- Matthew 26:52
Unfortunately this teaching of Christ is not restricted to just those who draw the sword or that particular event. Whenever violence is employed on a wide scale, innocents suffer. Millions died in the World Wars, many millions of them civilians. Mothers incinerated with their children, the elderly dead under the rubble of bombings. We even have a nice clinical name for it, "collateral damage". There simply is no way to wage war on a large scale without innocents suffering, even when that suffering is unintentional.
The news coming from Iraq is ugly and for Christians is especially heart-breaking. The once small but relatively secure population of Christians in Iraq is on the verge of extinction, as is the case all around the Middle East. Forced conversions, torture, rape, murder and the defilement of bodies are all happening right now to our brothers and sisters. Many of us sit in our homes in America aghast that this could be happening in 2014 and we are filled with a combination of impotent anger and horror at what we see, knowing that there is little we can do other than pray (and prayer is no small thing). What reminded me of "live by the sword, die by the sword" is the very real part that American Christians unwittingly played in setting the stage for this atrocity that is happening to our family in Iraq.
It is hard to remember the Middle East as it was before 9/11/01. For the last dozen plus years we have known nothing but war. When September 11th happened, America as a whole was looking for vengeance. Someone to hold responsible and someone to make pay. To be honest I am not sure we much cared who that was. Like President Bush said, if you aren't with us you are against us. Given a general lack of "hard targets" America invaded and eventually occupied Afghanistan, home of the Taliban. Concurrently a case was made, leaning heavily on alleged weapons of mass destruction, to invade Iraq and finish the job we left unfinished under the first President Bush. As anyone could predict, American forces steamrolled the Iraqi military and we set up shop with dual occupations for the next decade, a decade that was drenched in blood, both American and Iraqi.
Fast forward to more recent years. In 2011 the so-called "Arab Spring" kicked off across the region. Formerly stable regimes in Egypt and Libya collapse. America is interfering a little here and a little there. Syria is embroiled in a civil war that still rages. Iraq is destabilized and with the withdrawal of American forces there is nothing to stop the ISIS other than the ragtag efforts of Iraq's military. Religious minorities are persecuted, notably for us many Christians who face unspeakable atrocities.
In a tragic irony, the collapse of Iraq and the ensuing conditions that allowed the ISIS to seize huge areas of Iraq and persecute Christians were a result of the U.S. invasion of Iraq that deposed Saddam Hussein (a dictator that largely tolerated Christians) in an unprovoked assault of a sovereign nation that was widely supported by American evangelicals. While I disagree with him on a lot of issues, I think Jonathan Merritt is largely on target in his piece, Blame Obama and U.S. evangelicals for the persecution of Iraqi Christians. Without the widespread and largely unquestioning support by American evangelicals of a preemptive invasion of Iraq, it is possible that America would not have gone down that road. I know of what I speak because I was pretty vocal about my support of the decision by President Bush to invade and occupy Iraq. In other words, in our thirst for vengeance over 9/11 and our ungodly fear of terrorism, Christians supported a decidedly unjust war that set the stage for unimaginable persecution of our brothers and sisters. Of course the sins being gleefully committed by the ISIS and other satanic groups in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere are on their own heads. Should God not grant them repentance and a regenerate heart they will perish to face a holy justice that will last for an eternity. That doesn't absolve American evangelicals for their role in helping to create the conditions that ISIS is thriving in. This is just another example of Christians being manipulated by the powers of the world into supporting their machinations and yielding unintended consequences, just as the church was manipulated into supporting World War I which led to Hitler and Stalin and the persecution of Christians as well as Jews and others.
Some may say and not without justification, that this is not the time for theological point scoring, not while our brothers and sisters are being tortured, raped and brutally murdered. I say that with all due respect, and I am as deeply grieved as anyone, this is precisely the time to have this conversation. We are seeing the unintentional fruit of a misguided and unbiblical war of aggression enthusiastically supported by the church. In an era when memories are short and attention spans are measured in 144 characters, we need to open our eyes now, not just to the tragic events we see playing out on social media but also to the events that have led to this situation because we will forget all about it once the news is replaced by something else.
We must stop turning to Caesar to advance our own agendas because it always turns out badly for the church when we yoke ourselves to the godless power of the state. We need to repent in sackcloth and ashes and beg forgiveness from our brothers and sisters in Iraq. I especially need to do this because I was driven by the fear of man to support a war that endangered my family in Iraq and elsewhere. We need to vow to stop letting Caesar manipulate our fear or greed or selfishness to support his wars with our witness, our treasure and our children. How many Christians have sent their children to be sacrificed on the altar of Baal to appease Caesar and accomplish his goals? I say no more. No more wars for gold or pride or power. No more of our children sent to die and to kill for Caesar. No more endangering our brothers and sisters in other lands to preserve our ungodly lifestyles in America. No more living by the sword and being surprised when we perish by the sword.