By Nathan Brown
Four years from the US-lead invasion of Iraq, serious questions remain about the justification and results of the military action.
But perhaps we could learn something from regime overthrow in the last century.
Reflecting on the bloody course of the Russian revolution, Lenin made a startling admission with possibilities for contemporary analogy: “I made a mistake. Without doubt, an oppressed multitude had to be liberated. But our method only provoked further oppression and atrocious massacres. . . . It is too late now to alter the past, but what was needed to save Russia were ten Francis of Assisis” (Philip Yancey, Rumours of Another World).
Imagine what might have been achieved if—instead of hundreds of thousands of military personnel armed with millions of dollars worth of weaponry—thousands of missionaries, aid workers, teachers, doctors, nurses, and builders had been dispatched and equipped with the equivalent values of construction materials, medicines, and education supplies. How different a place would Iraq be? How different a place would the United States be? How different a place would the world be?
It’s not just a nice idea. Undoubtedly, there would have still been casualties; there always have been among those on the frontiers of Christianity—but perhaps they may have been less than those of the ceaseless violence of the past four years. If we are so confident in the rightness of our cause and the inherent strength of good, it’s not a risk. It’s even a way of living urged in the Bible: “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink. . . . Don’t let evil get the best of you, but conquer evil by doing good” (Romans 12:20, 21). It’s not our natural reaction but it can work.
In recent history, there have been more positive examples of regime change than Lenin’s regrets—or the US invasion of Iraq. Foremost among these is the role credited to Christian churches in the 1989 revolution spreading across 10 formerly Communist countries of Eastern Europe: “against all odds, when the decisive moment for change finally arrived in the Eastern Bloc, the church lead the way in a peaceful revolution. . . . Virtually, every protest demonstration began with worship. . . . Not a single life was lost as throngs of people marching with candles brought down a government” (Philip Yancey, “The Wall Comes Tumbling Down”).
On a smaller scale are the stories of societies radically impacted by evangelistic efforts. For example, in 2001, following in a major evangelistic campaign held in Papua New Guinea, local politicians and newspapers noted “a dramatic decrease in major crime in the country.”
We hear much about the individual life-changing power of the gospel; perhaps we need to spend a little more time on the broader culture-changing possibilities.
Less than two weeks before the beginning of the Iraq war—in one of the most misplaced and poorly-timed uses of Adventist satellite technology—a globally-broadcast concert featured a pre-recorded message from President George W. Bush, in which he described America as “the hope of mankind” (“Spirit of Freedom” Family Reunion Concert, broadcast March 7 2003). How such a statement by-passed editing by broadcast directors is puzzling. But with four years of war and “peace” in Iraq as just another example of the bleakness of such human endeavour, we can surely recognise and must insist that the hope of mankind resides elsewhere.
Thankfully, the Bible offers a greater hope: “I wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him” (Psalm 62:5). He—and He alone—is the Hope of mankind, whatever Bush’s rhetorical excess might suggest. In fact, the danger is that of misplaced hope, even—intentionally or unintentionally—putting something else in the place of God.
Yet “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31). It is this hope that can truly change the world for the better.
We need to renew our trust in the world-changing power of the gospel. Then perhaps we can invest more in saints, rather than soldiers.