On Co-belligerency

Simply defined, co-belligerency is working with someone who you would normally not associate with, or might even be at war with, as the term implies. You may be quite opposed to another person’s beliefs, or creeds, or stances, but you may nonetheless work together with him on a limited, temporary objective.

In the culture wars, this takes place quite often. The battles are too big for us to forever quarrel amongst ourselves while we let the other side get away with murder. The battles over abortion, same-sex marriage and the like must be tackled, and often Christians and non-Christians will need to come together to fight these issues.

Francis Schaeffer for example was quite willing to promote this concept. He felt some of the crucial battles of the day – such as abortion – were far too important to not seek some form of cooperation. It had to be carefully entered into. This is what he wrote back in 1970:

“Christians must realize that there is a difference between being a cobelligerent and an ally. At times you will seem to be saying exactly the same thing as the New Left elite or the Establishment elite. If there is social injustice, say there is social injustice. If we need order, say we need order. In these cases, and at these specific points, we would be cobelligerents. But do not align yourself as though you are in either of these camps: You are an ally of neither. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is different from either – totally different.”

As another example, I am involved with a family council, with many different groups taking part. Indeed, it includes all sorts of various religious groupings. We meet primarily to defend marriage and family. We are not there for some ecumenical pow-wow, or to argue theology. We are there to take on some present challenges. It is a temporary and strategic alliance for limited ends and purposes.

This has worked wonderfully on the international level. For example when radical feminists, pro-aborts and homosexuals are trying to push something, say at the UN, it is often a coalition of pro-life and pro-family groups, along with the Muslim voting bloc, and the Vatican, that have combined and successfully defeated such initiatives time and time again.

And of course co-belligerency is by definition a short-term working together for strategic purposes on specific issues. It has nothing to do with compromising, or abandoning one’s beliefs, or with swearing a blood-oath, etc. One may disagree violently with another group’s theology, but can still work together on a limited project.

This was a very helpful strategy for William Wilberforce as he fought the slave trade. He was willing to work with others – be they non-Christians, or those hostile to Christianity – to achieve a good outcome on the slavery battle. In so doing he did not compromise his faith, water down his beliefs, or form unholy alliances.

Scripture does warn in the Old Testament about the dangers of unholy alliances. That term usually refers to Israel making a military pact with a pagan power for security reasons, instead of relying on Yahweh’s divine protection. That seems far different from a Christian having a loose relationship with a non-believer to achieve a particular end.

In the New Testament there are also warnings about really substantial alliances. The main passage is 2 Cor. 6:14: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” It seems that something like marriage between a believer and a non-believer would be an obvious application of this. But some radical Christian separatists will use this verse on just about any and every attempt at co-belligerency.

Indeed, whenever there is a case of believers working with non-believers, there are plenty of critics who emerge to blast the whole enterprise. A recent example of this was the large rally just held at Washington DC in which conservatives came together to reclaim America. Led by conservative heavyweight, Glenn Beck, it featured other heavy hitters, including Sarah Palin.

Glenn Beck of course is a Mormon, so theologically he is far removed from biblical Christianity on a number of key areas. (And let me say right now that I am not now going to get into a major debate about this. There are plenty of existing websites out there where the Mormon-Christian differences are being debated. So no comments here please on this particular issue.)

There would have been all sorts of people at the rally: Christians, Mormons, non-Christians, perhaps secularists, those of other religious traditions, and so on. But critics are already complaining about all this. As just one example – of many – one Christian who is obviously not very keen on the idea of co-belligerency penned a piece about this entitled “Most of the Church is So Pitifully Weak that a Mormon Can Now Lead God’s People”.

But what does he mean by “lead God’s people”? We have all sorts of non-Christian leaders. Is that always wrong? Was Churchill a biblical Christian? Yet I am glad he led England and the free world against the Nazis. Is a columnist like Andrew Bolt a Christian? Yet I am quite thankful that in so many ways he is fighting the good fight, often on behalf of Christians.

And it depends on just what he is getting at here (not having read his article). If he means by this that plenty of Christians are so biblically and theologically illiterate that they would have no idea where a Mormon and a biblical Christian differ, then I would certainly agree.

But if his point is that no Christian should have attended this rally, and if they did, they were duped, deceived, or working with the devil, then I disagree. The truth is, we are in a sense cobelligerents every day of our lives. We live in a world full of non-believers, and we mix and intermingle with them all the time.

For example, we might buy bread from a Hindu baker, or buy insurance from an atheist salesman, or work with a Muslim colleague, or go to a football game surrounded by secularists, cultists, and what have you. We do deals and make purchases and do agreements with non-Christians all the time.

Yet for the most part no one complains about this. We would have to pull out of the world altogether if we were so worried about this sort of ‘contamination’. And again, all this is quite different from some formal alliance or agreement, such as marriage. It is just part of living in a non-Christian world.

But the separatists still complain. For example, they have berated the Manhattan Declaration and the Canberra Declaration. But both were pitched broad enough so that people of good will from differing religious traditions could get on board, although it is clear that both particularly and unashamedly uplift Christ and Christianity.

So I for one do not see a major problem with Christians going along to a patriotic rally, even if Glenn Beck was a major player in making it happen. If it were held at a Mormon church, then I would probably stay away. If it in any way involved me compromising my theological convictions, or compelled me into some binding alliance, then I would stay out.

But the truth is, in these culture wars, if we first come up with a long list of criteria and beliefs that we have to check off before we work with someone else, we will very soon be down to a club of one. I have disagreements with all sorts of people at times – even close colleagues. But if I demanded complete agreement on every point, then I would be really quite lonesome. And I don’t even agree with myself all the time!

So we need to learn to work together with others wherever possible, bearing in mind the bigger war we are in. Some issues are too important for us all to pull into our own little bunkers, hurling abuse and scorn at one another. Some issues are just too vital and must be tackled.

To work with a non-Christian on a temporary cause such as stopping or slowing down the abortion holocaust seems perfectly justifiable. I am not getting into bed with that person; I have not signed my life away to that person; and I have not abandoned any biblical convictions to work with that person.

If it ends up saving the lives of some unborn babies, then it was a worthwhile activity, a justifiable case of co-belligerency. It may not always be clear when such informal working relationships can be entered into. We must be thoughtful and prayerful about all such endeavours.

But I for one am not all that thrilled with the theological purists and separatists who so insist on keeping uncontaminated from those they consider to be unclean – whether rightly so or not – that they end up doing little for the Kingdom, except digging their own bunkers deeper, and proclaiming their own purity.

There are of course grey areas here, and Christians may well come to differing conclusions about how all this works out in practice. But I will tend to work with most anyone, on at least limited and short-term projects, where very important issues need to be addressed.

I think the battle over slavery was one such issue. The war against marriage and family may well be another, along with the right to life cause. While it may be challenging to always maintain theological and Christian distinctiveness at times, there may well be a case for working with others on some issues affecting the greater good.

So my advice would be, if theological orthodoxy and personal integrity can be maintained while being a co-belligerent, then it may be permissible to enter into such short-term arrangements. But each believer must be fully persuaded in his own mind.

[1661 words]

18 Replies to “On Co-belligerency”

  1. Thanks for drawing the concept of co-belligerency to our attention. No one can fight a battle alone – we need to join ranks with others as and where we can – “on the hoof” so to speak. I tend to shy away from big partisan groups of any kind, so this approach of not being too precious suits me well.
    Rachel Smith

  2. As a regular reader of your blog Bill, I usually finish reading the latest article with a hearty “Amen”, but this one I can only sigh “Uh oh”. While agreeing with the substance of your argument, you seem to have confused two different issues, While we certainly can work together with unbelievers on all kinds of concerns, we are not permitted by God to join with others on spiritual/worship issues.
    Glenn Beck’s example was a poor choice to present your case. He in fact had two gatherings. One was a protest essentially against big government encroachment and for a return to the constitution with ideas of poilitical and social liberties. In these issues more power to him.

    The other gathering was a religious call, with it being likened to a Billy Graham crusade…The problem? He had Mormons, Jews, Muslims. Native Americans and others joining together to pray and to call upon THEIR gods for a spritual renewal. This is syncretism of the most blatant kind and Evangelical leaders who joined in this Babylonian worship fest are rightly being called to account for their compromising of the gospel for political ends. One of the greatest problems in the church today is her lack of distinctives and these events such as Beck’s religious rally only serve to further blur the lines and dilute the message.

    Glenn Christopherson

  3. Thanks Glenn

    I have not viewed the 3 ½ video of the event, so it is hard to know if your particular take on this is fully accurate. I would think there would be a big difference between a 3 ½ hour ecumenical worship and prayer service, and a 3 ½ political rally in which some brief prayers might have been thrown up. But as I say, I would need to view the full event to see which was closer to the actually reality on the day.

    For another slightly different take on all this, see this piece: http://townhall.com/columnists/JonahGoldberg/2010/09/01/glenn_becks_ecumenical_moment/page/1

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  4. Hi Bill,

    I completely agree with your stance of being prepared to work with others towards specific goals.

    As a matter of interest though, I am not aware of any pro-life organisation which is not almost exclusively run by Christians motivated to do what they do purely because they are Christians. In fact, to our (Protestant) shame, it is our Catholic friends who seem to do 90% of the work here.

    Are you aware of any Atheist, Mohammadean, Buddhist or Hindu groups or individuals who do take a strong pro-life stand and really spend great effort to protect the unborn?

    Mansel Rogerson

  5. Bill
    It seems we will soon have a whole parliament of co-belligerents and some just plain belligerent.
    Des Morris

  6. Hi Bill, one event was the Restoring Honour gathering. The other event, the Divine Destiny interfaith gathering, was held the day before. I think it’s the interfaith religious one that has a lot of Christian people concerned.
    Glenn Christopherson

  7. Thanks Glenn

    OK, now that brings some much-needed clarity! I of course was only referring to the political rally, the Restoring Honour gathering, which is said to have drawn 300,000 people on the Saturday. I certainly was not referring to any interfaith worship services!

    So maybe we are back to being on the same page now!?

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  8. Australians – perhaps because our convict history has always ensured that personal amities count for virtually everything and principles for virtually nothing – appear to have a mania for confusing intermittent co-belligerents with genuine allies. In no area has this mania been more disastrous, or more catastrophic, than what counts for official Australian intellectual conservatism.

    During my lifetime alone the following unsavoury individuals have been elevated by local “conservatives” to near-divine status: pseudo-philosophers like John Anderson; homosexual degenerates like Ronald Conway; nihilistic plutocratic spivs like the pro-communist Lang Hancock, now (like Conway) departed this life, and John Singleton, sadly still with us. We never seem to learn.

    I see no way in which we ever will learn, until we realise that if we are to be effective activists, then we must be dead to considerations of personal fondness, or else we had better reconcile ourselves to expecting endless trouble when our enemies blackmail our – shall we say – weaker brethren. But if even Bob Santamaria proved only intermittently capable of perceiving this, then I hold out no hope of any other Australian thinker in a position of political power ever succeeding in doing so.

    R. J. Stove

  9. Hi Bill,
    My conviction is that if I or a group I am involved with succeeds, then I want God to get the glory. If all participants are happy with that outcome, then God gets the glory! Awesome! If not, then I am unwilling to be involved, as I am working for God not myself or any other group.
    Kirsten Jack

  10. Hi Bill,
    My understanding has been broadened by your blog. I think that at times we are quick to not work together with people of a different faith to our own all the while we are missing opportunities to interact and work together with people from all walks of life. We cannot live a world of multi faiths without realising that we need each other whether that is always comfortable or not. I value placing God high in my life in all areas although I have not perfected this I do want to continually aim to live for him all the days of my life.
    Jessica Malia

  11. hi, Bill

    i agree strongly with you that we should be ‘co-belligerent’ where we can; aside from the matter of the success or failure of the issue concerned at the time, it demonstrates to those outside the church that we are not against them, indeed we are with them on some points, and this makes a strong bridge of relationship well worth forging.

    Malcolm Wilson

  12. I have been watching a colleague for a while as he works with various and sundry community groups on “social transformation” projects. A cornerstone concept for him relates to bringing all groups from a given community together on an issue of social concern.

    As a Christian, one of his greatest points of sadness is the way many (perhaps even most) conservative Christian groups refuse to participate, or can only do so if they can be the ones in control.

    Like you, I’m a Schaeffer fan and have been thinking about his stuff on co-belligerency for a while now. It’s a great and effective antidote to “bunkered” thinking on the issue of “engagement with the world” and much needed.

    It’s the difference between achieving great things for God by means of large projects which we as the church could never achieve alone, and achieving very little by comparison. How can we be salt and light if we’re not close enough to the world to be visibly different?!

    Alister Cameron, Melbourne

  13. Bill,
    Can you list some of these groups that (you) are working (with) to uphold the traditional view of marriage in our society and perhaps links to information. I would like to know whom I can support financially for such an important cause.
    Jane Petridge

  14. On the pro-life issue i think it is important to recognise that there are non-Christian pro-life groups and to point this out to secularists when they try to say that abortion is just a religious issue. I also think that if Christians are to have an impact on persuading people to become pro-life then we need to argue from reason, science, natural rights theory rather than the Bible. We need to present the overwhelming case that the pro-life position is a reasonable and just position and work to dispel common perceptions of pro-lifers as fanatics.
    We need to counter the radical feminist propaganda by ensuring that we always show a strong concern and support for women in need as well as the unborn child. Part of the challenge also is to show that caring for the unborn is consistent with concern for the poor and needy.
    Conor Ryan

  15. So my advice would be, if theological orthodoxy and personal integrity can be maintained while being a co-belligerent, then it may be permissible to enter into such short-term arrangements.
    This very well describes what I think is the crux of the matter.
    The paths of believers and non believers may well intersect at the point of such individual causes, but I believe we need to be aware that because they are coming from a different world view, the consequences they may draw concerning a particular issue may take them again into a different direction. Therefore we need to be very specific about the time and place and confines of issue we are cobelligerent in.
    I remember being at the 2004 marriage rally at parliament house where a statement from the Islamic community was read in support of marriage. I felt just a little uncomfortable about that knowing enough about the Muslim faith to know that polygamy is often promoted especially in countries where Islam is the predominant faith. Hopefully Christians will take Christ’s command of always telling the truth into every activity they undertake, but can we expect the same from other groups who are not thus bound to truth telling? We could be at risk of being taken for a ride at the hand of others wanting to be cobelligerent with us.
    The apostate German church supported Hitler because he could promise them jobs and economic recovery. Have American Christians made the same mistake in supporting Obama? Did both groups have enough spiritual discernment to know where this cobelligerency took them?
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *