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 What Would Jesus Do? 

March 13, 2003

Congressman James Moran, an anti-war Democrat from Virginia, is in a heap of trouble for saying, in response to a question from a woman in the audience who identified herself as Jewish, “If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war in Iraq, we would not be doing this. The leaders of the Jewish community are influential enough that they could change the direction of where this is going, and I think they should.”

After being quoted in a local paper, this created the biggest flap since Trent Lott said ... oh, you know what he said. Moran has been accused of everything from just being his usual offensive self to being an anti-Semite. We have heard the usual sermons on how this sort of talk encourages conspiracy theories about Jews, leading to persecution, et cetera. It has been pointed out that Jews are no more pro-war than other Americans, which is more to the point.

But Moran wasn’t talking about all Jews. He was talking about a lobby whose power nobody in Congress doubts. If he had referred to “the religious right” instead of “the Jewish community,” nobody would have blinked. It probably wouldn’t even have been reported. As it was, Moran wasn’t attacking Jews in general. He was delivering a mild rebuke to a particular group of Jews.

So where are the anti-war Jews? They’re out there. But they aren’t organized and powerful, nor do they have much clout in the media; they are scattered individuals. Alas, politicians don’t care what Noam Chomsky says; they care what the American-Israel Public Affairs Council says. You don’t have to tell your congressman what AIPAC stands for. He knows.

It’s unfortunate that the major Jewish organizations claim to speak for all Jews, thereby giving rise to the illusion that Jews are monolithic, which some people are eager to believe anyway. In the same way, the hawks in general claim to speak for all Americans, as when they complain that “our allies” aren’t supporting “us” — “us” meaning a war that hasn’t even begun yet. The country is far from united in favor of war, and foreigners have as much right to oppose it as we Americans do. Nobody has a duty to support all the wars our government gets into. It’s hard enough keeping track of them.

[Breaker quote: The Prince of Peace -- in uniform?]Moran’s complaint might better have been directed at certain well-known Christians. Chief among these is President Bush, who says that Jesus, the Prince of Peace, is the greatest influence in his life.

“Mr. President,” one might ask, “can you imagine Jesus Christ putting on a uniform and shooting and bombing strangers because he was ordered to?” That question seems to me to get right to the point.

War, especially the kind of “preemptive” war Bush has in mind, depends upon men being willing to do just that: killing because they are commanded to kill. In war, human commands supersede divine commandments. No matter how fancy the rationale, that’s what it comes down to.

Jesus was no utopian. He predicted “wars and rumors of wars.” He warned that his disciples would be persecuted for his name’s sake. He even predicted his own death and resurrection. And he warned that those who live by the sword will also die by the sword. He refused to fight back even when threatened with death by torture.

True, human beings find it hard to imitate his example, and Christian thinkers have generally allowed for “just war.” But its conditions are strict, and few wars meet them. The Catholic weekly The Wanderer quotes a prominent Spanish theologian, Jose Alfredo Peris Cancio, who soberly views the proposed war with Iraq as falling short of these conditions.

War must be against an aggressor who inflicts harm that is “lasting, grave, and certain.” There must be no other remedy available. There must be “serious prospects of success.” Finally, “The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.” Bush’s war fails these tests, except of course that its success is assured.

Cancio’s view is carefully balanced. He also deplores “demagogic and unjust anti-Americanism” among some opponents of the war. Such is the judgment of one impartial, humane, and serious Christian.

For Bush the question seems to be not, “What would Jesus do?” but, “Whom would Jesus bomb?”

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2003 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
This column may not be reprinted in print or
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