Early one Sunday morning in the spring of 2003, in the quiet hours before services would begin at the evangelical church where I worship in Charlottesville, Virginia, I opened files compiled by my research assistant and read the statements drafted by Christians around the world in opposition to the American invasion of Iraq.
The experience was profoundly moving and shaming: From Pentecostals in Brazil to the Christian Councils of Ghana, from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East to the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem, from Pope John Paul II to the The Waldensian Reformed Church of Italy and the Christian Conference of Asia, the voices of our brothers and sisters in the global ecumenical church spoke in unison.
Why did American evangelicals not pause for a moment in the rush to war to consider the near-unanimous disapproval of the global Christian community? The worldwide Christian opposition seems to me the most neglected story related to the religious debate about Iraq: Despite approval for the president's decision to go to war by 87 percent of white evangelicals in April 2003, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts poll, almost every Christian leader in the world (and almost every nonevangelical leader in the United States) voiced opposition to the war.
In their enthusiastic support of the White House's decision to invade Iraq, evangelicals in the United States practiced an ecumenical isolationism that mirrored the prevailing political trend. Rush Limbaugh may have pleased his "dittoheads" in mocking the dissenting pastors, archbishops, bishops, and church leaders who stuck their noses into our nation's foreign policy, but the people in the United States who call themselves Christian must organize their priorities and values on a different standard than partisan loyalty.
There is an assumption among some Americans that God was the true founder of the United States in the way that Catholics believe that the founder of their faith was God made flesh. And just as the Catholics believe that the church gets special guidance from on high which results in infallibility of doctrine, the American fundamentalists believe that if our nation does something, it IS the will of God. We aren't just fighting a mortal enemy, we are fighting powers and principalities. It's never just a battle for some war torn street in Baghdad, it is, by extension, a battle for our very survival as a Christian nation. And this is nothing new -- there was a very famous poster from WW2 showing an arm with a swastika clutching a dagger which was stabbing a bible. "This is our enemy," read the simple text, and it was that religious context which drove many people more than the patriotic one.
nd of course the conservative politicians and their propagandists love to blur the line between church and state because they are well aware that American fundamentalism is faith-based far more than most religion. Charismatic (in both senses of the word) church leaders make a pronouncement -- such as "Iraq is a righteous war" -- and in saying so, it becomes an article of faith. To doubt the war is to doubt the the Great Commission to spread the gospel throughout the entire world, in this case at the point of a gun.
And of course if we are the Sword of the Lord, it only makes sense that our enemy must be the forces of darkness, which is why it's another article of faith that they are all insane, that if any of them get a nuke, they will most certainly use it at the first opportunity, and that these folks have no problem whatsoever with killing themselves in whatever numbers are necessary to kill God's people because they are demon-possessed in the biblical sense of the word because they worship a false god. And so there is no negotiation with them any more than the old testament Israelites would renegotiate with the Babylonians. God's commandment was to conquer, occupy and take whatever they wanted. Sound familiar?
However, not every Christian is a fundamentalist. Not all of us believe that it's our vocation to be cannon fodder in a literal battle for spiritual dominion over the world. A Christian is a follower of Christ, and Christ gave us a new commandment to love our neighbors, and especially our enemies. Some of us know that love is greater than hate, and that the only thing unjust war accomplishes is more war. Fundamentalists of all faiths get a perverse pleasure out of a sense of persecution. Thus, to hardcore American fundamentalists, 9-11 was *not* a political act. It was not a response to our foreign policy. Rather, it was either God smiting us for our sins, or the act of Satan attacking our nation and our Christian way of life. Or both.
And in that context, the attack on Iraq made sense. Islam is seen as one global menace and an attack on it anywhere is an attack on it everywhere. Bush has used "al Qaeda" as a shorthand for "all radical, militant Islam" and so when he said that al Qaeda was in Iraq, that made them a perfectly valid target. Any Islamic nation is a perfectly valid target because they are anti-Christ.
And round and round it goes. Bush got in trouble for calling his war a Crusade, but it's the only valid term to describe it. It's not a war against a person or even a nation, it's a war of one faith against another. A war of Bush's vision of Christianity -- one which is shared by tens of millions of Americans -- against "the world," which is everyone who is not a true believer. Obviously this is a war which will never end, and will, in fact, be self-perpetuating as it will enrage the fundamentalists of Islam.
So now we can either just allow Bush and the religious fanatics to hijack both our nation and our faith, or we can stand up. It's a tough order because when the radicals in our own ranks have been allowed to define Christianity for so long, that means that ANYONE who opposes them is in league with the devil, but their words won't stand up against the light of the truth. As the article said, Jesus' strength, and thus OUR strength as his followers is in our love. This is a new generation of Pharisees, using the name of God to promote themselves and their agenda, and our very first mission is to take back the mantle of faith from these charlatans. A truly Christian nation leads by example, not by the sword. The shining city on the hill draws people to itself, not sends out armies to compel unwilling followers.
It's really a shame that so many so-called Christians get all their beliefs from the old testament and so little from the new.
Note: Wizbang Blue is now closed and our authors have moved on. Paul Hooson can now be found at Wizbang Pop!. Please come see him there!