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.