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Letter - Boyum's argument doesn't hold water

   Editor:

      I am responding to the editorial comments written by Mr. Phil Boyum and published November 23, 2007, and November 30, 2007, in The Statesboro Herald.

            The degree of allegiance which a Christian citizen owes his state has been an oft-posed query for centuries, and for centuries, it has remained unanswered definitively. Much of the difficulty in reaching a definitive conclusion to the question lies in the dual nature of a Christian's identity. On the one hand, each individual is a citizen of a particular state to which he gives allegiance and has other obligations (Paul discusses these obligations for Christians in Romans 13). In exchange for this allegiance, a citizen is entitled to certain benefits and rights. On the other hand, however, the individual, and particularly the Christian, is aware of being part of a larger more universal system — that of mankind. He/she understands that Christ's teachings and pertinent Old Testament commandments and admonitions govern the relationship between that Christian individual and other persons, both near and far.

            But where should the Christian give his primary loyalty? Should he/she give primary allegiance to the state and only residual obedience to the commandments of his God? Or should those priorities be reversed? The problem of the Christian's dual identity has serious broad implications and, to all but the puerile and simplistic, even acceptable partial solutions come with difficulty. Perhaps the dilemma is most clear when focused on the application of force by our government.

            One response to the problem of the dual identity for the Christian is presented by the pacifist position. Pacifism posits the sanctity of human life and establishes the preservation of human life as the highest value. The Christian pacifist wishes to raise the action of the individual to the perfection of Christ. The use of the "sword" is prohibited, for it is deemed both nonfunctional and in violation of God's basic commands. Evil can be overcome with good, not with greater evil, the pacifist would say. Enemies must be made allies through consultations, negotiations and reconciliation; not overcome by force.

            Mr. Boyum's cry for a Christ-like peace at any price in his November 23 editorial and his lament at the lost opportunity costs for domestic programs because of our security expenditures in his November 30 editorial, are a pacifist plea. He confuses our responsibilities as Christian individuals with the responsibilities of those governing our country when dealing with enemies sworn to kill us and to obliterate our way of life. (Let's be very clear here, radical Islam has a goal, viz., our total destruction and seems quite willing to die by the thousands to reach that goal. We are at war and have been for a decade with such fanatics, but too many of us refuse to recognize this reality). Though our president is a Christian, when he acts to defend the USA from all enemies both domestic and foreign, as his oath of office requires, he is not expected to turn the nation's other cheek to these enemies. We, as citizens, would not warn him to ask for the nation, "what would Jesus do," when our friends and neighbors have been beheaded, bombed in embassies, killed on ships, burned alive from jet fuel or died falling 80 stories from tall buildings in New York because of the atrocities of radical Islamic terrorists. That is not his role as president, even as a Christian man. The dilemma of the Christian's dual identity that pervades the life of the ordinary Christian man and woman in conducting his relations with other people and his interactions with his government, plays only a minor role at best in the decisions that a president must take in the Oval Office.

            We as Christian citizens do expect our commander in chief's response to an attack or threat to the USA to be within our national interests and commensurate with any loses obtained and moderated by restraint. The Christian citizen should expect leaders of the USA to conduct a war so that not only are the ends in the "just" war reasonable, but that its conduct would also be restrained. But reasonable observers must conclude that our military efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq have been some of the most restrained in modern warfare. We have not stooped to the barbaric levels of behavior of our enemies. Yes, there have been tragic losses. The fog of war always results in unfortunate civilian and other unnecessary casualties. However, overall, our bombs have been laser guided and our troops unbelievably patient and restrained. To prevent any unfortunate losses or any deaths at all, Mr. Boyum would have the USA never take up arms abroad in its defense, or would have us wait until the evil marshaled against our country invades us with such force that a victory is precluded. Mr. Boyum's pacifism has its own moral risks, which he would have us forget. If we know nothing now in our own defense, how much more evil will later result? I am currently reading Paul Johnson's book "Modern Times," which brilliantly describes, among other things, the events leading up to World War II. It is obviously clear that had Britain and France and, yes the USA, stood up against Hitler's aggressiveness in the late 1930s, World War II would not have occurred. Those nations, and others, did nothing, and much greater evil and devastation resulted. Have we forgotten this history?

            There are no Christian foreign policies. No form of pacifism, Christian or otherwise that would seek to avoid moral ambiguities that come with war, can be adopted by any U.S. president. The leaders of our government have sworn oaths to protect the interests of our people, and these interests include most importantly, our security. Any president, Christian or otherwise, is bound by these responsibilities, notwithstanding the enormous economic costs. Mr. Boyum's criticisms of President Bush and his lament at the costs of our country's defense, are little more than fuzzy thinking and offer more than glimpses of self-righteousness. Mr. Boyum, put yourself in the Oval Office for a moment and think what counteractions you might have taken to the devastation of our country on September 11, 2001, and as a reaction to the uniform consensus of western and Russian intelligence agencies that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. I thank God daily for a president willing to aggressively defend our national interests and, at the same time, to quietly take the political heat for those actions. That is true leadership and a generation from now President Bush's qualities of strong character, vision far beyond the next election, and outstanding leadership will be uniformly regarded and praised in this country and abroad.

            Readers interested in this topic of Christian realism in a foreign policy context should read John Bennett's "Foreign Policy in Christian Perspective"; Paul Ramsey's "The Just War," and most books by Reinhold Niebuhr.

Dale V. Slaght

Christian and Ph.D. in International Studies

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