This is a God-and-country war. A convention of cheering airwave preachers and right-wing reverends, assembled here by the National Religious Broadcasters a few days ago, treated George Bush as all but divinely inspired when he declared his invasion of Iraq "a just war." Bush's speech parted the waters of doubt and dissent to these true believers, some rallying around the flag, others around the cross and a few seeing no difference.
Bush doesn't. Hours after U.S. pilots went into Iraq, the Rev. Billy Graham was given a night's lodging in the White House, enough for him to bless the saturation bombing in an unctuous sermon, his specialty when presidents bow in prayer in the front pew.
Being ecumenical, Bush now has many of the Catholic hierarchy saluting the Pentagon's killing machine. To the broadcasters, he quoted Saints Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and Ambrose on the Catholic Church's just-war theory, a proposition that allows theologians to argue that killing people is pleasing to God, provided it's done with a touch of soul-searching and a few "moral principles" are observed.
One of the principles is declaring war as a last resort. For Bush, it was a first resort. In August, he dispatched troops to defend Saudi Arabia. In November, defense changed to offense, and in January history's largest bombing campaign commenced.
Bush spoke of another principle, that a just war must "support a just cause." In the Persian Gulf, he said, "our cause could not be more noble." What nation has ever said its war was not noble? In "The Handbook of Non-Violence," Robert Seeley writes: "The just-war theory has allowed the church to sanction virtually every war in Western history, giving its blessing in many of them to both sides -- an impossibility under any reasonable reading of the theory."
Catholicism's equivalent of Billy Graham ("There comes a time when we have to fight for peace") is Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston. The empurpled hawk says that Bush and his allies were right "to defend the cause of justice with arms."
The spectacle of prelates and preachers singing as one voice from the Pentagon's choir loft is proof that Gandhi was right: "The only people on Earth who do not see Christ and His teachings as nonviolent are the Christians."
A few Catholic bishops, like live wires hissing sparks in the moral darkness, are opposing Bush. The Rev. Michael Kenny, bishop of Juneau, Alaska, says, "I see our going into battle as an offense against God and a crime against humanity. This war is immoral."
That's fiery enough, in keeping with the statements of modern popes who keep saying war no more. If that's the case, why don't church leaders forbid Catholics from joining the military with the same fervor they tell Catholics to stay away from abortion clinics? Bishop Kenny can denounce war as immoral until his throat hoarsens, but without a follow-up statement that orders the faithful not to fight America's wars, he's engaging in sanctuary theatrics.
True peace churches -- Mennonites, Quakers, Church of the Brethren -- run deep with pastors who teach their people that Christianity and military service are in moral contradiction. These churches, small in number and operating on bake-sale budgets, are resilient in one strength: a faithfulness to the teachings and practices of the early church, which was pacifist and three centuries away from Augustine and his nailing nonviolence to the cross with his just-war deceits.
In 1957, the Church of the Brethren, understanding the essence of Christ's teaching as many Catholic bishops and their brothers in arms, the broadcast preachers, do not, stated: "We declare again that our members should neither participate in war nor learn the art of war."
If revised to be relevant to the Persian Gulf War, the Brethren statement might now forbid learning the language of war. A first linguistic shifting would be dropping the word "war" itself. It is used so often and so broadly that its meaning has lost impact. Replace it with the more accurate word -- "slaughter." CNN would change its "War in the Gulf" programs to "Slaughter in the Gulf." Instead of World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War, call them World Slaughter I, World Slaughter II and the Vietnam Slaughter.
As for theologians, would they serve God, country and George Bush with the just-slaughter theory?