I was recently in London for CBN and was privileged to have tea with Major General Tim Cross, a recently retired British military officer and outspoken follower of Jesus Christ. We spoke about a wide range of subjects, from the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan to General Cross's personal faith journey.
Click play to watch, or read our conversation transcribed below. The General had some very powerful things to say about the importance of winning on the MORAL battlefield as well as the physical one.
CHUCK: Give us a synopsis of your military service record.
TIM CROSS: I was born in UK in 1951 and being a soldier’s all I wanted to do. So I tried to join the army when I was about fourteen and I was told, “Go away and come back when I was a little bit older.”
So I joined the Army Cadets in 1964, went to the Royal Academy in Sandhurst in 1969 – which was a two-year course and was commissioned in 1971. So commissioned service from 1971-2007. Served in Northern Ireland, served with the United Nations in Cypress, served in the first Gulf War, three tours in the Balkans and served in Iraq in 2002-2003.
CHUCK: What was your experience in Iraq?
TC: I went to Iraq for the first time in 1991 after the Iraq invasion of Kuwait, British first Army Division. Iraq 1990-91, with the First British Army division…[W]e took part in the move into Iraq and the liberation of Kuwait.
And then all through those intervening years, of course, Iraq was bubbling along really. The decision not to go on and get rid of Saddam and so forth, I think was the right one at the time for various reasons, but of course we then had to re-live the whole thing back in 2002-2003.
And in 2002 I was the logistic component commander for the British forces that were going to go into Iraq. [I] was asked to go to Washington to join the office of post-war planning that had been established under a presidential directive, the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance.
CHUCK: Now I understand you’ve been somewhat critical of the execution of the war but what’s your feeling about the decision to invade Iraq to begin with.
TC: I have no problem with having to deal with Saddam Hussein, and I think the way the military campaign was conducted was exemplary – very good planning within CENTCOM and within the UK about how we were going to conduct the operations.
My baggage, in a sense is that I… was very keen that we thought through carefully the postwar aspects of what we were going to do once the military campaign was over. And I think it’s now very public knowledge that that was not well handled. It was not well thought through, it was not well executed. And we lived with the consequences of that.
CHUCK: When the awakening began and things started to turn around there do you think that happened in spite of us or because of us?
TC: Well I think there’s an element of in spite of us but I think to be fair, these campaigns are always difficult… Healing takes a long time. And democracy does not emerge quickly. It’s a generational business, it’s as much a way of thought as anything else. So to have expected Iraq to emerge as a thriving democracy in anything else, frankly, than even twenty or thirty years I think is not sensible.
CHUCK: That doesn’t work very well with our sound-byte culture.
TC: It doesn’t. Same applies to Afghanistan. Afghanistan is going to take a long time and Afghanistan is not like Iraq. Iraq has a basically strong economic foundation with a lot of very intelligent, well-educated people – middle-class, working-class and so on.
CHUCK: It’s a modern country.
TC: [And] I think it’s been well said that Afghanistan is Middle-Ages England with mobile phones.
CHUCK: Indeed. So tell me a little bit about your faith journey.
TC: I was raised in a, I suppose, typical middle-class family, very happy childhood. But we were not a church-going family particularly, although I did go to church occasionally and Sunday school and so forth.
When I was married in 1972, my wife and I had a church wedding which was unusual really, we both thought that we wanted to do that.
But the turning point for me was serving in the United Nations in Cypress in 1981 and as part of that tour, Christy - my wife - and I went to Jerusalem. And we went over the Easter weekend, went to Jerusalem over the Easter weekend in 1981, and spent some time in the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, which happened to be my thirtieth birthday. And we were shown around the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem by a retired British Army officer.
And I think men need men to look them in the eye and to challenge them and be quite forceful with them. And this man, whose name was Dobbie, took me around the garden tomb and…at the end of the tour he said, having read through the scriptures, talked about this, he said, “Look, all of this is interesting, quite important in some respects. But actually the key issue is, you go and look in that tomb, it’s empty and that’s the decisive point in history. And if you accept that, you cannot allow your life to stay the same. And if you don’t accept it, you need to understand the consequences of it.”
And, feeling a little foolish, I walked across the garden to look inside this first century tomb which, not surprisingly was empty.
But as I stood at the door of the tomb and looked in I thought, “He’s right. This is important,”
So that year, I gave my life to Christ.
CHUCK: Tell me real quickly how you worked out your faith in the course of your career, you know, brought it to work with you.
TC: The moral component of fighting power is about leadership, it’s about ethics, it’s about culture, it’s about how do you get people to fight and embedded within that is an element of justice and righteousness. [I]f you lose the moral component, you lose everything.
I think we – collectively in the West – have gone through 30 - 40 years really of pretending that this moral component is not important, and that I don’t need to have a biblical foundation in my life. And I challenge that.