Some thoughts on Scripture, warfare and international relations:
There have been some quite odd changes of thinking of late, and the main reason for this, as far as I can determine, is because some folks who were very level-headed on the Covid wars and government mandates over the last two years have become much less so when it comes to things like the Ukrainian war. Sadly for some folks, it seems their position on the conflict has somewhat clouded their thinking, and caused them to backflip in some areas.
For example, most of these folks have rightly been calling out statism, authoritarianism, government bullying, and so on – as have I. But somewhat inexplicably I find many of these same people all of a sudden doing something like the reverse – at least when it comes to the statist, authoritarian, bully Putin. Many seem to have very quickly decided to strongly support him while strongly demonising Zelenskyy.
I have explained my stance on the Ukraine conflict in a number of articles lately. And in one piece I tried to explain why this strange reversal seems to be occurring: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2022/03/02/on-discernment-gullibility-and-healthy-scepticism/
I have discussed various other folks and what they have said about Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. As I documented in earlier articles, many Christians believe that not only is Putin right, but he is in fact God’s man doing God’s will as he supposedly is draining the swamp, making the world a better place, etc. And many of these folks see the Ukraine government as the epitome of globalist evil.
Here I want to look at just one new piece on this topic. I consider the author to be a friend and one that I was in full accord with concerning Covid. Hopefully he will still be a friend after I share some of my thoughts. And as is often the case, I am not picking on just one person, but using one article as illustrative of how so many others think.
The piece is entitled “Ukraine, Russia, and Jesus: Should We Intervene in Foreign Wars?” Let me say at the outset that I respect this writer and he often has a lot of very good things to say. But I cannot say that about this particular article. It has too many problems in my view. Let me explain.
Obviously a short article cannot say everything, but what the author does say seems to raise more questions than it answers. His main point is Christians should have nothing to do with overseas’ wars. More specifically, the West should NOT offer any military assistance to Ukraine while Putin invades it and is happy to see it burnt to the ground if need be. And he claims this position is based on what Jesus said and did.
First point: if intervention is always wrong, if war is always wrong – as some sort of general moral and biblical position – then we now have full-tilt pacifism and neo-isolationism being pushed. That of course has always been a minority position in Christian thought. Sure, Christians are welcome to hold to these views if they want. I happen to think they are wrong for the most part however.
If Jesus really says no to all war, then of course all the wars that God instigated in the Old Testament were wrong as well. So too were the Allies for seeking to stop Hitler and the Nazis from taking over the world. (The author only very briefly even mentions WWII). So too the wars of divine judgement that we read about in Revelation. And so on.
He also says: “It is not our job, even as part of some global policing alliance, to interfere in wars of other nations with military force or support.” Once again, is this actually some moral and biblical absolute? If so, then the various things I just mentioned above must be included. We were wrong to seek to stop Hitler. Better to have let him enslave the whole world and kill all Jews and other enemies of the state.
Further clarity is needed here. If he were simply saying it is not the job of the CHURCH to do these things, but there is a role for the STATE to do these things, that would be one thing. But the implication seems to be that the West, as a collection of nations, should never intervene elsewhere – at least militarily. If so, then many thinking Christians would not go along with such a position.
The article also states: “Have you noticed how rarely if ever Jesus criticises or speaks about the actions of the Romans?” He also says Jesus did not take sides in the various conflicts happening around him, and he was basically happy to submit to the Roman authorities and not rock any political boat.
A number of things can be said in reply. The idea that Jesus never got involved in the wars of his day (and therefore neither should we) is not very helpful. There were of course hundreds of things Jesus did not get involved in during his day – and that for the very simple reason that he was a man on a mission. He was born to die. He had a unique calling to die for our sins on the cross. Nothing could be allowed to interfere with this divine calling.
So there were many perfectly legitimate things he did not get involved in. For example, he never got married and raised a family. But that does NOT mean this becomes a template for all believers today. And he never set up a Bible college or helped illiterate kids in foreign countries learn how to read and write.
As mentioned, many of the writers who were the most vocal about not blindly submitting to statist authority over the past few years now seem to hold up Jesus as our model of submitting to statist authority! Hmm, consistency would be good. Is political ideology skewing the way things are being presented here?
We also read this: “Never are leaders in the Bible challenged to solve the problems of other nations, and never does Jesus rebuke the Jewish leaders for not seeking to interfere, in say, the border regions of Rome.” But it is God who ordained the institution of civil government not only to keep a modicum of justice within state borders, but sometimes if need be to keep the peace without.
There is in fact a time and place where nation states can and should intervene elsewhere – even militarily. Sure a lot of prayer and care is needed when our leaders make those decisions. But implying that no nation has a right to be concerned about other nations and sometimes get involved overseas is neither biblically warranted nor basic common political sense. It is neo-isolationism and pacifism run amok.
The author would certainly know that the entirety of our Christian view on big issues like the nations, geo-politics and international relations is NOT confined simply to the words of Jesus. The entire Bible must be taken into account on these matters. If not, normally conservative Christians end up being just like the “Red Letter Christians” of the left.
The final paragraph is the most problematic of all: “We need to follow the example of our Lord, and stop interfering with other nations because it causes more trouble than it solves. If you love your neighbour you don’t constantly interfere and make things worse. You treat them how you want to be treated: in this case, as a sovereign nation.”
Um, if your next door neighbour is setting up a drug-dealing operation, is operating a de facto brothel, or is being beaten by a partner, it actually IS your Christian duty to interfere! It may mean just calling the police. Or it may mean actually doing something and using force, say, if a child is at immediate risk, and so on. Sometimes loving your neighbour DOES mean intervening in real, physical ways.
And if international intervention is always wrong, WHY do we not see one single word about Putin in this entire article?! You know, the guy who has just interfered massively and bloodily with a sovereign nation! Are we actually being told that it is no probs for Christians if Putin wants to invade and destroy an independent nation, but Christians dare NOT support the West if it comes to Ukraine’s defence? Using Jesus to selectively denounce attacks on sovereign nations is far from helpful. A little consistency here would be nice, and not this rather blatant bias.
As to political analyst John Mearsheimer being cited, a few quick words. I suspect that most folks holding him up as the final word on this conflict never heard of him 10 days ago! I am familiar with his articles in Foreign Affairs, his online remarks, and so on. I (and more importantly, many experts) do not agree with all he says. His claim that Ukraine should NOT have given up its nuclear arsenal I and others DO agree with. His main thesis that Putin is mainly worried about having a buffer between Russia and NATO, is partly correct, but much more needs to be said on that. Maybe I will do a fuller article on this one day.
A few more brief points. I just read again Deuteronomy 20 in my daily reading today. What is that all about? Laws concerning warfare! And there are of course plenty of important Christian books on things such as just warfare, international relations and the like. One earlier bibliography I wrote features a number of the better books on this: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2018/02/27/recommended-reading-war-peace/
Also, when we talk about how Jesus thinks about a certain situation, we need to realise that political biases can easily creep in. We all need great care here lest we think that our view is somehow the pure Jesus-only view, when instead it may well be a mix of our biases and our spin on what Jesus thinks. So we all need some real humility here.
In sum, it seems that we do not really get a clear and helpful answer to the question raised in the title. The matters addressed are of course important, but the reader may need to look further afield to get more information and direction on these crucial matters.
As I say, this is as much a generic response as anything. Plenty of other such articles could have been addressed – and critiqued. It is sad that this European conflict is rather unnecessarily dividing Christians. We can seek to differ while also seeking to maintain Christian unity.