Co-belligerence: a resource or a threat?

“Why do Evangelical believers collaborate with non-evangelicals?” “Why do they sign the same petitions with people of other faith communities?” “Why do they support initiatives of people of different persuasions and backgrounds?” These questions express concerns that are widespread in the Evangelical community, especially but not exclusively in situations where Evangelicals are a minority. A defensive mentality finds it difficult to accommodate opportunities for common action with different faith communities. Co-belligerence is often perceived as compromise. Any kind of co-operation is viewed as a selling out of the faith. Yet, co-belligerence is necessary and inevitable is many areas of social life. Religious freedom is often supported by a large spectrum of people. The same is true as far as the defense of the family and other Judeo-Christian values in society. On these and many other issues, Evangelicals find themselves alongside people who have little or nothing to do with Biblical faith. Do they betray the Gospel if they share these initiatives and platforms? Do they disobey the Scriptures? Do they dishonor God? Are they necessarily manipulated by other groups, loosing therefore their identity? These are legitimate questions that raise a cluster of concerns. The story of co-belligerence To start unpacking the issues involved, it may be useful to remember the lesson of XX century Evangelical apologist Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984). He was a Christian leader who introduced the expression co-belligerence in the present-day Christian vocabulary. In the midst of the cultural transitions of the Seventies, he encouraged Evangelicals to side with people of other religious persuasions for the sake of promoting specific issues in society that were shared by a cross-section of society and were under threat by secular tendencies, especially in the realm of basic moral values. Schaeffer’s call to engage in the public square, working together with non-Christians, has been one of the motivating factors of recent Evangelical involvement in society. In suggesting a rationale for co-belligerence, Schaeffer made a distinction between forming alliances and engaging in co-belligerence. On the one hand, an alliance is a kind of unity based on truth and therefore has to do with born-again Christians only. On the other, co-belligerence focuses on a specific issue and is open to all those who share it, whatever the backgrounds and the goals that motivate them. Here is how Schaffer defines it: “co-belligerent is a person with whom I do not agree on all sorts of vital issues, but who, for whatever reasons of their own, is on the same side in a fight for some specific issue of public justice”.1 For Schaeffer this distinction reflects Scriptural principles about unity among believers and cooperation among people of different faiths. Co-belligerence is not another way of talking about ecumenism. The latter has to do with unity of believers according to the Bible; the former is related to possible cooperative efforts among different people and beyond agreement on central truths of the Gospel. The principle of co-belligerence The distinction between alliance and co-belligerence accounts for the teaching of Scripture. Unity exists deep within the people of God on the basis of a common faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:1-16). This unity allows alliances in terms of worship, prayer, evangelism and Gospel witness. This unity allows the church to work out the Great Commission that Jesus gave to go all over the world and disciple the nations (Matthew 28:16-20). This type of alliance shows the power of the Gospel to reconcile different people around the same Lord Jesus who sends His people forth to take the message of reconciliation to the world (2 Corinthians 5:17-20). This unity is not what co-belligerence is all about. The Scripture clearly distinguishes the unity of believers in Christ from other types of relationships without separating them. The Bible commands all men and women (Christians included) to inhabit the earth responsibly, taking care of the world and living peacefully as much as possible. Then, the Word of God encourages the church to develop and maintain good relationships with their neighbours and to be committed to the good of others (Genesis 1:27-31; Jeremiah 29:5-7; Titus 3:1-2). In doing what the Bible requires, we will be always in contact with different people that hold a plurality of worldviews and lifestyles. Our family members, co-workers, roommates, friends are not believers, yet we are called to live with them for the good of the community. In this sense, co-belligerence is necessary, useful and … inevitable. It is a task of our God-given humanity. It is part of our common calling to live in this world without being of the world (John 17:14-18). For the Christian, neither total retreat nor self-imposed exclusion from the world is a viable option. The Christian life requires one to develop and nurture multiple networks of social relations. A mature faith is able to maintain different relationships with different people, without losing its Christian identity and Gospel commitments. The important thing is to practise the distinction between alliance and co-belligerence. The areas of co-belligerence Co-belligerence occurs on specific issues, based on temporary agreements, in view of specific goals. Co-belligerence calls for convergences and common action no matter what the backgrounds of the various participants are.2 For example, on issues of religious freedom in the world Christians of different denominations can work with secular people who are interested in defending human rights. Does that mean that the secular agenda become the driving force? Not necessarily. It only means that on religious freedom at a certain level there can be common action with secularists who, like Christians, want freedom of religion and freedom of conscience to be respected. On basic morality based on the value of life and the family based on marriage, there can be co-belligerence with Muslims or people of other faith communities. Does it mean that Christians embrace an Islamic worldview? Not necessarily. It only means that on these specific issues there is enough common ground to work together. At times, co-belligerence works in a curious way, demanding flexibility and adaptability. In Italy, for instance, Evangelicals defend the family with Catholics while secularists tend to downplay it. On religious freedom issues, Evangelicals are closer to secularists who want more pluralism in the system while there will be some leaders of powerful, privileged churches who may well only be interested in preserving their privileges. Co-belligerence depends on specific issues and forms various groups depending on the issue involved. Another example: on issues of world poverty, the Micah Challenge campaign works in close connection with NGOs and other international humanitarian agencies. Evangelicals find themselves side by side with a number of movements that express the need for justice and solidarity. There could be many more examples but the point is clear. Co-belligerence is limited to specific issues and is worked out with people of any ideological, religious, political convictions, without compromising the faith and without feeling unnecessary embarrassment. In Europe at least, evangelical Christians are a minority within a minority. If we want to influence public policy so that it reflects biblical and godly values, we have to work with others who may not share our faith but do accept the value we advocate. Co-belligerence is appropriate if we want to help create a “civil public square”, as the 2012 Global Charter of Conscience rightly seeks to do with the support of the European Evangelical Alliance and many others. The risks of co-belligerence Of course, co-belligerence has its risks. Here is a list of possible dangers to be confronted with: loss of control in the course of action, improper language, confusion in the media, gross-generalization in the public opinion, etc. In our Italian experience, when we work together with secular agencies and movements in promoting religious pluralism, there are always people that point out the fact that the latter are also vocal on issues (e.g. euthanasia, same sex-marriages) that we do not agree on. The danger is to appear to be allies on these issues as well. Or it can happen that if we work together with other religious organizations, be they Catholic or Muslim, on defending the traditional family, critics will immediately point out the danger of religious syncretism or unwanted ecumenism. Any action has its risks. In order to minimize them it is wise to define in the best possible way the topic of co-belligerence, to have a say in the management of the campaign, to have on-going review process in place, to be open to criticism, to be transparent in recognizing failures and misunderstandings. The awareness of the risks of co-belligerence should not paralyze action. In our fallen world in sin, every activity is “risky”, and inevitably so. We cannot overcome risks by remaining passive, but treating them with Christian discernment. The Lausanne Covenant (1974) says that “evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty” (n. 5). While the former may be pursued in alliances with Christians (i.e. born-again believers), the latter is possible through co-belligerence with men and women of all kinds who agree to work together on the specific issue. Co-belligerence is therefore a resource to respond to God’s calling to serve Him faithfully and practically. Dr Leonardo De Chirico (vice-chairman of the Italian Evangelical Alliance

Latest Posts

Receive the EEA newsletter!