Warmongering versus faith as Trump ditches Iran deal and moves US embassy

By Savi Hensman
May 14, 2018

President Donald Trump has denounced Iran and withdrawn from an agreement aimed at preventing it from developing nuclear weapons. He is also shifting the embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, encouraging settlements illegal under international law. The ‘Christian’ far right is largely responsible for this dangerous move. Violent extremists of other faiths are likely to gain too.

Rivalry between the superpowers, along with regional powers which are their partners, was already being played out in the Middle East, at terrible human cost. In Yemen, Syria, Palestine and beyond, civilians have been killed, injured or displaced in large numbers, defying international law. Trump’s decision undercuts those in Israel and Iran trying to make their societies more equal and democratic. And it is likely to intensify conflict, which may engulf the rest of the world.

Creating a more dangerous world

Tension was already high in the week leading up to the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv. This has undermined attempts to negotiate a two-state solution in which Palestine and Israel might coexist peacefully.

In a speech filled with inaccuracies, Trump echoed claims against Iran by Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu. Both leaders have boosted their popularity at home through their hawkish stand, at least in some quarters, despite being under investigation for serious alleged wrongdoing

Critics internationally warned of the potentially deadly consequences. But they were brushed aside by the US president. Indeed his national security adviser, John Bolton, notorious for his eagerness to go to war on the flimsiest pretexts, has even threatened sanctions against US allies which do not fall into line on Iran.

Almost at once there was a flare-up of violence. More casualties are expected on 14 May, also the 70th anniversary of Israel’s creation and the mass displacement of Palestinians, when major protests are planned. Far worse may be to come.

Disturbingly, Trump’s decision to deepen divisions in the Middle East and further undermine the rule of law is in part aimed at pleasing his Christian supporters. Many white evangelicals are frighteningly keen to see massive slaughter in the Middle East, which they think will be part of the lead-up to Christ’s return.

Despite the Gospel call to love neighbours as ourselves and even enemies, influential leaders have encouraged their followers to close their minds to the grim realities of war. Their rhetoric has glossed over the reality of the large-scale suffering and death of Arabs (some of them fellow-Christians), Iranians and Jewish people which could result from worsening hostilities. The choice of Robert Jeffress, a controversial pastor known for his hostility to non-Christians and gays, to pray at the opening of the embassy further highlights the way in which religion is being misused.

If conflict intensifies, the West too could be hit, with consequences hard to imagine for those who have not directly experienced war. Especially if Russia or another nuclear power gets caught up in macho power games with increasing stakes, conflict could spread. Jesus' advice to ‘Treat others as you would have them treat you’ reflects a wisdom which should not be ignored, especially by those who claim to be his followers.

Meanwhile other evangelicals and fellow-Christians have distanced themselves from US government policies which undermine peace and justice and threaten the environment).

“We are living through perilous and polarising times as a nation, with a dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership at the highest levels of our government and in our churches. We believe the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith are now at stake”, the Reclaiming Jesus Declaration warns.

It makes the point that 'America first' is a “theological heresy for followers of Christ. While we share a patriotic love for our country, we reject xenophobic or ethnic nationalism that places one nation over others as a political goal.” Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, is among the signatories.

Planting a kingdom of love

Warnings by eminent Christians against militarism are not new, even beyond what are traditionally thought of as ‘peace’ churches. In 1762 one of the most famous hymn-writers of all time, Charles Wesley, wrote ‘Messiah, Prince of Peace’.

The corrupting force of hunger for violence is recognised in this hymn, which begins:

Messiah, Prince of peace!

Where men each other tear,

Where war is learned, they must confess,

Thy kingdom is not there;

Who, prompted by Thy foe,

Delight in human blood,

Apollyon is their king, we know,

And Satan is their god.

But shall he still devour

The souls redeemed by Thee?

Jesus, stir up Thy glorious power

And end th’apostasy!...

pleading instead to ‘plant the kingdom of Thy love’ in every human heart, so that ‘Pure joy and everlasting peace’ shall ‘turn our earth to Heaven.’

Amidst complex conflicts, as in the Middle East, and where modern technology can destroy much of the earth in minutes, countering distorted forms of religion is vital. Instead people of faith, alongside others of goodwill, can play a part in seeking just and merciful solutions in situations of conflict.

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© Savitri Hensman is an Ekklesia associate and respected commentator on welfare and other issues. She is author of the book Sexuality, struggle and saintliness: same-sex love and the church (Ekklesia, 2016): http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/22613 and has been involved in seeking greater inclusion. She wrote on ‘Health or Wealth?’ in Feast or Famine? (http://dltbooks.com/titles/2195-9780232532616-feast-or-famine)

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