Evangelicals for Peace convened at Georgetown University last fall to ponder pacifism versus just war. Predictably, reflective of the Evangelical Left overall, nearly all the voices leaned pacifist. Acknowledging, sort of, the validity of just war was liberal Baptist David Gushee, Mercer University ethicist, and himself a prominent Evangelical Left theorist.
Gushee’s speech against the “warfare state” has since run in Jim Wallis Sojourners journal among other outlets. But with its reluctant nod to traditional Christian teaching about the state’s vocation for force, Gushee’s peroration echoed the angry paranoia of 1960s era New Left militants like Noam Chomsky. It also pretends that U.S. fiscal solvency can be achieved by merely curtailing the warfare state’s beast like power, while chiding Republicans for only favoring “dramatic cuts in the safety net for the poor.”
Complaining that inflation-adjusted U.S. military spending is twice 1950s levels and accounts for 40 percent of total global military spending, Gushee compares Pentagon excess with high unemployment and crumbling infrastructure and schools. He doesn’t mention that in the 1950s defense consumed twice today’s percentage of GNP and was over half the federal budget compared to today’s 20 percent. Quoting David Stockman, Gushee blames Obama defense spending on “neoconservative imperialism.” Quoting Andrew Bacevich, he suggests “military policy is slipping from democratic control” in favor of the military industrial complex, which prefers “permanent war.” Gushee does not suggest any similar conspiracy sustaining the much larger welfare and entitlement state. Nor does he worry that welfare and entitlement spending threaten “economic decline and imminent fiscal emergency,” as military costs do. Even as Iraq and Afghanistan involvements conclude, he frets about drones and covert actions.
Gushee complains that Christian witness in foreign policy is “entirely marginalized,” with no church leader or movement influencing either party. He does not consider that his own unserious Evangelical Left school of paranoia might explain part of the indifference towards religious voices. He also asserts that just war theory “does not seem to be functioning in any significant or constructive way,” instead becoming an “empty intellectual exercise divorced from any persuasive power to guide either state policy or Christian practice.” Again, he does not consider that the cause might be the Religious Left’s reinterpretation of just war standards as so impossibly high as to make the teaching functionally pacifist and accordingly inconsequential to policy makers.
Faulting “anti-Muslim and neo-Crusade thinking” on the right, Gushee tries to seem evenhanded by regretting that pacifism In “progressive circles” offers little other than “occasionally trenchant analyses of obvious excesses or wrongs in U.S. foreign and military policy.” He commends “just peacemaking theory,” which is actually mostly just pacifism lite, for stressing “grassroots citizen advocacy and action,” and as the “most relevant of all existing Christian peacemaking theories/strategies.” But he sadly admits it lacks “wide influence in U.S. foreign policy circles” even while creating a new coalition
“within the center-left of evangelicals.” He hopes this coalition, if effective, could surmount “the various political, civic, and economic forces that block needed budget cuts in defense even when foreign policy and governmental leaders believe those cuts are needed.”
Gushee suggests the entrance to political relevance means accepting the “right of self-defense and use of lethal force under certain specified conditions,” as well as accepting “at least provisionally, the stubborn existence of an entity called the nation-state, a world filled with an ever-shifting array of nation-states, and the internationally recognized right of those states to defend themselves.” He offers these hard admissions as “one price of admission to the conversation” allowing liberal evangelicals more effectively to lobby against U.S. military spending and actions. Gushee admits the state is not the church, and that “statespersons” have national security duties, for better or worse. At least granting that reality in theory gets anti-war activists into the conversation, he surmises.
Unsurprisingly, Gushee faults the political missteps of “center-left Christians” on the “increasingly obvious wrongs of U.S. foreign and military policy for the last 65 years, including the first use of nuclear weapons in 1945, the insane nuclear arms race with its Mutual Assured Destruction madness, the deployment and planned use of nuclear weapons in various theaters of war, the foolish conventional-but-devastating wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and elsewhere, and the bloating of our military budget.” He also declares for added emphasis that U.S. foreign and military policy has been “potentially lethal to the planet, as well as bankrupting, unwise, and neo-imperialistic.”
So Gushee thinks the Evangelical and Religious Left can wrangle itself into political relevance by paying lip service to ancient church fathers on just war, even while denouncing nearly all U.S. military and foreign policy of the last 70 years as monstrous.
Can opposing the means of survival and victory in World War II, the Cold War and War on Terror really invite serious regard from any significant part of American polity? For all of the nation’s current confusions, there is still a national consensus for survival and self-defense, and considerably more than the pretend, theoretical self-defense that Gushee suggests liberal religionists might grudgingly accept, with fingers crossed.
The mind and word games that Gushee offers the Religious Left as tickets to political power are likely still too high a price for anti-American utopians who think true faith mandates absolute pacifism. Sadly, their delusion does, as Gushee noted, inhibit constructive faith reflection about and influence on U.S. foreign and military policy.