taking the words of Jesus seriously


Just before the United States and the United Kingdom, along with token forces from a handful of other countries, invaded Iraq for the second time, Wheaton College staged a debate between Gary Bauer (a one-time candidate for the Republican nomination for the presidency) and me over the wisdom and the morality of the invasion.


Gary Bauer, as a true Republican, supported the Bush policies 100 percent. He was convinced that when American soldiers entered Iraq, they would be treated as liberators and that the people of Baghdad would throw flowers at their feet. It didn’t turn out that way. The weapons of mass destruction, which were the pretext for the invasion, did not exist.


The Bush administration, endeavoring to recast the purpose of the invasion, changed the rhetoric to claim that we were there to do away with a dictatorship and establish a democracy. That didn’t work out either. There was a false assumption that democracy exists when there is a free election, with each and every person given the right to vote, and that at the end of that election the majority gets to rule.


But reality is somewhat different. Democracy is not only where the majority rules, but also where it is safe to be a minority. In Iraq, the Shiites won the election, since they were the majority, but you could hardly say that what followed was a democracy. The majority, Shiites, established Sharia law and then set about to persecute the Sunni Muslims.


Of course, what really cuts me deeply is that the Christian community came under attack. There were once 1, 500, 000 Christians in Iraq. Today it’s down to about 250, 000. Christians have been so persecuted in Iraq that most of them fled the country and became refugees in any country that would receive them. Those who remained have done so under constant threat.


What’s more, America’s soldiers were not greeted with flowers thrown at their feet. Instead, many Iraqi people have come to despise them and, beyond that, to despise our country which sent the soldiers there in the first place.


We removed Saddam Hussein from his dictatorial role and stood by as his adversaries proceeded to hang him. We should pay more attention to the teaching of Jesus, who said, “When you get rid of one devil, make sure that you haven’t created a vacuum which will then be occupied by ten devils worse than the one that you destroyed.” Well, we did get rid of one devil. No one is going to wave the flag in favor of the “humanity” of Saddam Hussein. He was responsible for the deaths of over 30, 000 Iraqi citizens.


We should consider, however, that as a result of our invasion and occupation, more than 300, 000 Iraqis were killed, and countless more were seriously wounded and psychologically scarred.


I imagine many Iraqi people were praying, “Allah, please deliver us from our deliverers.”


The Shiite government under Nouri al-Maliki made the Sunnis in the northern part of the country its enemies, and in oppressing those people created the conditions that were open to the invasion of ISIS, a movement sympathetic to the Sunnis. This Islamic army swept in from Syria, conquered, and holds under its control a significant part of the northern area of Iraq. Now we have not a few terrorists, but a huge army of terrorists, armed to the teeth, heavily financed, and determined not only to establish themselves as a new Islamic state in territory that they have wrested away from Syria and from Iraq, but which has openly declared that they will not be satisfied until they have wrought destruction on America.


ISIS claims that the bombings and the invasions by Americans have caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Muslim people. They see us as a terrorist nation and, thus, they feel no guilt over themselves becoming terrorists, and are now threatening to invade the United States with their terrorism. Who knows what is going to happen in our country in the immediate years that follow this one? ISIS is determined to commit massive terroristic acts across our land, and it remains to be seen what they will be able to pull off.


We were horrified when ISIS soldiers beheaded an American news reporter and a British reporter, and also made videos of their grizzly evil acts. Then I heard an interview with an ISIS spokesperson in London who asked, “Why are you so upset about two men from your world being put to death, and not upset with the hundreds of Muslims who regularly die from bombings from drones which your countries send to kill our people? And if you think we are inhumane, ask yourselves about the inhumane torture that your nations carry out in Guantanamo. And please—do not pretend that your people are not torturing prisoners.”


What we can do to stop this cycle of violence? The Bible admonishes people like us who have done so much evil and have been so inhumane:

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sins and will heal their land. (II Chronicles 7:14)


What if President Bush and President Obama stood together at the rostrum of the UN General Assembly and did the biblical thing? What if, on behalf of the American people, they repented of what our nation has done?


It is not a sign of weakness to publicly repent. On the contrary, it is a sign of great strength when there is courage to admit wrongs that have been done. And what if we, as a nation, did what the Bible tells us to do?

But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:20-21).


Suppose in addition to a demonstration of national repentance, America committed itself to rebuilding the homes and infrastructures that we have destroyed and offered to build schools, clinics, agricultural, and economic development programs for those we have harmed? Might we not be fulfilling the commands of Jesus to overcome evil with good? Could this not make for peace?


We are not going to get rid of terrorism by killing terrorists any more than we can get rid of malaria by killing mosquitoes. We have to get rid of the swamps that breed mosquitoes. So it is that we don’t get rid of terrorists by killing terrorists, but by getting rid of the swamps that breed terrorists (i.e. the oppressive social conditions under which they live).


Lord Chesterton once said, “It is not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting, but rather that it has been found difficult and not tried.” It is time to try the Jesus way, as difficult at that may seem. Nothing else has worked.


About The Author


Tony Campolo is Professor of Sociology at Eastern University, and was formerly on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania. For 40 years, he founded and led the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, an organization that created and supported programs serving needy communities in the Third World as well as in “at risk” neighborhoods across North America. More recently, Dr. Campolo has provided leadership for the Red Letter Christians movement. He blogs regularly at his own website. Tony and his wife Peggy live near Philadelphia, and have two children and four grandchildren.

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