The Call to Good Citizenship

Robert Schmidt

In the September 2006 issue of the LCMS Reporter Uwe Siemon-Netto, a German national and director of the Institute of Lay Vocation at Concordia Seminary, wrote about our need to heed our calling as Christian citizens. The international journalist rightly selected the Lutheran doctrine of the calling as an appropriate place for Christians to face up to their civic responsibilities and make good political choices. As a foreigner, he also has an excellent vantage point to comment on the American involvement in the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon.

In comparing his view of living out one’s calling in the political realm to that of the Biblical prophet Amos, one sees some similarities. Like Siemon-Netto, Amos was also a foreigner when he spoke to Israel. Amos also made a big point out of the fact that he was a lay person, a dresser of fig trees, and not one who made his living out of preaching. Amos too was incensed about the vicious crimes of other nations against the innocent.

However, in comparison with Amos, there also are some striking differences. Amos does not only condemn the unspeakable atrocities of others but also turns his attention to his own people in Judah and Israel. After repeating his denunciation of other nations, he uses the same phrasing to denounce Judah and Israel. Were we to do the same it might sound like this, “For three transgressions of Iraq and for four I will not revoke the punishment because they killed their own people in many and terrible ways. For three transgressions of Al Qaeda and for four I will not revoke the punishment for they have slaughtered innocents in Kenya, Tanzania and New York. For three transgressions of Gaza and for four I will not revoke the punishment because they have used suicide bombers to kill and maim people in Haifa and Tel Aviv.

But then we might continue by saying for three transgressions of Israel and for four I will not revoke the punishment because they have bombed the innocent, crushed their houses and stolen their land. For three transgressions of the United States and for four I will not revoke the punishment, for they have invaded and occupied countries without just cause, killed thousands of innocent people and allowed the killing of tens of thousands more.

Siemon-Netto is eager to compare Saddam Hussein to Hitler and use the analogy of World War II to support the United Sates in its present policies. However, upon closer examination do not the present policies of the United States also resemble those of Germany in the ’30s and ’40s? As Germany used false reasons for invading another country, has not America? As the Third Reich imprisoned opponents without trial in camps beyond the rule of law, has not the present administration? As Germany occupied other nations and tortured and killed those who resisted the occupation, is not America traveling down that same path?

The United States now finds itself in two quagmire wars that are creating more terrorists than are solving the problem. Currently, the Defense Department says it is spending about $4.5 billion a month on the conflict in Iraq, or about $60 million every hour. As we think of what that money might do to help the poor in the U.S. and around the world, the words of Amos come back to haunt us, “For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes—they that trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth.”

Siemon-Netto would have us live out our calling as American Christians by supporting the Bush administration’s misguided and incompetent policies in Iraq and Afghanistan and its unqualified support for Israel. Amos would have us REPENT OF SIN. In our callings as “Christian” citizens we cannot just seek to choose the lesser of two evils or the better of two flawed politicians. It is also our responsibility to see our present wars and those supporting all sides in those wars as being under the wrath of God. This is why there is no real exit strategy without repentance and there will be no salvation without forgiveness in Christ.

How then shall we live out our callings as repentant and forgiven citizens? In Iraq, we should say that we have been wrong in invading the country. We furthermore must say that we will not seek or establish permanent bases in that country. We should also set a date for a gradual withdrawal of American troops. We know that the civil conflict in Iraq is not just religious but is also caused by the fact that the Sunnis have no oil and the Shia rely on the presence of U.S. troops to keep the Sunnis down. As a result the Shia do not have to negotiate in good faith with the Sunnis for a fair share in the oil revenues. Until the Iraqi military is finally able to secure the peace, U.S. troops can be replaced by Muslim soldiers from Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and perhaps Indonesia.

This will not be the first time that the United States has retired from the field of battle in an ill-advised conflict. When it left Viet Nam, peace returned to that nation and it is now a trading partner with the U.S. After the bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon, the U.S. retreated and initial steps toward peace and democracy were made there. Given the political situation in Somalia, the presence of U.S. forces was not able to solve the political situation in the country so the U.S. wisely withdrew its troops. In these conflicts the U.S. did not just “cut and run” but exercised prudence in the conduct of its foreign relations.

One cannot read Siemon-Netto’s article in a church publication without the thought that he wants us to support the administration in November as part of our Christian calling. However both his analysis and recommendations are simplistic and ill founded. After re-reading Amos, this Christian will be voting for change.

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