Saturday, December 22, 2007

Should Governments Love Their Enemies?

I have a couple of outposts for this blog. One of them is WORLD on the Web where, from time to time, I contribute one of my Principalities and Powers posts. Stephen, a regular reader, questioned the logic and theology of what I said in criticism of Oprah's praise of Obama at the end of "Civil Religion on Steroids."

The paragraph in question is this:

She then adds that, “We need a president who cares about our friends and also cares about our enemies.” Does Senator Obama stand behind this statement? Does he propose that, when he is President, he will be above politics, above the America-world distinction, the friends-enemies distinction? Would he see himself as representing not just American interests, but in some way the worldwide common good? Does he understand that there are irreconcilable conflicts between national interests or between various local aspirations? He is so unseasoned, and he presents himself as being so idealistic, that I would take nothing for granted.

Stephen posed this question:
David, I’m not sure how you can negatively characterize a man who seeks to carry out the Biblical command to love one’s enemies while simultaneously demeaning his orthodoxy. But I suppose that, since you specifically — and quite rightly — limited it to evangelical orthodoxy, he would certainly be evangelically unorthodox if he carried that command into the sphere of politics. I fail, however, to see where a nation is exempted from loving their enemies and doing good to those that hurt them.

I responded with this, although I know that there is much more to say on the subject.

Stephen, a fair question. The Sermon on the Mount is moral counsel directed toward private individuals. It cannot be simply translated into public policy, whether foreign or domestic. For example, the command to turn the other cheek would certainly not invalidate the civil magistrate punishing muggers. The command to give to those who steal from you does not invalidate the civil magistrate punishing theft. So too, in foreign policy.

Romans 13 describes the civil magistrate as being a terror to evil doers. He bears the sword. He is given this ultimate power because it is the necessary means to protect the liberty of the people under his sovereign care in a violent and rapacious world.

What if one were to apply the “love your international neighbor” standard to the princes of the earth? Given that God raises up authorities for the care primarily of the people under their authority, they are not permitted to jeopardize the safety of their own people in the name of caring for other peoples. Secondly, the best way to love foreign enemies is to threaten them sufficiently that they do not harm your people–thus keeping peace in the international neighborhood–and to retaliate forcefully and effectively when they do in fact harm your people so that they will (a) stop what they are doing, (b) never think of doing it again, and (c) serve as an example to anyone contemplating similar evil.

Briefly, the alternative can be summarized in two words: “Jimmy” and “Carter,” or with the phrase, “Do good so that evil may result.”

There is much more to say on the subject. That would be POL451 Christianity and Politics.

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