Two days after the Sept. 11 disaster, blunt-talking Jerry Falwell said: "The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad." He went on to criticize pagans, feminists, homosexuals and secularists generally.
Falwell was offering the classic Christian perspective that God judges nations as well as individuals. He made a mistake in tying this specific disaster to particular sins, implying that people who commit one sin are responsible for another. His timing was bad, and his statement was wide open to distortion. (I've also made statements that could readily be taken out of context and paid the public relations penalty.)
Liberal publications of course jumped on Falwell, who the next day released a statement that should have ended the matter: "I hold no one other than the terrorists, and the people and nations who have enabled and harbored them, responsible for Tuesday's attacks on this nation." Publications continued to dump on him, though, and the verbal tar-and-feathering of this godly man illuminates one reality: Our new war on terrorism does not mean that our American culture war is over.
It's a culture war that will have to be fought in a new way. Pro-life and pro-choice people will need to work together for the common defense, without overlooking the inconsistency of those who defend born life against terrorists while exposing the unborn to long knives and chemical warfare. It was like that during the American Revolution as well, when anti-slavery and pro-slavery patriots could not overlook the incongruity of battling for liberty while keeping human beings in chains.
Those on both sides of the slavery issue had to work together then, and so will we. Maybe on the conservative side we can start by acknowledging our own sins of selfishness and self-righteousness. Instead of seeming to point the finger at others constantly, we should spend more time pointing at ourselves and praying that, in relation to terrorists and everyone else, we seek justice and the saving of lives, not revenge.
The left is already equating with revenge any U.S. military action against terrorists. On the Unitarian Universalist website, a leading indicator of religious left attitudes, clergypeople worried about "national leaders and opinion-shapers who are so eager to retaliate" with "acts of vengeance and retribution." They want the United States to "engage in constructive dialogue, to make adjustments and concessions." Appeasement is the answer, or else the United States will "invite fresh reprisals."
Some of the UUs twisted Bible phrases, and others on the religious left will be doing so a lot. One phrase we'll hear repeatedly: "Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord," as if vengeance is the reason the United States is going after the Sept. 11 murderers. But it's not. When a serial killer leaves a message, "I'll murder again as soon as I can," scrawled with his latest victim's blood, the manhunt formed to stop him is working for prevention, not retribution.
We'll also hear, yanked out of context, Christ's exhortation to "turn the other cheek." But that's in the context of a personal indignity. If Osama bin Laden, invited to a White House reception, spat on the president, George W. Bush would be right to turn the other cheek to him. Since, though, we are to love our neighbors, we are not to be complicit in their murder by ignoring a man who has vowed to murder them. The apostle Peter wrote that government is established by Christ "to punish those who do wrong."
Our new war should be fought in a just manner, with care taken to minimize the number of casualties among innocent Afghans, but we should have no doubt that it must be fought. Still, pleas for appeasement will increase if new terrorist attacks arise -- and we do have to reckon with terrorists using biological or chemical weapons.
Losses have a way of escalating in wars. The last time a war was fought on American soil, people were shocked by the nearly 4,000 casualties at Bull Run (Manassas), the first battle of the Civil War. At Gettysburg in 1863, the total was 51,000.
Let's be prepared for internal debate, as well as external struggle.