Neoconservative Christians and the crisis in Iraq

Artur Rosman asks hawkish Catholics to take stock of the devastation in Iraq:

There were actually major centers of Christianity in both North Africa and the Middle East–regions presently exclusively associated with Islam. These regions were eventually decimated by the rise of Islam and its clashes with the West and Byzantium. What we are seeing today is not the beginning of the end for this region’s Christianity. It’s more like the end of the end. …

What’s become apparent is how much the presumption for force ultimately failed to take a very complex situation into consideration.

As I remember it, sometime in 2003 or 2004 both Paul Griffiths and Stanley Hauerwas (author of War and the American Difference: Reflections on Violence and National Identity) ultimately gave up their associations with First Things, because their presumption against war, in line with John Paul II, was marginalized by the journal.

The Christians of the Middle East are now paying the price.

But they’re not the only ones paying the price, because Neo-Conservatism also has a monopoly upon the anti-abortion position, which continues to lose its luster as it is associated exclusively with that political group.

He’s broached a difficult subject for some people, and while I can’t speak to First Things (though I am a reader and enjoyer of it), as another concerned critic of the empire, given recent events, I feel compelled to add similar thoughts.

Recently, I had written a longer piece on the sordid behavior of the Episcopal Church, now the clerical wing of the Democratic Party, with the head of the National Episcopal Health Ministries promising to help implement Obamacare and getting a fellowship at the Center for American Progress, controversial gay bishop Gene Robinson getting a Daily Beast column and the requisite CAP fellowship as well, and our nation’s chief law enforcement officer, an Episcopalian, takes up pet progressive legal crusades while property across the country is confiscated by judicial fiat and turned over to ailing, left-wing rump congregations.

For mostly personal reasons, I decided to pull it — my family attends one of the breakaway Anglican parishes whose appeal was denied by the Supreme Court in March. Rather more sensitively, the piece also raised the fact that a number of the key participants in the Anglican realignment, (which I support entirely for reasons above) were involved in the neoconservative project or publicly supported the second Iraq invasion. Mort Kondracke, Ken Starr, and Fred Barnes, for example, who were in a Bible study with the rector of the Falls Church and the former chaplain of the Redskins. The latter, Jerry Leachman (whom Brit Hume has named a mentor), is married to Holly Leachman, named by Hillary Clinton in one of her books as a sort of liaison to the Fellowship, the civil religion pseudo-ministry that puts on the National Prayer Breakfast.

One could go on. The American Anglican Council, which filed the complaint against the presiding bishop just after the Supreme Court’s decision, has close ties to the neoconservative Institute on Religion and Democracy, which grew out of the Scoop Jackson wing of the Democratic Party, in part to be a counterweight to the thoroughly leftist World Council of Churches. One of its founders was a Schachtmanite. The AAC’s president sits on the IRD’s board, along with Barnes, a longtime member of the Falls Church who left in 2009 for one of its plants, and wrote a Wall Street Journal column about it. The IRD’s former president Diane Knippers was a parishioner at Truro, another breakaway Virginia church, until her death from cancer in 2005. In the mid-2000s, the IRD was telling Christians to shut up about the war in Iraq.

All of which is to emphasize that when you raise the matter of the competence of the military-industrial state or its religious qualities, you’re dealing with some very powerful people. Rosman is brave for doing so.

On some level I wish I hadn’t killed the piece, because it would have been an easy response to Michael Goldfarb’s casual accusation of anti-semitism, running above the fold in the Free Beacon after I wrote a piece mentioning the money his firm took from foreign governments (I won’t link it, you have Google. Here’s the one that inspired the accusation, draw your own conclusions). This is sort of his MO, so I’m reluctant to respond to it, but for the record I am not disposed to neoconservatism regardless of the religion, ethnicity, or denomination of the person who espouses it. Interestingly though, Falls Church vestryman Dennis Bakke, who wrote that intro naming the people in his bible study, was the CEO of a power company that bought the electricity grid in Tblisi, Georgia, a country that is one of Goldfarb’s clients. Free Beacon editor Matthew Continetti, in his piece on a trip to Georgia for the Weekly Standard, writes glowingly about Saakashvili’s electrification efforts.

When I finally got a few minutes with Rector Yates to ask him about the bible study, he conceded that “It’s easy to look back and see what a mistake it was to do what we tried to do in Iraq,” and that Bush “turned out not to be the greatest president we ever had.”

And I suppose I’m satisfied with that. There’s nothing necessarily implicating about that bible study, just like there’s nothing necessarily implicating about being a lobbyist for a foreign government. It’s just how things are done. When you lead a congregation of powerful people, it’s smart to stay out of politics. The extreme version of this, and I hate to bring this up again, is the Fellowship; making the powerful feel righteous and correct (though Mark Sanford, it must be said, is better than almost anyone on these issues).

Placating the corrupt is wrong, and wars are not mistakes. There are causes, and ideologies, and people, and votes, and lives involved. For my part, I think area churches must have a role to play in disabusing Washington’s nomenklatura and opinion-shapers of their toxic, destructive delusions, even if they do so at some cost to their prestige or finances — our betters are unlikely to listen to anyone else. As the psalmist said, “Too long have I lived among those who hate peace.”

Foreign policy is no more insulated from public choice problems than any other part of politics, the people who make it are the ones who show up to do so — idealistic international relations professionals, defense contractors, foreigners that are interested for one reason or another in American protection or handouts or assistance in overthrowing their governments, and politicians hoping to elevate their political profile, abetted by a media that can’t seem to get enough of John McCain, Peter King, and Lindsey Graham. Likewise, it’s hard to make restraining the projection of American power a special interest, let alone restoring self-governance or lost liberty. It’s an evil system, or matrix of incentives, but one that doesn’t require any of its members to knowingly act in evil ways (the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled). Measuring individuals’ complicity in it is a task for God alone, but we mustn’t forget that it will be measured.

Short of that, it’s not too much to insist that conservatives take stock of what the policies they supported have led to. People are being murdered and driven from their homes; the cultural inheritance of Christendom is being lost forever.

Related: Patrick Cockburn on the situation in Mosul.

*****

From the third Bishop of Virginia:

The Church of God in all its branches and all the nations of Christendom are greatly moved. Those who are most learned in the whole past history of man do not attempt to reason from the past to the future, so as to form any conjecture what shall be, from what has been. The font hopes of a speedy approach of millennial peace and happiness can only be cherished in connexion with the fulfilment of dark prophecies concerning attendant or preceding and dreadful commotions. It becomes us at this juncture then to stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, and yet not idly folding our arms and lifting up no banner against the tide of licentiousness, heresy, infidelity and lawlessness, which seems to threaten much that has been held sure and sacred and permanent. While trusting in God and believing that all will terminate in good, we must make use of mighty prayer and put on the whole armor of God, and thus stand, contending for the faith, and if needs be dying where we stand, assured that the victory will be the Lord’s. By means of the mighty power of steam & the yet mightier power of electricity the world seems as it were, about to become as one people, dwelling in one place; and who knows but, in its daring, it may attempt to build another Babel, only more intellectual in its character and therefore more offensive to God, which may bring him down to earth once more, to demolish all the proud edifices of man’s erection, and establish the mountain of the Lord’s house upon the top of all other mountains — Whatever, brethren and friends, may be the character and duration of the conflicts which are now going on, may all of us be found among the faithful on the Lord’s side.

So prays your friend and brother in Christ.

— William Meade, 1848, remarks to the Convention of the Episcopal Church of Virginia

meade01

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