God Bless America: Let's Debate Acts of War

Can morals and practical politics actually coexist?

— -- As I looked this morning at my bookshelf as the sun rose over the landscape of Central Texas I noticed two items stood side by side, the Bible and the United States Constitution. It made me pause and ponder recent events, and I came away a combination of confused, concerned, and a good bit frustrated.

Presidents, politicians and both political parties seem to constantly talk about their faith, the importance of religion, and how committed they are to the principles of the Constitution. They end nearly every speech with God Bless America, reference the founding fathers consistently, and invoke much of the statements of Jesus. It is as if Jefferson and Jesus are the mainstays of American politics today.

So then why do we wage war and military action on an ongoing basis without pausing to consider if this comports with the Gospels or the governing model laid out in the Constitution?

Today (and for the last 30 years) presidents seem unconstrained by the Constitution or by the Gospels in making decisions to employ our military around the world. We have come far afield from our beginnings when a president, before he used our most precious resources in battle, had to reach a consensus with Congress on declaring war. Our constitution provides a set manner for going to war, so why shouldn't we follow it? It would give the country a better sense of the strategy and vision if a debate happened before Congress about use of the military.

And I am not a priest or a minister, but I find it difficult to resolve leaders claiming Jesus as a hero or savior, and then using our military to kill our "enemies" in far flung places around our globe. Didn't Jesus say love your enemies, didn't he say if someone struck your cheek give him the other one, and didn't he instruct Peter to put away his sword when Roman soldiers came to arrest Jesus?

Again, I think it would be a good idea to have an instructive debate among our leaders in politics and faith about the morality of wars today and military action in today's environment. I am not arguing we don't defend ourselves, but we should at least pause and contemplate if our military response is in line with our faith. It is not an easy answer, but it is one which should at least be opened and discussed.

I have written before that we need leaders who have a vision that is both idealistic and realistic, and not just default into a debate over tactics. And one in which morals and practical politics can coexist, and that is in line with our Constitution of checks and balances and restrained power related to declaring war. This is not only President Obama's quandary, all presidents of both political parties since President Eisenhower have operated with little constraint on these "war" decisions.

As I look at the landscape of candidates who may run for president in 2016, I sure am going to see who is strong and mature enough to engage in this important debate about military action and its proper use. I am going to see who can pick up the Bible in one hand and the Constitution in the other and figure out the right balance in today's world. And who isn't just interested in using Jefferson and Jesus for show, but willing to dive deeper by allowing citizens of good conscience to discuss this openly and without judgment.

There you have it.

Matthew Dowd is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent. Opinions expressed in this column do not reflect the views of ABC News.