Pastor’s Perspective – September 2021
As I write this article, the Taliban has taken control of the nation of Afghanistan with ten thousand Americans unaccounted for and left behind enemy lines. The Biden administration is taking fire from allies and enemies alike for the disaster that is currently unfolding on the ground. While no one is sure what will become of this (I am writing this weeks ahead of the September release) it seems like an ignoble end to the twenty years of combat operations in Afghanistan.
Few of our young people know why we entered Afghanistan in the first place. Twenty years is a long time to remember first causes, especially when the current batch of College Freshmen were yet to be born on the day that two jet planes flew into the Twin Towers in New York City. While the Taliban did not execute the mission on 9/11; they gave material support and refused to assist in bringing the leadership of al-Queda to justice. So began the war in Afghanistan.
On September 11, 2021, we will celebrate the twentieth anniversary of this horrific moment. In that twenty-year time frame, I have prayed for the safety of friends and family members with equal fervor. To say that 9/11 changed my family would be an understatement.
My brother Timmy was in the Twin Towers delivering a manuscript on the evening of September 10, 2001. His early delivery of the manuscript (which was lost in the destruction) may have saved his life. September 11th began with the Bellavia family seeking the status of my brother Timmy. While he did in fact lose friends in the attack, he was kept from harm.
My youngest brother, Staff Sgt David Bellavia, was at the time serving in the US Army. We immediately understood that his future was likely to deploy to the Middle East. What we did not know at that time was that he would go to Iraq instead of Afghanistan. His life would be permanently changed by his experience in combat, as he fought his way through Iraq, distinguishing himself as the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor for service in Iraq. He lost countless friends in Iraq and Afghanistan, both from combat injuries and combat-related trauma.
Less than a decade later, my son Scott would take part in combat operations in Afghanistan. Only 13 years old in 2001, Scott would serve two tours in Afghanistan during his nine year career in the US Marine Corps. His service in country revealed a penchant for foreign languages, a skill that the Marine Corp developed by training him to become an Arabic translator. He would end his Marine career working as a translator with the NSA.
Today my youngest son, who was not yet born in 2001, is serving as a member of the US Army with the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum in New York state. It is not lost on me that if there is a need for significant deployments in Afghanistan my son may become embroiled in a fight that is older than him.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, we freed the people from the bondage of evil leadership (few would argue that Saddam Hussein and the Taliban were moral regimes) yet we discovered that many of the people whom we liberated were incapable of embracing the dream of a free life. Much of this was due to the loss of trust in what I will call America’s faith. In the later years of the twentieth century, we began to believe that the success of the West was embodied in our embrace of democracy. As our political, economic, and religious unity was fractured by dissent and political disagreements, the only thing that we believed was portable or transplantable was democracy. Ignoring the historical facts that western progress and unity was formed around common culture and religion, we sought to share the supposed gift of democracy to the world. We held elections. We introduced democracy. But we never introduced the virtues that held American democracy together.
We never shared our faith, our understanding of tolerance, covenant, grace, and self-giving love. We attempted to create the blessing of America in nations that did not understand the unique covenantal virtues of American civic life. Sadly, we were not able to share these virtues because precious few Americans held the virtues that made us peaceful, graceful, and united. Can we be surprised that we are incapable of nation building when our own nation is fractured and broken? How could we have expected to lead a tribal people into unity when our own nation has descended into tribal violence? How can we expect Afghani leaders to keep their people safe, when our own cities are exploding in chaos and violence?
It is my belief that freedom works in Western nations because of our common Christian inheritance. Without the call to Christ and the sacrificial covenant that he expresses there is no ability to live in peace with each other. The problem was never that we were too Christian. It has always been the failure to be Christian enough.
Christianity (as dramatically explained by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche) calls us to relinquish power for the sake of the weak. It gets in the way of the will to power. Nietzsche, the Nazis, the Stalinists and their enthusiasts around the world believe that the acquisition of power is the principle goal of human life. This will to power involves imposing the will of the powerful against the interests of the powerless.
To Nietzsche’s disdain, the Christian west aspired to rule without naked force. We learned how to seek treaties, covenants, and accords. We recognized that the common desire to raise our sons and daughters without the threat of violence or unnecessary coercion was worth the discomfort of living with people who held to different belief systems and goals. We popularized the concepts of pluralism and freedom of conscience. We built it into our society and civic organizations. Then when we failed to reach our own lofty goals, we blamed the religion and the faith that inspired the very goals we inherited.
Twenty years ago a great war began. The war was won, but when we had the chance to teach the Middle East about “the golden rule,” grace, agape love, covenantal living, and the Sonship of Jesus Christ we decided that this was an unnecessary part of our legacy. We did so to our detriment and shame. We ignored the blessings that we had received and we ignored the One who gave them to us.
My hope is that the next generation will remember our true legacy. I recently had a discussion with my youngest son, James. James was concerned about going into combat, but he told me that he was not afraid to die. Instead he was afraid that those whom he served with would face death, because as he told me, “they are not spiritually prepared to die.” James knows whom he serves. He knows where his salvation and future come from. America however does not.
Twenty years after 911 we are still so far away from the Truth of God’s love and sovereignty. We must reclaim the spiritual hearts and minds of the nation. I am happy to be American, but Jesus Christ is my only Lord, my only Savior, my only King.
The Age of American sovereignty may be over, not because we were not strong enough, but because we were not faithful enough in the God of Jesus Christ. The good news is that there is still time. I may not be here to celebrate the 40th anniversary of September 11, but my hope is that in twenty years the Church will have learned the lessons of faithfulness and transformational love.
I pray that my children will not pay the price for our sins. I pray that God will send a mighty Spirit amongst the young and old to open our eyes and lead us toward a better and brighter tomorrow. Will our future nation proclaim a trust in the triune God? My prayer is for a great revival in the nation and throughout the world. Can I get an amen?