Should it come to war any time soon between the United States and Iran, the history books about that confrontation will include at least a chapter on the role of some Christian Zionists in urging this conflict on, and in giving it religious and ideological cover. Or the historians may say that some well-meaning Christians were used and manipulated by the same public and political figures they thought they were encouraging to start war between America and Iran. Some of the blame will rightfully go to the mullahs and the president of Iran for all they did to inflame warlike sentiments. But some of it will also go to some high profile American Christian televangelists and political activists who genuinely seem to think that by encouraging a pre-emptive military strike against Iran, they are blessing Abraham and his descendants and doing God’s will.
And should the unthinkable happen, and an un-winnable war with Iran be launched, unleashing an avalanche of devastating complications and consequences for generations to come, some of them easily foreseeable, future American generations will likely look upon the church and their Christian parents and ancestors and ask, as they have in Germany and Austria after the Second World War, “What did you do to prevent the war or stop it?” And if enough of us must remain silent or give excuses, or (God forbid) confess that we poured gasoline on the fire with apocalyptic glee, then the church will garner the same indifference or contempt that it does in much of postwar secular Europe today.
If that should be the case, then I, for one, want to go on permanent record as saying that I oppose any efforts to wage war with Iran, and even to threaten or encourage it. And I am not alone. The Sojourners Community of Washington, D.C., has issued its call for restraint on both sides in a statement, “Words Not War,” that can be found at http://www.sojourners.com/index.cfm?action=action.wnw&item=wnw_main. There you will also find the story of Christian leaders, representative of not a few denominations, including the Mennonites, who have met more than once with President Ahmedinajad of Iran for some respectful dialog and some very pointed and honest challenges to his inflammatory and irresponsible statements about Jews, Israel and the United States. But they earned the right to be heard precisely because they were willing to listen, and to acknowledge the rights of Muslims and Arabs (few Iranians are Arabs, by the way) to exist in Palestine and the Middle East, as well as the Jews.
By “Christian Zionists” I mean fellow Christians, but those who justify and support the most hard line Israeli political positions and military actions against Arabs and Palestinians, even though many, if not most, Israelis might not go so far. They are absolutely right when they say that Christians in the past have too often engaged in anti-Jewish pogroms and inquisitions, that we slept-walked through atrocities such as the Holocaust, and that its time to reverse our complacency about, and our collusion with, anti-semitism. But I disagree with their implicit call to choose between loving Israelis or Arabs (many of whom are Christians) and to identify the most warlike and oppressive Israeli policies with the will of God.
Watching or hearing the sermons of the most militant Christian Zionists, like the Rev. John Hagee of Christians United for Israel, I am transported back to the 1970’s, when I was a new believer and my country was as fearful of the Communists as we are of terrorists and jihadis today. Then, as now, it was not uncommon for some televangelists, pastors and revivalists to whip up sentiment and support by whipping up our fear of enemies, who would take over our country and kill us Christians, we were told, if any softies among us would let them. Since the Vietnam War was still underway, it was allegedly God’s will that we kill the Commies since they so desperately and unanimously wanted to kill us. This call to war was all the more powerful and gripping when fed into calculations of apocalyptic scenarios from various combinations of Biblical prophecies to show why the imminent and inevitable fiery showdown with godless Bolshevism or Maoism would soon usher in the return of Christ. Hagee’s teachings and videos are full of similar charts and speculations about how war with Iran is necessary for the Second Coming of Christ.
I still believe in the real and visible coming of Christ. My reading of history and of Bible prophecy doesn’t give me much reason to believe that we humans will suddenly and smoothly evolve or progress our way out of inequality, injustice and violence any time soon. I am much more hopeful about our long-term, eternal prospects. And my faith and my Lord give me resources and encouragement to keep working toward that end in the short term. Yet should the Lord’s return be soon, and should it occur in the course of a cataclysmic debacle, I would much rather be found, in that final inspection, on the side of those who were showing love to Israelis and Palestinians equally than on the side of those who were stoking the fires of war. I would much rather be found on the side of those who were helping feed the poor and the hungry, of those who were reaching out to self-described enemies, and of those who were restraining their appetites for energy and comfort, than be found on the side of those who were pushing the pedal to the metal on the road to Armageddon.
Nor do I intend to fall again for the error of confusing fear, loathing and the “stern, impassioned stress” of war fever with a spiritual experience, as I did back when some revivalists almost had me convinced to stockpile ammunition because the Communists were coming any day now, and therefore Christ was, too. But I’m experiencing “deja vu all over again” in the messages of those Christian Zionists who are whipping up the case for war with Iran. Think of what that will do to the Iranian church, which is growing, even as the mullahs deny its existence or hunt it down.
The only experiences I recognize as spiritual anymore are those that have to do with trust, pardon, peace, mercy, reconciliation and costly, cruciform love, even for enemies who are determined to stay enemies. In the history books to come, if the Lord should tarry, I hope that Christian peacemakers—friends of Israelis and Arabs, Jews and Muslims–get more space than just a few footnotes. Better yet, may those histories never need to be written.