Culture At Large

A Biblical sense of security in the aftermath of 9/11

Brian J. Auten

In June 2004, Walter Klaiber, then bishop of the Evangelical Methodist Church in Germany, drafted "In Search of Security" at the behest of the United Methodist Council of Bishops’ Task Force on Safety and Security. "In Search of Security" was meant to provoke Christians to think hard about the relationship between faith and security, as well as the temptation to believe the “myth of human invulnerability” and to base personal and national decision-making on fear.

Seven years later, the document’s overall jus contra bellum perspective and its more left-leaning policy prescriptions show obvious signs of age - for example, it’s hard to garner the same level of revulsion towards the former sheriff’s ostensibly unilateralist, preemptive and indiscriminate uses of force when the current sheriff’s counterterrorism successes are built largely on extraterritorial unmanned drone strikes and SEAL-team insertions. Yet the manifesto’s theological reflections are still well worth meditating upon as we approach the tenth anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001.

I’ve taught national security-related courses to graduate and undergraduate students off and on for about 12 years and been an intelligence analyst for the last six. Presently, I teach counterterrorism to evangelical undergraduates at Patrick Henry College. We spend a lot of time talking about post-9/11 bureaucratic reorganization and failures to “connect the dots;” the difference (a la Roberta Wohlstetter’s classic book on Pearl Harbor) between signals and noise; technological fixes and the need for improved analytical rigor (especially with respect to the subject of political theology); and the application of just war principles to national security investigations and operations. All of these are important concepts when it comes to minimizing terrorist risk and harm, including harm to civil liberties. But the management of risk and harm is a very, very different animal than “ensuring” or “guaranteeing” security or, even, as former Attorney General John Ashcroft reportedly told FBI Director Robert Mueller after 9/11 (per Garrett Graff’s "The Threat Matrix"), “[making] sure that it never happens again.” In the counterterrorism realm, absolute security is impossible to attain, and the more one engages in its pursuit, the more expensive and politically Orwellian it becomes.

That said, the human desire for absolute security, in this evangelical’s opinion, is theologically indicative. And it is here that a re-read of at least the first part of Klaiber’s "In Search of Security" can be helpful. God certainly trained David’s "hands for war” in order to fulfill Israel’s statecraft (a point I think Klaiber downplays by leaving out a discussion of just war theory), yet security for the believer was never meant to be considered first and foremost a function of a political community’s geography, military might, logistical strength, intelligence apparatus or law enforcement capability. Rather, as Klaiber cleverly reflects on Isaiah, Israel’s “national security strategy” was about standing firm in faith and about finding strength in “quietness and trust.”

Throughout the Prophets, one sees security tied to Israel’s return from exile; what Simeon looked to as Israel’s "consolation,” brought to fruition in the baby Jesus he held in his arms. Looking at the New Testament, Klaiber explains that absolute security was found in the “radical insecurity” of discipleship, the final vindication of Christ’s return and - adding my own - the certainty offered in 1 Corinthians that “[Christ] must reign until He has put all His enemies under his feet [and that] the last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

All in all, the Christian should support - and work for - the minimization of terrorist risk and harm, respecting, as far as Biblically informed conscience allows, the plans and strategies of civil authority, but always with the clear-eyed serenity that arises from faith.

This is the second installment in Think Christian's Ten After 9/11 series, reflecting on the 10th anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Previously, Gideon Strauss considered the question: "Did 9/11 make America a more, or less, Christian nation?"

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, Faith, Theology, News & Politics, North America