The Silence of the Sheep

  The scenes are as vivid in my mind as if they were yesterday: Thousands upon thousands of anti-war demonstrators marching through the haze of marijuana smoke and tear gas to encircle the White House. Watching from my office inside, I was struck by the number of clerical collars, symbolic of the leadership of mainline churches in the anti-war movement. An Episcopal bishop even led one march. These memories flooded back recently as I watched reports of American pilots bombing Belgrade. There are many similarities between then and now--but one huge difference: the almost total silence today of the Christian Church. Milosevic, for example, proposed a cease-fire this weekend to honor, as his government put it, the Orthodox Church's "biggest Christian holiday." Yet, all our government said was "absurd." And I've heard nary a peep of protest from Christians. What makes this silence even more disturbing is that the expedition into Yugoslavia raises profound moral questions that the Christian Church is uniquely qualified to address. In the Just War theory, set forth by Augustine and observed for 1,500 years in the West, we have a set of moral standards to judge the rightness of military engagements. According to the theory, the use of force is justified only if it meets the following criteria: It has a just cause, it is a last resort, it is declared by proper authority, the evil caused by the war is less than the evil to be righted, and it has a reasonable probability of success. Measured against these standards, our intervention in Yugoslavia falls woefully short. Even if we assume that preventing ethnic cleansing justifies bombing a sovereign nation, the action fails the last resort test. According to the Washington Post, the Joint Chiefs argued for economic sanctions instead of bombing--advice that was ignored. The fact is, we had not exhausted all other recourses. The campaign also has caused more evil than it has prevented. As NATO started its bombing, Milosevic stepped up his reign of terror. So, in the short term, at least, NATO bombing has resulted in increased death and suffering. Further--and for me, most telling--according to the same news reports, the Joint Chiefs also warned the president that bombing alone wouldn't do the job. Yet he went ahead, anyway. So much for having a reasonable chance of success. Yet, despite all this, the Church is strangely silent. Are we really so complacent? Has the 10,000 point Dow Jones sapped us of our moral outrage? The Vietnam-era protests weren't the only time that the Church argued against its own government's use of military force. During World War II, British clergy denounced their own government's carpet bombing of German cities. And before the Gulf War, many Christians raised serious Just War concerns. It was a healthy debate. These Christians, right or wrong, at least recognized that a Christian's first allegiance is to the City of God. Whether Caesar listens or not, we are to be the conscience of society. So if the campaign in Yugoslavia should tragically turn into a quagmire from which the U.S. can't extricate itself--a real possibility, many fear--the blame will lie not only at the feet of the president and his administration, but also at the feet of those Christians who said nothing.


Chuck Colson



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