The World Council of Churches convened its Seventh Assembly at Canberra, Australia, early in February 1991, just in time to pronounce a verdict on the Persian Gulf War. The W.C.C. opposed the war on two grounds: that all war is wrong, and that it is not permissible to fight war to right an injustice unless one also fights all wars to right all injustices. The most striking expression of the first position came in a resolution brought by the German churches, calling on the Assembly “to give up any moral or theological justification for the use of military power, be it in war or other forms of oppressive security systems, and become advocates of a just peace.” The motion was withdrawn when it became evident that there was insufficient time for the Assembly to act on it, but apparently it did reflect the sentiment of the majority: that just war doctrine no longer has any place in the thinking of the W.C.C. With respect to the second objection, the statement finally issued by the Assembly called on the United Nations Security Council to “enforce with equal vigor its earlier resolutions on the territorial integrity of Lebanon, the division of Cypress [and] Israel’s withdrawal from the territories it occupied in 1967.”
The W.C.C. also took the opportunity to throw as much cold water as it could on plans to celebrate 1992 as the quinquecentennial of Columbus’ discovery of America: “We call upon the international religious community and government to resist participating in activities celebrating 1492 designed without input from indigenous people and to join with indigenous people in the celebrations and commemorations they have planned.” Logically, this would mean that Catholics could not celebrate the spread of the Gospel to the New World, nor could Protestants remember with anything other than embarrassment their efforts to establish a model Christian society in the wilderness.
This same anti-Western bent is found in a recent issue of the Harvard Divinity Bulletin, where Harvard professor Diana L. Eck writes, “At a time when the U.S. was mesmerized by the momentum of war, it was clear that the massive armed presence of the West was deeply resented by people throughout the world with a history of Western subjugation.” Elsewhere in the same issue, Melanie A. May, a visiting lecturer at Harvard, published a Lenten sermon, preached February 27 in the Divinity School Chapel, calling the war blasphemy and giving, among other things, this reason: “Because an American Air Force colonel, just back from one of the 3,000 bombing raids in 14 hours, can respond to a question about what he would do next by saying, ‘Well, first I promised to buy my crew coffee . . . and then we’ll get right back to work.’ Back to work. Back to killing. . . . The truth of this war is blasphemy because American citizens are so far spared the feeling and the flesh of fear—though not those of sorrow—that hold the Palestinian people and Israeli citizens, along with Iraqis and Kuwaitis, hostage.”
It seems the delegates to the W.C.C. as well as Mmes. Eck and May would have preferred the assembled allied forces to have refrained from using their superiority in weaponry. Would they have felt better if there had been massed columns of infantry charging the entrenched Iraqis after the fashion of Napoleon? Or perhaps mounted knights, as used by the French at Crecy, or an infantry phalanx, as used successfully by Alexander the Great in the same region? And would the war have been more moral, less blasphemous, if the United States and its allies had suffered massive casualties? The anti-war position of the’ W.C.C. and Mmes. Eck and May would make sense from a position of consistent pacifism, but this isn’t the basis of their argument. Instead, they temper their reproaches for the U.S. actions in the Gulf with calls for action elsewhere. One suspects that if the United States were to overthrow the government of South Africa by force, they would not call it “blasphemy.”
What is involved here, as the attacks on quinquecentennial celebrations of Columbus’ voyages of discovery reveal, is hostility to the West in general and to Christendom in particular. It is true that the Spanish conquistadores dismantled the indigenous empires of the Aztecs and the Incas in Mexico and South America, and that they were not gentle about it. This is not a matter of great credit or pride to the Christian West, but is it so unusual in the course of human history that it deserves special mention for particular execration? Is it not also true that the Muslim Arabs destroyed the old Persian Empire and the East Roman Empire and made repeated attempts to conquer the European mainland? No one says, “Christians are justified in hating Muslims because of their conquest of Constantinople and of Spain, because of their conquest of Hungary and their siege of Vienna.” Perhaps the memory of the Crusades explains much of the Muslim resentment of Christians and the West, but it can hardly be said to justify it.
In another Andover Chapel sermon printed in the same issue, a staff assistant at Harvard Divinity, Virginia M. Pierce, reproves the United States for having prepared for the Persian Gulf War for ten years and offers her interpretation of Islam as a “religion of peace.” Let’s be serious. Muslims have never been persecuted as a matter of policy by Christians, and yet Islamic regimes generally forbid evangelization and punish the conversion of Muslims to Christianity severely, frequently by death. No real or nominal Christian or member of any other non-Islamic religion is punishable by law in any Christian state for becoming a Muslim. Moreover, Islam did not- stretch its sway from the Pyrenees to the Pacific by peaceful missionary work. On the other hand, Christianity spread throughout most of the ancient Roman world in opposition to the power of the state, not by military conquest. The Christians of Egypt and North Africa, of Gaul and Greece were won to their faith when it was still proscribed and persecuted. The Muslims of Egypt and Syria, North Africa and Asia Minor were won to Islam after their states had been conquered and when they could derive financial and other benefits from conversion.
Apparently the only “holy war” that is recognizable in some ecclesiastical and academic circles is the war against Christianity and nations tinted with that faith. Christians even outbid one another to cast scorn on and to apologize for their own traditions and faith. Conservative Christians may disagree with this behavior, but with few exceptions they too are cowed into tacitly acquiescing, as in the allegation that the Crusades were something of which Christians should be uniquely ashamed, whereas the jihad is only natural and a thing of which Islam may properly be proud.
When we consider the way in which the W.C.C. fawningly receives “guests of other faiths,” giving reverent attention to their supercilious criticisms of Christianity, one finds it hard to realize that the ecumenical movement had its origin, early in the century, in the Christian desire to become more effective in world evangelism. It is one thing to be hospitable, generous, and tolerant; it is quite another to abandon one’s strongest convictions for the sake of an urbane and cosmopolitan eclecticism.
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