Is the Christian left as captive to the Obama administration as the Christian right was to the Bush administration?
President Barack Obama meets with a bipartisan group of congressional leaders on Libya on March 18. (Photo: Pete Souza, White House)
EthicsDaily.com noted several weeks ago how few Christian leaders and commentators had weighed in against the use of U.S. military force in Libya. Mainline Protestants were mostly silent. Some Christian liberals supported Obama's intervention.
EthicsDaily.com has a long record of offering a moral critique of the Christian right's malformed mantra that GOP stands for God's Only Party, producing a video that challenged such a narrative and called goodwill people to a more faithful vision.
Our news stories have chronicled the cozy relationship between the Christian right and the Republican Party. Our editorials and columns have called to task Southern Baptist leaders for failing to keep a prophetic distance from the Bush White House and functioning as cheerleaders for the Iraq war.
Could one argue accurately that the Christian left is giving President Obama a pass on his promises to end the nation's wars and remaining mostly mute as he expands America's military involvement in Afghanistan and now Libya?
Writing on the Britannica website in March 2011, David Boaz asked a related, albeit broader question, about what happened to the anti-war movement.
Boaz is the executive vice president of the Cato Institute – an anti-government, anti-regulation, anti-health care reform, anti-climate science, anti-tax justice organization.
Praying to the god of privatization and worshiping at the altar of free enterprise, the Cato Institute is hardly a moral compass for those people of faith committed to the common good. Given its funding by the billionaire Koch brothers, anything the Cato Institute would say about Obama is immediately suspect.
Nonetheless, Boaz's observations deserve consideration – regardless his motives.
"Barack Obama rose to power on the basis of his early opposition to the Iraq war and his promise to end it," wrote Boaz.
Boaz quoted from several Obama statements:
· "I will promise you this, that if we have not gotten our troops out by the time I am president, it is the first thing I will do. I will get our troops home. We will bring an end to this war. You can take that to the bank." (October 2007)
· "I opposed this war in 2002. I will bring this war to an end in 2009. It is time to bring our troops home." (February 2008)
· "I am absolutely certain that generations from now we will be able to look back and tell our children that ... this was the moment when we ended a war." (Democratic Party nomination speech)
Boaz then noted that Obama had tripled the number of troops in Afghanistan over Bush's troop levels and has kept 50,000 American troops in Iraq.
Boaz's question about the whereabouts of the anti-war movement was actually addressed by a University of Michigan study.
"As president, Obama has maintained the occupation of Iraq and escalated the war in Afghanistan," said Michael Heaney, assistant professor of organizational studies and political science. "The antiwar movement should have been furious at Obama's 'betrayal' and reinvigorated its protest activity."
Instead, according to Heaney, "attendance at antiwar rallies declined precipitously and financial resources available to the movement have dissipated. The election of Obama appeared to be a demobilizing force on the antiwar movement, even in the face of his pro-war decisions."
Heaney said about his study: "Overall, our results convincingly demonstrate a strong relationship between partisanship and the dynamics of the antiwar movement. While Obama's election was heralded as a victory for the antiwar movement, Obama's election, in fact, thwarted the ability of the movement to achieve critical mass."
The narrower question is whether the election of Obama thwarted the moral witness for peacemaking within the mainline and progressive Christian community. Is there a strong partisan relationship between the Obama administration and the Christian community apart from conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists?
That question merits careful reflection.
What is clear is that our nation has a reflexive predisposition in favor of war – regardless who occupies the White House.
When times are tough, politicians can't resist the temptation to rally the nation through the use of military might. Throw in the defense industry that wields enormous political power in the pursuit of profit. Add the cable news industry that thrives on war coverage. Toss in the ideology of undiscerning patriotism. What one gets from this mix is a powerful pro-war commitment.
If houses of faith don't give a moral witness that challenges the warfare state, who will?
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.