Congratulations to Nigel Biggar for his “A Christian Defense of American Empire” (October). As three generations of descendants of the loyalist Andrew Oliver, who was commissioned to administer the unpopular Stamp Act in the Province of Massachusetts Bay, we were pleased to read the whole story of the complicated history leading up to the American Revolution as presented by Biggar rather than the one-sided account that is usually presented. Myths are important, but so is truth. Biggar does a commendable job of balancing the two.
Andrew Oliver II
cos cob, connecticut
Andrew Oliver III
I am thankful for Ephraim Radner’s perspective on the Lambeth Conference (“The Last Lambeth Conference,” October). I find myself much less optimistic about the prospects of a communion unified around left-leaning social justice projects, void of theological unity and integrity. How has that worked out for the Episcopal Church? For the United Methodists? More heresy, further decline, and increasing irrelevance. I am also more optimistic about the prospects of the churches in the Global South leading a renewed and vibrant orthodox Anglicanism. The clarity and courage of those bishops should be an encouragement to all Westerners surrounded by weak and cowardly leadership. I think that First Things’ readers would be well served by an article by GAFCON chairman Foley Beach, Canon Phil Ashey, or bishops from the Global South Fellowship who are seeking to “reset” the Anglican Communion. I believe there is a Reformation under way across the world as the center of Christianity shifts and the West declines. In God’s providence, “Ethiopia is stretching out her hands to God.” It is African Anglican bishops who are taking the first stand, posting their own Ninety-Five Theses as it were, and we should all be closely watching and learning.
Ephraim Radner replies:
I appreciate Seth Hedman’s caution about trying to “unify” a communion on the basis of “left-leaning social justice projects,” and I agree with him. Perhaps that is what Anglican leaders will end up attempting, but my own thoughts on the matter are more circumscribed. First, it may be possible for Anglican churches of all stripes to cooperate in concrete but rather basic “works of mercy”: responding to floods, famines, refugees, and so on. Not all such works of mercy need be “left-leaning,” and surely they shouldn’t be “right-leaning” either! Second, such cooperation on that level is a Christian good, not an evil temptation; our Lord asks at least this of us. But finally, such cooperation does not constitute Christian communion; rather, it is a good thing that Christians can do, whatever their fundamental disagreements. Christian division has ill served desperately needy people in the past, such as in World War II, which is why the Red Cross has often been a more attractive organization to those seeking to alleviate pain in contexts of vast human suffering than have been particularistic church organizations. Still, common works of mercy are, as Mr. Hedman notes, not equivalent to common teaching and witness, which in general have in the past sustained the epitome of human mercy and mutual self-sacrifice, as well as provided the clearest testimony to Christ’s power. The efforts of various majority world Anglicans to move in such a direction of deeper communion is one I also applaud and support.
Elbridge Colby’s “The Morality of a Strategy of Denial” (October) is an important and timely article for discussions of U.S. foreign policy. It represents a serious attempt at providing moral underpinnings to potential situations like defending Taiwan. I do not think the article is without merit, especially regarding questions about defending allies; however, I provide a few considerations from the viewpoint of Christian just war.
First, Colby hints that absolute power corrupts absolutely. One nation cannot be so powerful as to dominate the world, so the U.S. must prevent China from doing so. But the U.S. is already a regional hegemon and arguably the closest any nation has been to a global hegemon. By Colby’s own arguments, wouldn’t China be authorized in making a coalition to preventively fight the U.S.? Why are we allowed to check them when no one was allowed to check us, morally speaking?
Second, Christian just war must always be in response to a wrong. The wrong that will occur in Colby’s argument seems only to be a potential wrong. Francisco de Vitoria specifically forbade killing the children of enemies conquered in battle, even if the children would likely take up arms in adulthood; no one may be punished for sins they have not yet committed. We may lose freedoms if China becomes more dominant globally, but neither is a foregone conclusion. It seems like Colby is trying to justify preventive war compared to preemptive war. Christian just war authorizes preemptive offensive war when the enemy is at the gates, that is, when there are clear signs of an imminent attack. Preventive war has a much longer time horizon, and the wrongs are hazier. Preventive war might be useful, especially in certain types of neo-realism, but it does not comport with just war.
Last, Colby does not mention nuclear weapons. China is a large nuclear power. The U.S. is an even larger nuclear power. No one knows what a conventional war between two large nuclear powers would look like. “Checking” China will always be colored by the nuclear lens, which brings in issues of proportionality. Is combatting the potential loss of freedoms sometime in the future worth a potential nuclear exchange?
Elbridge Colby replies:
I appreciate Ricky Cavanaugh’s thoughtful letter. I address each of the issues he raises in much greater depth than allowed here in my book, The Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict. It therefore may be of interest to Cavanaugh and other readers considering these questions.
To be clear, I am against preventive war. The whole thrust of my argument is to avoid war by being ready to win one.
Nuclear weapons are central to my strategic analysis. I discuss this matter in my book but also in my previous essay for First Things, entitled “Keeping the Peace,” published in the January 2011 issue of the magazine.