Winston Churchill, Great Britain’s wartime leader said this: “If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.”

Yalta_Conference_(Churchill,_Roosevelt,_Stalin)_(B&W)

The “Big Three” at Yalta, 1945. The War in Europe was nearly over. A sickly Roosevelt  would die in April of 45 had given Stalin pretty much what he wanted-a big slice of eastern Europe. Churchill was not so generous but by 1945 Britain was the junior partner in the Anglo-American Alliance. It kind of reminds me of an old saying, “if you dine with the devil you better have a long spoon.”

The context of Churchill’s statement was in regards to the Anglo (and later American) alliance with Stalin’s Soviet Union. Great Britain was desperate in the war against Hitler in 1941 and needed an ally. Germany foolishly invaded Russia and an instant ally was born.

Britain and Churchill were not fans of Stalin or his communism.  Stalin killed and starved hundreds of thousands of his own people and was especially hated in the Ukraine. He had recently picked a fight with tiny Finland and most western countries including Britain favored the plucky Finns. Stalin and Hitler had recently been pals and had divided up Poland, a British ally.

So, no one actually likes Stalin but…

Churchill, always colorful and usually memorable as he could turn a phrase like few others commented on Britain’s unlikely alliance with Stalin. Churchill’s comment about making a favorable reference to the devil (Stalin) was connected with the truism “that an enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Such is war, such is politics, such are personal relationships if we are honest and such is the world stage that a government will make alliances with some rather unsavory characters including a “devil” like Joseph Stalin.

This is the kind of  dilemma the United States faces with Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Iran, as most everyone knows are the bad guys. Iran hates Israel, our only democratic friend in the entire Middle East. The Iranian mullahs support terrorism (in Palestine and elsewhere) and is rather brutal to its own people when they get out of line. Just try being trans-gendered in Iran and see what happens. Iran is also anxious to get nukes-a nightmare scenario that the US tries hard to prevent.

On the other hand try being trans-gendered in Saudi Arabia and see what happens. You get my drift.

Both countries are Moslem and both are radical by degree. Iran is Shite and Saudi Arabia is Sunni. They do not get along. Iran is mostly Persian and Saudi Arabia is Arab-antagonisms go back centuries both ethnically and religiously. Given half a chance they would gladly destroy one another a Moslem on Moslem jihad.

Problem: Saudi Arabia like Israel is an American Ally but they are an ally of a different sort.  Israel shares with us a democratic process and other values. Saudi Arabia does not.

Iran is supported by Putin’s Russia and the Chi-Coms. This makes Saudi Arabia and Iran big players in international politics and while some argue that Saudi Arabia is “not as bad” as Iran is can be a bit of hair splitting.

Case in Point: Many in the West were horrified when “moderate” Saudi-Arabia obviously assassinated journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Khashoggi’s “sin” was being a critic of the rulers of Saudi-Arabia even though he was Saudi as well.

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If the shoe fits.

What few people know or knew is that Saudi Arabia like Iran is brutal. Mindy Belz of World Magazine details incident after incident, murder after murder (many of them Christians) in her excellent article titled Dealing in Realism.

Here is a revealing quote from the Belz article:

“The textbook language varies year-to-year, but adheres to core tenets [in state sponsored school curriculum]. It calls for violent punishment of non-Muslims and for putting homosexuals to death. All of Israel is ‘occupied Islamic territory’ the textbooks teach. And, ‘The Apes are the people of the Sabbath. the Jews; and the Swine are the infidels of the communion of Jesus, the Christians.'”

And lets not forget how many of the young men (11 out of 19) were Saudi nationals when the Twin Towers came down taking thousands of lives.

With an ally like that who needs enemies?

Governments are usually pragmatic like Churchill’s WW2 Britiain and will do what works (at the time). Principle is sacrificed on the altar of expediency and what works. Since Saudi Arabia hates Iran almost as much it secretly hates the West we should not be surprised that the US response was relatively mild to the Khashoggi killing although the US did pressure it’s ally to finally own up. (Some minor official in Saudi Arabia will have to bite the bullet perhaps literally.)

So, what about the other Saudi crimes detailed in Belz’s article? Should they not trouble us? And what about the textbook issue? What are little Saudi children learning about Jews and Christians? Can not the same type of thing be found in Iranian textbooks? I’ll bet it can.

I don’t think the US is naive regarding Saudi Arabia. I think the official position is we are stuck with them and at least they have not gone nuclear (but could, and probably would like to). I’m so cynical these days that I can see one of our representatives saying something like, “can’t you be a bit more discreet when you murder a political opponent?”

What should the serious Christian think about such things? Should we go along with the notion that the enemy of our enemy is our friend or should the US sanction the Saudi’s in a similar fashion to Iran? That would be Mindy Belz’s view.

The question is should the US “punish” its ally Saudi Arabia for exhibiting the same kind of behavior that its enemy Iran is guilty of?

As always Christians should try to think through thorny questions biblically. Applying biblical principles to international politics is not an easy matter especially because neither party in the US is particularly motivated to do so. It appears to me that one party actually hates the Bible and the other is mildly disinterested but needs Christian votes. I know, aren’t I the cynical one?

I think there are a number of biblical passages that can say something about how a Christian can respond to a sticky situation like Iran and Saudi Arabia.  It’s found in Romans 13:1-7 where Paul talks about the role of civil government.

13 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. 

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ro 13:1–7). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

There is a lot going on in the passage and I don’t want to write a novel so I’ll just focus on verse 4.

for he [government] is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

What might we observe here?

First we see that government (the he) is God’s servant for good and if you do wrong be afraid, because that’s why the government gets a sword.

So government is God’s servant for good. Therefore, killing a political opponent is wrong and the Saudi Arabian government is not acting like God’s servant for good. The institution of government is good but people in the government or in positions of power are often evil and unjust and God is not for an unjust government.

There are a lot of places one can take all this but the basic principle seems obvious-government is God’s servant for good, not bad. Belz’s conclusion that the US should sanction Saudi Arabia certainly lines up with the Saudi pattern of injustice.

To sanction Saudi Arabia in some kind of serious way would require taking a principled stand and I’d be surprised if either political party has the fortitude to stand on principle. It might cost us something and at the end of the day the ends justify the means.

Khashoggi’s death ordered by Saudi Crown Prince

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