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20, 2014
RUSH TRANSCRIPT: Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite
Click here for audio
[REV. DR. C. WELTON GADDY, HOST]: Particularly in an election
year, its no surprise that everything I mean, literally everything,
even brutal terrorism is fltered through a political lens. But as
debates raged in the aftermath of President Obamas ISIL address
earlier this month, most commentators pundits and lawmakers alike
never did get beyond the political. Even the presidents accurately-
drawn distinction between Islam and terrorists identical to the post-
9/11 message of his predecessor, George W. Bush provoked an
ugly backlash from a remarkable range of voices, seemingly hungry
for some kind of global Christian-versus-Muslim showdown.
Diferent as Obamas plan is from the military course our nation took
in 2001, what seems to have not changed is our unwillingness to
have an honest conversation about the real-world implications of US
military action overseas.
Well, stepping up to fll that void is Dr. Susan Brooks Thisthlethwaite,
no stranger to this program, a good friend of mine, and a person
willing to take on the toughest of issues.
Susan, I am so pleased to have you join us again on State of Belief
thank you, Welton, and I am very pleased to be here. These are
serious subjects.
[WG]: You're right. You've written a strongly-worded piece for OnFaith,
arguing that the situation with the terror group ISIS does not rise to
the threshold of Just War Theory. Now, we probably should begin with
you expanding on that, and reminding our listeners a little about what
Just War Theory is.
[ST]: Sure, Welton. Let's imagine that the listeners are all in my
classroom on peace and war, and I've drawn on the board "Crusade,"
which is the Christian and other religious holy war; and all the way at
the other end of the board, I've drawn "Pacifsm" - everybody knows
that is the principled opposition to war. Now, "Just War Theory"
developed in the middle, from both some philosophical sources, but
also from St. Augustine and St. Aquinas saying, "There have to be
limits on the use of force, and when is force moral, when is it
immoral" - so trying to fnd a space in between. And so this theory,
which is actually taught at the War College - and, I believe yesterday,
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel referenced, briefy, for those of us
listening for Just War criteria, he did reference one Just War criterion -
so this has criteria of when it's moral to get into a war, or not; and how
you're supposed to conduct a war. So that's what Just War Theory is:
it's as ancient as Cicero, and as contemporary as yesterday with the
Senate Armed Services Committee.
[WG]: So what would need to be diferent about the situation to permit
ethical military intervention?
[ST]: Well, the leading criterion for Just War Theory is just cause,
okay, that you have a just cause. And it is not considered just to just
go attack anybody you want to. Remember, this came up with the
attack on Iraq, and did we have a just cause. And so I argue that the
president said that, no, ISIL has not threatened the American
homeland; they haven't been able to fnd any such threats, etc., etc.
This is in the president's speech. Yesterday, Secretary of Defense
Chuck Hagel said the words "immediate threat" in reference to the
killing of the two Americans. Now, "immediate threat" - that's code for
Just War Theory; but the killing of two Americans, not on American
soil but elsewhere, I would still dispute is not an immediate threat.
Now, another criterion that we just do not pay attention to is: what is
the probability of success? You're not supposed to get into a war,
says Just War Theory, if you can't see any good outcome; if if you
can't see that it's going to work. And last night on the news - and I
looked this up this morning - there's both Pew Research and CNN
have polling somewhere between 60-63% of Americans are in favor
of this taking and bombing ISIS. But under a third, approximately,
actually think it will work! Right? So that shows the dilemma that
Americans seem to feel they're in, which is: we have to do something,
And these are hideous people; I mean, this is just insupportable,
right? ISIL is brutal, they behead people, they execute people, they
try to commit genocide, they enslave women - I mean, nothing
redeeming about these folks. But the question is, what's the most
efective thing?
Now I propose two in my article, one being, a political solution. They
came about, of course, because of the exclusion - the bad
performance of the Iraqi government in excluding - the Sunnis from
the government. So you prey, then, upon - the ISIL people preyed
upon - Sunni feelings of exclusion.
But then secondly, go get their money. On Chris Hayes' program, last
night, in talking about the presentation to the Armed Services
Committee, he mentioned that there's an estimate that ISIL is
bringing in three million dollars a day! You take and get their money -
drug money, a lot of it - and also oil money, which is of course also
theft. So you try to go after their money. A lot of people aren't
believers in this stupid ideology, which is neither Islamic - say many,
many Muslims - nor, actually, are they a state, right? They're a group
of thugs. Go get their money. But that doesn't look like "doing
something," right? It doesn't look like we're fghting terrorism.
So Americans have got to get smarter about how we fght these folks.
And I think Just War Theory provides a couple of really good
questions you ought to ask yourself. If you don't really think it's going
to be successful - which two thirds of Americans apparently don't -
why not try something that works? And I think most people could get
on board with "go get their money," right? I mean, what's wrong with
that? Secretary Hagel actually referenced that: try to get their money,
try to do a political solution. But it's way, way down the list.
[WG]: Well Susan, you also - and I want you to get into this as well -
you criticize the strategic aspects of the president's plan; and I'd like
for you to talk about the idea that ISIS needs an enemy, and we're
doing them somewhat a favor by giving them one.
[ST]: Yes, I actually led with that, Welton, because ISIL has issued us
an invitation to a cosmic war, right? They are a group of people with a
highly infated sense of their own importance, and they think they are
fghting a cosmic war. They need the United States, - a.k.a. what they
would demonize as the "great satan" - they need us to get into this
confict. For recruitment, for idealogical purposes, for symbolism - and
this happened in relationship to the 9/11 attacks, where suddenly it
got made into a cosmic war, and we played that game. We played
that game. And I think this is another place where we need to be
Now, there are a lot of voices - on the Right in particular - buying this
"come and get us, guys" invitation from ISIL. And I think we need to
realize that this is a ploy on their part. They want the great satan to
show up with their bombs because they fnd it a good recruiting tool.
And they are kind of a brutal group of thugs with a really good media
strategy, right? They have really mastered media, so let's at least step
back for a second and ask ourselves, are we being played in terms of
an invitation to a cosmic war.
Suppose we said "no"? Suppose we just said, no, we're coming for
your money, and we're going to work on what worked the last time in
the Sunni awakening - that's what really turned the tide in the Iraq war
- suppose we're going to work on a political solution, and we're going
to work on coming to get your money, and we don't play the game of
the great satan? What about that?
[WG]: Susan, I couldn't agree with you more. But I'm getting caught
up, in dealing with you, with the simplicity and lack of imaginative
creativity that exists in the American psyche. And when you say what
you've done about, let's go after the politics of it and the money
involved, there are many Americans who are inherently going to be
thinking, "But that's not really war! That's not really getting them.
We've got to get into this confict and show them who's boss!"
[ST]: Yes. Yes, particularly the latter. Because there is that simplistic
equation: force is showing them who's boss. And it's a complicated
world, and a multilateral world, and I actually think President Obama
has been boxed in by this. I mean, it is very much an election season,
and I think his articulated approach to foreign policy, which he's done
in previous months - I think they're very aware in the foreign policy
establishment and in the White House - of the need to have a very
nuanced foreign policy. But reason - as I wrote in the column - reason
has left the building. And people fall for this. They fall for it; they get
all panicky.
And may I say, in theology we talk about the hermeneutic of
suspicion: that is, when you interpret a text, you bring some
suspicion. What are you really saying? And I look at these
conservative pundits on the TV who are saying, war, war, war, and I
wonder: who's paying you for that? Because war is very proftable,
and whether it's third-hand, fourth-hand, or it just is the war machine
gearing back up again - I think that we've got to be very suspicious
that the drumbeat of war is also just a proft center. War is a proft
center. And it makes me very, very suspicious when I hear the same
rhetoric coming out of four or fve diferent mouths.
[WG]: Let me redirect the conversation just a second, because I think
it's an important diversion at this point: I can hear some people who
are listening to this interview saying, well, I thought you all started out
talking about Just War, which means that you're concerned about
morality. And if you're really concerned about morality, and you see
what's going on by that dastardly group of people doing what they're
doing to human beings who don't by any means deserve that - isn't it
more moral to take them out? Isn't it more moral for us to defend
these people that are getting killed, rather than talking about doing
politics and fnances?
[ST]: Well, the really hopeful think about Just War Theory is that it
does ask you this question: not just should you do it, but what's most
efective? Are you going to be efective? And the question that I then
am raising here is, what's most efective? To play into the game of
being the great satan and alienating a whole bunch more people and
therefore being a recruitment tool for ISIL, therefore making this
region, which is grossly unsafe, even more unsafe? Or should we be
moral by actually being smart and efective in how we combat this
The endgame is the same: the endgame is, these folks have got to
go. You know, it's not forbidden for people of faith to be efective. And
so we need to think about - and I work a lot out of the Just Peace
paradigm, and actually working on fnancial strategies to dry up the
drug money; political strategies or actually strategies of Just Peace -
but they overlap with Just War in this criterion. And the criterion is: do
you have an exit strategy? Do you have a good outcome? We went
into that war in Iraq - and actually, I think, also into the war in
Afghanistan - with no exit strategy. Actually, Colin Powell said this on
numerous occasions, with no exit strategy. And we didn't. So, endless
[WG]: Susan, if you were in DC or wherever, and you had a chance to
have one minute with Barack Obama and another minute with John
McCain, what would you say to each of them?
[ST]: Well, I've been on television with John McCain, opposing the
Iraq war. And I'll say the same thing I said then: "Don't do it!"
With President Obama, I would be able to say, "This is a more
efective strategy, Mr. President. I actually think you know it, and I
think that you're right to try to dial it down - as you have been trying to
do in your foreign policy" - and people will not listen to him.
[WG]: The Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of
Theology at Chicago Theological Seminary; the author of the
book Dreaming of Eden: American Religion and Politics in a Wired
World. Susans recent article titled Obamas ISIL Strategy: Just More
Endless War Why President Obamas planned military strikes on
ISIS do not ft the criteria for a Just War appears in the OnFaith
section of, and we will link to it from

Susan, it is always insightful and a pleasure to talk with you on the air
or of the air - but today, this has been a really good one, and
thanks for sharing your thoughts with us on State of Belief Radio.
[ST]: Thank you, Welton, for having me.

Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite

The Reverend Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, Ph.D is Professor of
Theology at Chicago Theological Seminary. She was President of the
seminary from 1998-2008. Upon completing two fve-year terms as
President, she returned to full-time teaching on the seminary faculty.
She has a Ph.D. from Duke University, a Masters of Divinity (Summa
Cum Laude) from Duke Divinity School and a B.A. from Smith
An ordained minister of the United Church of Christ since 1974, she
is the author or editor of numerous books and has been a translator
for two diferent translations of the Bible.
Thistlethwaite is currently working on a new book called "Women's
Bodies as Battlefeld: Just War, Just Peace and the Global War on
Women" that will be published next year by Palgrave Macmillan. She
is a frequent media commentator on religion and public events. Her
newest books are #OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and
Did) About Money and Power and Interfaith Just Peacemaking:
Jewish, Christian and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of
Peace and War.
She is a Fellow and a Trustee of the Center for American Progress,
and serves as a trustee of the Interfaith Youth Core.

Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy

Author of more than 20 books, including First Freedom First: A
Citizens Guide to Protecting Religious Liberty and the Separation of
Church and State, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy leads the national
non-partisan grassroots and educational organization Interfaith
Alliance and serves as Pastor for Preaching and Worship at
Northminster (Baptist) Church in Monroe, Louisiana.
In addition to being a prolifc writer, Dr. Gaddy hosts the weekly State
of Belief radio program, where he explores the role of religion in the
life of the nation by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America,
while exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion
for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government
for sectarian purposes.
Dr. Gaddy provides regular commentary to the national media on
issues relating to religion and politics. He has appeared on MSNBCs
The Rachel Maddow Show and Hardball, NBCs Nightly News and
Dateline, PBSs Religion and Ethics Newsweekly and The Newshour
with Jim Lehrer, C-SPANs Washington Journal, ABCs World News,
and CNNs American Morning. Former host of Morally Speaking on
NBC afliate KTVE in Monroe, Louisiana, Dr. Gaddy is a regular
contributor to mainstream and religious news outlets.
While ministering to churches with a message of inclusion, Dr. Gaddy
emerged as a leader among progressive and moderate Baptists.
Among his many leadership roles, he is a past president of the
Alliance of Baptists and has been a 20-year member of the
Commission of Christian Ethics of the Baptist World Alliance. His past
leadership roles include serving as a member of the General Council
of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, President of Americans United
for Separation of Church and State, Chair of the Pastoral Leadership
Commission of the Baptist World Alliance and member of the World
Economic Forums Council of 100. Rev. Gaddy currently serves on
the White House task force on the reform of the Ofce of Faith Based
and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Prior to the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist
Convention (SBC), Dr. Gaddy served in many SBC leadership roles
including as a member of the conventions Executive Committee from
1980-84 and Director of Christian Citizenship Development of the
Christian Life Commission from 1973-77.
Dr. Gaddy received his undergraduate degree from Union University
in Jackson, Tennessee and his doctoral degree and divinity training
from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville,

State of Belief Radio

State of Belief is based on the proposition that religion has a positive
and healing role to play in the life of the nation. The show explains
and explores that role by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in
America the most religiously diverse country in the world while
exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion for
partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government for
sectarian purposes.
Each week, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy ofers listeners critical
analysis of the news of religion and politics, and seeks to provide
listeners with an understanding and appreciation of religious liberty.
Rev. Gaddy tackles politics with the frm belief that the best way to
secure freedom for religion in America is to secure freedom from
religion. State of Belief illustrates how the Religious Right is wrong
wrong for America and bad for religion.
Through interviews with celebrities and newsmakers and feld reports
from around the country, State of Belief explores the intersection of
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