Every now and then I need to revisit a topic because it keeps popping up and I need to keep restating some basic truths. In this case, it is on the issue of co-belligerency. Co- what? I am glad you asked. Break the word down: a belligerent is one who fights or engages in conflict, and co means with.
Usually the term refers to nations in a time of war, and a co-belligerent is a country fighting with another nation against a common enemy. So very simply, a co-belligerent is someone who fights alongside you. I speak about this often in the context of the culture wars.
That is, I think there is a place for groups who may not ordinarily work together to do so when they face a common threat or enemy. Often this means Christians being willing to work with non-Christians to achieve certain ends, and deal with certain foes.
And if Christians are normally rather sectarian, it can also mean Christians of one stripe working with Christians of another stripe for a common purpose, even though they may well have strong theological differences between them. I wish to speak to both of these cases here.
As to the former, it can happen often. One friend who was a bit perturbed about such matters drew my attention to this article about a case of co-belligerency occurring in the UK just now. It begins:
Last night Defend Free Speech, Britain’s ‘most unlikely campaign group’, was officially launched at Parliament to oppose the Government’s controversial plans for Extremism Disruption Orders (EDOs). The Defend Free Speech campaign group is supported by The Christian Institute, the National Secular Society, the Peter Tatchell Foundation and other organisations who are concerned that legitimate freedom of expression could be criminalised.
The campaign is also backed by former shadow Home Secretary David Davis MP, Caroline Lucas MP and former Chief Constable Lord Dear. Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, commented that free speech is the “most basic civil right”, which includes the right to “challenge those who rule or govern us”. He said the plans “had to be resisted”, as the Government could crack down on those deemed as ‘extreme’, “even if they have not broken a single law”.
The Christian Institute’s Simon Calvert, Campaign Director of Defend Free Speech, said: “We are deeply concerned with the Government’s plans. The complete absence of safeguards and any clear definition of what is deemed to be extreme will have a chilling effect on free speech and campaigners.
Yes odd bedfellows indeed. But, there may be a place for such temporary alliances. And that is exactly what this is all about: a temporary alliance. Co-belligerency is by definition a short-term working together for strategic purposes on a specific issue. It has nothing to do with compromising, or abandoning one’s beliefs, etc.
So while ordinarily no Christian will be working hand in hand with homosexual activists, on occasion there may be a place for working together briefly on some common cause. As one example, there were both atheists and even homosexuals marching in the mega-pro-family marches in Paris a few years ago.
Here in Melbourne one of the great champions for so many things we hold near and dear is an agnostic, Andrew Bolt. I am happy to work together with him on various projects. And even atheists like the late Christopher Hitchens was in fact quite pro-life, and very well aware of the threat of Islam.
Thus I have often quoted him and others in my articles. Indeed, we had an atheist and the former editor of a Marxist journal doing battle alongside a committed Christian against the raging hordes on ABC’s Q&A earlier this year. Brendan O’Neill is often a real champion for so many good causes, even though he is not a believer.
So such short-term arrangements can have real value. But I have written before about these matters, as in this piece: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2010/09/02/on-co-belligerency/
To work with a nonbeliever temporarily for an important issue is fully acceptable in my eyes. It has nothing to do with being unequally yoked with unbelievers. That refers to vital, long-term commitments and unions, such as marriage. So that passage really cannot be applied here. But see more on this here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2009/11/27/on-biblical-cooperation-and-separation/
I just now came upon a piece by Daniel Strange discussing the very alliance I mentioned above. He speaks to it at length, emphasising the importance of biblical truths such as common grace. Let me just take one short quote from his article, in which he discusses five rules of thumb to keep in mind when engaging with co-belligerents:
Third, our involvement in co-belligerence must be cautious. While we affirm common grace, we are still aware of the depth of the Fall and the principle of the antithesis. We must be on our guard that we are not seduced by the world or conformed to its pattern.
Some practical advice is given by John Langlois in a short paper on co-belligerence. Having argued the need for clarity in our beliefs, unity, principles, purpose, outcomes and language, Langlois notes the dangers of co-belligerence: the danger of losing control, of unacceptable compromise, of the final result being distorted by the co-belligerent and being misunderstood by our own people. He believes that such dangers can be minimized by being always alert to what our co-belligerents are doing, keeping joint control of the process, keeping good lines of communication with both our own people and our co-belligerents, and finally, trusting in God’s strength and not our own.
However, while noting this caution in our engagements with unbelievers, I believe that those Christians, like me, who emphasise the antithesis, should be more willing than we have been to unite and ally ourselves with other believers….
And that nicely leads me to a brief discussion of the second case, believers working together with other believers of differing theological persuasions. Often this comes to a head when talk is made of Protestant-Catholic co-belligerency. And it is here I will likely lose a few more readers along the way.
Some Catholics think that all Protestants are arch-heretics who should be burned at the stake. Conversely, some Protestants think that all Catholics are arch-heretics who should be burned at the stake. I am not really interested in these folks, but for those a tad more gracious and a bit more theologically nuanced, let me simply repeat what I have said so often before.
It has been my longstanding policy to let this sort of sectarian bashing to be done elsewhere by others. Obviously as a Protestant I have major theological differences with Catholics. This should be quite obvious to anyone who knows me or reads my material.
And given that I have lectured in theology and systematic theology over the decades, yes I do know a bit about both Catholicism and Protestantism, and the major differences that do exist. And I am fully aware of many concerns with the new Pope, which even many Catholics also have. So no need to cover all that ground again.
But I believe there is a crucial role of co-belligerency here. The battles we fight are too big for us to always quarrel amongst ourselves, while letting the other side get away with murder. So when and where possible, I am usually happy to work with Catholics and others on various culture war battles, such as the fight for life, or the fight for marriage and family.
As an example, I helped to set up a family council many years ago with many groups involved – including all sorts of faith-based groups. It was – and is – a very broad-based network. We meet to defend marriage and family and pro-life issues etc. We are not there for some ecumenical soup, nor to argue theology. We are there to take on a present challenge. It is a temporary and strategic alliance for limited ends and purposes.
This has worked well 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 their initiatives time and time again.
The truth is, in these culture wars, if we first come out 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 very small group indeed. I have disagreements with all sorts of people at times. Very few I agree with 100 per cent. But if I demanded complete agreement on every point, then I would be a club of one. And I don’t even agree with myself all the time!
Ten years ago American pro-life champion Scott Klusendorf wrote a terrific piece about co-belligerency, with specific reference to working with Catholics on the pro-life fight. Let me quote a small part of that here:
Seventh, why shouldn’t evangelicals work with Catholics or nonevangelicals against abortion? Gregg Cunningham of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform affirms that many Christians are inconsistent on this point. For example, if a critic of evangelical cobelligerence had a two-year-old daughter who stumbled into a swimming pool and needed immediate medical attention, he would gladly work with Catholic paramedics to save her life. If she were injured and needed surgery, it wouldn’t matter for a moment if the best surgeon were a Catholic operating out of a Catholic hospital. If the critic of cobelligerence will work with Catholics to save his own child, what’s wrong with working with them to save somebody else’s (unborn) child?
Cunningham points out, “The Good Samaritan did not preach salvation to the beating victim; he risked his own life to save a fellow traveler. Jesus used this example to illustrate our duty to love our neighbor. It is cold comfort to a dead baby that we allowed him to die to avoid working with Catholics.”
Quite so. The cause of the unborn is far too important for the purists to sit around in their holy huddles refusing to even speak to each other. When the life of the unborn is at stake, or the cause of God’s institutions of marriage and family is under threat, I will readily – within reason – work with others to achieve an important outcome.
So there – I said my piece (even though much more could be said). Those who now (or still) think I am the anti-Christ and should be burned at the stake, well, God bless you too. I don’t have time for all these purists and Pharisees to be honest.
I will always stand strong theologically on what I believe, but I will also work together with others temporarily for important goods such as life and family. If that makes me your enemy, well, that is up to you. But I will fight the battles where they rage, and at times I will enjoy the company of fellow soldiers committed to the cause, even though we may well disagree on a host of other matters.
If that is not to your liking, well no one is forcing you to come here. Go somewhere else and hate on them for a while. But for the other readers who are a bit more open on these matters, you will need of course to think and pray carefully if and when such co-belligerency is necessary and can be entered into.
12 Replies to “Co-belligerency, Again”
Hear,Hear!! I’ve become a bit of a pariah with some of my acquaintances for openly stating that I’d happily engage in a march against abortion along side like minded Muslims, and there’s very little else we’d agree on.
Thank you for a very well reasoned and helpful piece. This is a hard one. Just one friendly caveat – There is perhaps a danger in co-belligerence with secularists of only using sociological arguments and latest research arguments in a cause and deliberately avoiding quoting the word of God. I feel that this has happened to some degree in the marriage redefinition debate in the UK. I can also recall an instance at a public rally against the Assisted Dying bill that a Christian protestor was asked not to display a Scripture text.
Thanks Peter. I believe however there can be a place for expressing biblical truth in non-biblical language. If we are writing to a government inquiry, or seeking to get a letter published in a secular newspaper, or doing an interview with a secular media outlet, etc., sometimes the best way to get our point of view across successfully is to present the social science data and evidence, without a bunch of biblical passages or Chritianese. But I speak to this more fully here:
Thanks Bill. I fully agree.
It is some 30 years ago when I took up an initiative to reform RE in the local Pennant Hills High School (NSW). At the time one of the largest High Schools in the State. This involved getting all the local churches to agree on a common program involving 13 churches including 9 denominations ranging from Christian Brethren to Roman Catholic. The common program was to arrange with the High School Principal for the churches to provide one qualified teacher to teach Christian Education as a subject time-tabled into the School’s time-table. The teacher was to be at the school every day the same as all other teachers.The churches were to raise the funds required, providing the teaching syllabus designed by a sub-committee appointed by the general committee to teach basic Christianity. The general committee was formed by two authorised delegates from each participating church.
Some years later we set up the same program in the new High School in Cherrybrook, another very large High School.
This program has been running with great success for 30 years without any squabbling. By God’s grace many hundreds of students have found solid faith commitment to Christ through the program.
Very informative piece, Bill.
As a Catholic who has many concerns about this Pope, fitting therefore into a group you mentioned, I am happy to be “co belligerent” with you Bill!! 🙂
It was Muslim parents who walked out from their local school, Thorncliffe Elementary School, Toronto, Canada, in protest against compulsory sex education being taught to their children without either parental knowledge or permission 
It is a pity that it is mainly Muslim parents who are prepared to take direct action. Maybe it’s because they live in tight knit communities, or have big beards and long, curving knives. Whereas Western Christians live private lives, have rubber teeth, soft cheeks and soft bottoms for slapping and kicking.
It was Khalid Mahmood, a Muslim father who organised the walk out at the Thorncliffe School and who was interviewed, or should I say interrogated, on Canadian TV, by what appears to be an effeminate and hissie queer. The father demonstrated great restraint and calmness, and who of us would not have stood along side him, whether Christian, Jewish or whatever, as he tried to defend his children from these perverts? 
In Birmingham England it is the Muslim schools which are presently being targeted by the government for not demonstrating “British values”, after they put the frighteners on a head teacher for attempting to groom and corrupt their children . This is being done on an industrial scale with a programme called Chips  and has been launched by Birmingham city council under the direction of a jaunty, out and proud, lesbian slut, Elly Barnes 
The level of brainwashing children into the unholy trinity of the homophobia, gay gene and ‘sodomy is good’ hoaxes is such that nothing can stand in their path.
Unlike children with disabilities or who are identifiable because of race, religion, or some physical feature such as being obese and who can therefore be cared for and monitored using measurable data, there are no stastics regarding the precise number of gay pupils in a school, or the number who are being bullied because they are gay. Neither are there any written records detailing what kind of special care so called gay pupils are receiving. All that pupils are told is that if 6% or 10% of the population is gay, then there must be ‘X’ number of pupils in the school and yet they are never identified. Neither are they told exactly the number and nature of homophobic incidents that have occurred  All that pupils know is that remaining silent and not joining in celebrating sodomy is deemed homophobic which can carry serious consequences .
I could demonstrate the way Elly Barnes and her gang of gay thugs are gently leading children on the nursery slopes towards participating in full blown gay pride marches where they will rub shoulders with sado – masochists, sex workers, transsexuals, pornographers and the seriously disturbed. But space does not allow me to do that. Suffice to say that better to have a millstone around one’s neck and to be thrown into the deepest seam rather than to lead one of these children astray.
Bless you Bill for clarifying the necessity of battling with of co – combatants.
 Thorncliffe School, Toronto
 Khalid Mahmood
 Muslim parents in Birmingham
 Elly Barnes
 Filthy old wolf in sheep’s clothing, Sir Ian McKellen
 One brave Christian mother at King Solomon School, Ilford, Essex.
David Skinner UK
I admire greatly pastor Peter Simpson, having had the privilege of standing with him, when he was courageously witnessing at London Gay Pride 2015. If it were not for police protection, I am not sure what violence would have been meted out to us.
But this question about when to use scripture, was answered by a friend today who reminded me that Jesus Christ was not quoting Bible passages when he spoke in parables.
Michelle Cook assures me that being a co-belligerent does not equate with being an ecumenical.
These are the ecumencicals. Take a look: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRbobXqS4sY
David Skinner UK
“When a house is on fire, Churchmen and Dissenters, Methodists, Papists, Moravians, and Mystics — are all welcome to bring water. At such times nobody asks, “Dear friend, what church do you worship at?” Or “What do you think of the five points?”” – John Newton, Letter to Mr Bull, 28th April, 1778 [Accessed today at: http://gracegems.org/Newton/109.htm ].
Theology aside, politics does make strange bedfellows anyhow. This fact has been well-utilised by the minority party, the Australian Greens in making significant advances towards achieving their political objectives in parliaments where balance of power in one or both houses of the legislature is not in the hands of a major political party.
God Himself used the Assyrians and the Babylonians – even a false prophet’s donkey as a part of Heaven’s “co-belligerence” against sin and Satan!
If anyone stands up for what is right according to the Bible and we are able to do so, we should support them no matter who they are. Strength in numbers!
You are quite right, Bill. I applaud you for your enlightened approach.
Another group that Christians have worked together successfully in the U.S. is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). Although we Catholics don’t regard them as Christian, and they regard the Catholic Church as the whore of Babylon (or some such thing), there have been great strides made in co-operation between the two groups to fight issues such as abortion, euthanasia, and so-called same-sex marriage. The Mormons have strong and uncompromising family values, and we should be doing the same here in Australia.
I looked up pastor Peter Simpson and his church after I read your post, David. He is indeed most courageous and very aware and well read.