced back ad infinitum to U.S. and Israeli policies that reinforce Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories. Unless we offer Palestinians a real future, terrorists will continue to find young people willing to become suicide bombers.
-- In Iran and Syria, we need to start talking. In the world of diplomacy, no one ever said you have to like the person across the table from you. But unless the U.S. wants a regional war, or even a world war, we'd better seek out diplomatic solutions. Otherwise, how will Iranian citizens see something worth attaining beyond the hateful, dangerous and self-isolating rhetoric of their leaders?
-- In Iraq, we must enable U.S. troops to become agents of positive change. Never mind the original reasons for this war; if the United States' stated goal is to build a "new Iraq," then let's start building one. Certainly we need a phased withdrawal, but it should be tied to benchmarks for the reconstruction of Iraqi society.
As we look for solutions in the "war on terror," it's a good lesson to recall the Cold War and how it was won. Soviet communism was laid low by the moral authority of Pope John Paul II and Lech Walesa, who gave those behind the Iron Curtain a vision of freedom beyond the constraints of communism.
To be sure, flexing military muscle helped, but even Ronald Reagan succeeded in helping to bring down the wall of enmity only when he no longer invoked "evil empire" language and began to interact with Russians as people with the same hopes and dreams as the rest of us.
It would seem to me that this is the seed for a strategy that could win the "war on terror." With an administration that wants to stay the course in Iraq but has no real plan to handle the continued chaos, and with the opposition urging withdrawal but with no real plan for preventing even more chaos, this is the kind of strategy that can garner bipartisan support.