Monday, March 23, 2015
Bomb-Bomb-Bomb, Bomb-Bomb a Church?
I became a loyal listener to Rush Limbaugh in the fall of 1991, when his star was still rising and he had the patina of a supporter of the free market despite his support for the War on Drugs. This was when “free market,” “big business,” and even “Nazi” were synonymous in the minds of most Americans, and despite my strong and radical disagreement with him now, I have to hand it to him: back then he was bucking the tide of popular opinion.
Part of the Limbaugh brand has always been over-the-top humor. The most memorable example from that first year came in the spring of 1992, after a kerfluffle at a veterans’ hospital in Cincinnati in which an orderly got into trouble for using iodine to paint smiley faces on the ends of the penises of anesthetized patients. After reading a news report about the incident, Rush said, “I thought I’d see what the problem was, so I painted a face on the end of my penis. When I got to work, someone said, ‘Hey Rush—why the long face?’”
What I didn’t know when I became what I thought of as a dittohead with some reservations was that a year or so before, during or in the run up to Desert Storm, Rush had been playing a takeoff on the Beach Boys’ famous song “Barbara Ann,” which begins “Ba-Ba-Ba, Ba-Barbara Ann … Take my hand.” Rush’s version was “Bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb-bomb Iraq … Take Kuwait back.” However—true confessions time—I thought it was a hoot when I did hear it
It was Rush’s groundbreaking work that John McCain—the darling of American evangelicals in that election—took to a new level in 2008 with his infamous “Bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb-bomb Iran” quip.
Fast forward to last week. A friend told me about an interview with an Iranian Christian he had heard on Focus on the Family, so I read the transcript of the interview and was not disappointed. Naghmeh Abedini was born to an Iranian family that immigrated to the United States. Appalled by the moral degradation they saw in California, the parents moved the family to Boise, where Naghmeh and her brother became Christians while still in grade school. Years later, she visited Iran, met Saeed, a Muslim-background Christian man, and married him, and the couple began planting house churches and opening orphanages.
What do you think of their wedding?
They allowed us our wedding certificate says, "Muslim born, but Christian Protestant." And we had this amazing, in the middle of Tehran, there was a church called Central Assembly. Right in front of one of the largest mosques, by Tehran University, we had a huge celebration of our wedding. But it was really much, much of a[n] Evangelical crusade. We passed out 300 Jesus films and Bibles.
Makes mine look pretty tame.
Persecution broke out when Mahmoud Ahmedinejad became president, so they emigrated from Iran, but they returned periodically to strengthen local believers and help with the orphanages. On one of those visits Saeed was arrested and is currently in the third year of an eight-year prison sentence. Life for him is both tough and fruitful in ways it has never been for me:
But the first four or five months was the hardest, was when he was interrogated and beaten and told to deny Christ, which he hasn’t. And of course, over the last few years, he’s led people to Christ. He was leading people to Christ in Evin prison, so they exiled him to another prison …. He was in the lion’s den there. He was fighting for his life. He was covered with lice and just sick and he was just really sick. He was hurting. He was bleeding, internal bleeding. And people were trying to take his life. But interesting enough, the rough guys in the prison had dreams about this Jesus. And they came and asked Saeed, “Can you tell us?”
And so, Saeed wasn’t even the first one initiating. They asked about Jesus. They accepted Jesus and they start[ed] protecting him. They became his guards.
How does Naghmeh view her husband’s persecutors?
Jim [Daly]: It’s hard for us to think of that in terms of ISIS and what they’re doing. But literally, God can change people that are perpetrating these horrible acts. He can change their heart, can’t He?
Naghmeh: He can. You know, we should want justice, because there’s people that are defenseless and we should act as the body of Christ and around those that are persecuted and around the ones who are hurting them.
But even if they are our enemy, what are we supposed to do? We’re supposed to wash their feet and love them and pray for them. And it is such an balance, what Jesus did on the cross. There’s the justice of God that has to be paid and then there’s the mercy. And as Christians, we have to have both.
Our president says that “all options are on the table” as far as dealing with Iran. Take a look at this and think of what an atomic blast would mean for the church Naghmeh was married in, for the orphans in the orphanages she helped found, and probably for her husband in prison.
Then again, maybe it won’t be an atomic attack. That would mean the collateral damage could still smile afterwards.
Is anything we do as Christians worth unleashing this kind of hell on our neighbors? I don’t grant that the Great War of 1917-1945 was just, but even if I did, that means that this year is the seventieth anniversary of the last good major war. The big ones since—Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and the Global War on Terror—have at best failed to achieve peace and safety and have unarguably left us worse off than if we had done nothing.
We had no dog in the fight in Korea: thousands died on both sides, and even with (or, more likely, because of) conscription, South Korea cannot (or will not or is not being permitted to) defend itself. Millions of dollars and thousands of lives have been lost needlessly, and it’s not over yet.
When Saigon fell in 1975, the effect was the same as if it had fallen in 1955: Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos were communist, and Christians were persecuted; the difference was that a million or so Vietnamese had died violent deaths and millions more had been maimed by atrocities committed by both sides, much of the land was poisoned by Agent Orange, and the victors were angry and vengeful. Billions of dollars and countless lives had been wasted for nothing. Vietnam is no paradise today, but it is no better for the war having been fought there.
We had no interest in Kuwait when Saddam, our “ally” up to that point, invaded. The war allowed a massive propaganda coup that “kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all”—meaning that “my country, right or wrong” was now the American credo and “love your neighbor as yourself” was out the window—but the final result set the stage for sanctions that killed half a million innocent Iraqis and ultimately brought about 9/11. (Or maybe not. I find it interesting that both Osama and the West use the deaths-from-sanctions meme to justify killing innocent people in 9/11 and the GWOT, respectively. I’ve heard American conservative evangelicals deny the meme, but only to blame the deaths on Saddam and so justify the invasion.)
And the GWOT needs no introduction: thousands of combatants and countless innocents dead and maimed, trillions of dollars transferred to the military-industrial complex, more jihadists recruited per week than there were in the world in 2001, and what was once the land of the free now the home of the surveilled.
So what can we expect from military action against Iran? Will the Muslims there be more or less inclined to tolerate their Christian neighbors? Do our brothers and sisters there need less tolerance?
More importantly, what about the history of the last seventy years tells you that the final result of a war will be better than no war?
“Ah,” you say, “but if we don’t act, they’ll do us dirt, first by obliterating Israel.”
So what? If we have no ally in the Middle East at all, is that worse than having an ally that makes everyone else there hate us?
“But don’t you care about the Jews”?
Of course I care about the Jews. But I’m not excited about protecting them no matter what they do if they don’t even pay taxes to Washington. If they want my tax money to protect them, let them immigrate, or at least apply for statehood and start paying taxes. We can absorb them, and most of them will be good neighbors. But if they want to live over there, let them protect themselves. They’ve got enough atomic weapons to turn Iran into glass and carte blanche from Uncle Sam to make more. Iran is no threat to them.
Given a choice between Rush Limbaugh and Naghmeh Abedini, I think we should listen to her, even if he can make us laugh. Our strategy against ISIS and Iran needs to be the weapons of the Spirit: prayer and outreach. And if we’re to have the resources for outreach, we need to stop giving them to the war machine.
Eschewing war may mean lice and beatings—and I’m the world’s worst pansy, so I’m not saying I can handle either gracefully—but that seems better to me than taking the eternal consequences of killing innocents in church.