05/18/2010 01:02 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Christian Faith and the Afghanistan Quagmire

The Christian faith at its best is deeply suspicious of all claims that it is once again time for human beings to shred each other's bodies in warfare. Everyone involved in war -- "our" side and "the enemy" -- is a human being, sacred in God's sight, made in God's image, infinitely loved by God. In Christian terms, all are children of God for whom Jesus Christ lived and died and rose again.

Christianity began as a Jewish religious movement within the tense environs of first-century occupied Palestine. Jesus taught, and his followers practiced, a peacemaking faith that trusted God rather than weapons for the coming deliverance of Israel and the world. Their peaceable practices continued in the Greco-Roman world and set them profoundly apart from their neighbors. The Christians were willing to die for their faith but never to kill.

The triumph of Christianity in the fractured Roman Empire brought many losses as well as many gains. The most disastrous loss was Christian resistance to violence. All it really seemed to take was one emperor identifying with Christian faith for three centuries of Christian resistance to violence to dissipate like the morning mist. It wasn't long before Christian emperors, kings, princes, and everyone else were killing in the very name of the (nonviolent) Jesus.

America's Christians today are divided on the issue of war as on pretty much everything else. A minority embraces or has rediscovered the peacemaking/pacifist tradition of the early church. A minority on the other side embraces a Crusader ethic little changed since the 11th century, especially now that "our" enemies are so often Muslims. And a vast Christian middle more or less assumes that warfare is a necessary if perhaps unfortunate reality of our world. This vast middle is rarely terribly interested in critical engagement with the many military skirmishes in which the United States is so frequently involved. If the government says we need to send in the troops, this Christian middle rarely questions it. The wars only end up looking unnecessary or foolish in retrospect, after the bodies have been destroyed and the dollars spent.

I believe that the tragic folly of our current Afghan adventure will eventually become apparent. What initially began as a defensive action post-9/11 has become an endless game of whack-a-mole, now coming up on its ninth anniversary. The news out of Marja reveals that our grand offensive and effort to install a jack-in-the-box government is failing as the Taliban is still there terrorizing the population. Can we expect that the results will be any better this summer in Kandahar?

I respect Barack Obama very deeply (which makes me an unusual white evangelical). But it was hard to respect the show that he and his administration chose to put on last week during the visit of Afghan president Hamid Karzai. It was a transparently obvious effort to shift gears and soothe the ruffled feathers of our corrupt and ineffective "partner for peace" in that disastrous nation. Truth was sacrificed. I can't help but imagine that the president keeps a journal from which he will write the ultimate post-presidential memoir--and that this diary received some rather bitter musings last week.

There is such an element of the tragic here. War itself is a tragedy, even if we grant that on very, very rare occasions it is a necessary tragedy. But what seems especially tragic here is that the president seems boxed in by a long trajectory of mainly failed American military involvements in the Middle East, and by the momentum of our post-9/11 aggrievement. He doesn't seem to think he has the freedom to call a halt to this pointless exercise in Afghanistan, even though he tried to set a timetable on it when he ramped it up last year.

It is true that our nation has enemies who continue to try to hurt us. But even if we somehow "won" the war in Afghanistan, those enemies would still be out there. Most of them seem to have connections to Pakistan rather than Afghanistan anyway.

In sum: as a Christian, my default posture is to oppose war. It must be proven to me that this is that one-in-a-thousand conflict that necessarily requires resort to arms. It is obvious that today's Afghanistan does not qualify. And how can we not lament the momentum that keeps a promising young president from getting us out of there before any more 18-year-olds lose their lives?