Sunday, August 25, 2019

Still Fed Up with Fundamentalism’s View of War

For all of my life since high school days until the present, I have considered myself a pacifist. Thus, I have always been at odds with the predominant “just war” tradition in most Christian denominations—but never more so than for the support for war by conservative evangelical Christians in the U.S. after the tragic events of September 11, 2001. 
The Support of War by the Christian Right
Until the fourth century, almost all Christians eschewed war, but things changed dramatically after Roman Emperor Constantine adopted Christianity for political and military reasons in 312 A.D.
Augustine (354~430) was one of the first great Christian theologians, and he developed a position that came to be known as the “just war” tradition. That position became predominant in the Roman Catholic Church—and then later in most Protestant denominations.
In this century, however, Christians who are now generally called conservative evangelicals have been the main supporters of the USAmerican “war on terror,” and they were especially prominent in giving President Bush almost unqualified support in launching the attack on Iraq in 2003.
Moreover, the mass of conservative evangelicals who are Trump supporters are highly favorable, it seems, to the military build-up by the U.S. government since 2017.
Nationalism and the Christian Right
As I explain in the seventh chapter of my book Fed Up with Fundamentalism, to which this article is linked, there was a proclivity toward patriotism in the first decades of fundamentalism in this country.
There is nothing wrong with patriotism, unless it is carried to an extreme. But patriotism becomes a problem when it morphs into nationalism, as it often does.
In the first volume of his three-volume Systematic Theology (1951), the eminent theologian Paul Tillich wrote about idolatry and averred that the best example of such is the “contemporary idolatry of religious nationalism” (p. 13).
If Tillich (1886~1965) were still alive and writing today, he would most likely say the same sort of thing even more emphatically.
Near the end of last month, a group of Christians issued a statement titled “Christians Against Christian Nationalism” and asked those who agreed with their statement to sign it. I did, and I encourage you Christians to access that here and to consider doing the same.
The Position of the “Christian Left”
In contrast to the Christian Right, which is the political/social stance of most conservative evangelical Christians of the present or fundamentalists of the past, there are those who hold a much different position. For convenience, I am calling them the Christian Left.
In the seventh chapter of my book, I refer to them as “Christians for Peace and Justice.” They are the ones who advocate taking a consistent “sanctity of life” position. In that connection, I quote Jürgen Moltmann, the renowned German theologian, who wrote in The Spirit of Life (1992; German ed., 1991):
. . . anyone who really says “yes” to life says “no” to war. Anyone who really loves life says “no” to poverty. So the people who truly affirm and love life take up the struggle against the violence of war and the injustice of poverty.
But, sadly, conservative evangelicals in the U.S. have often been supporters of war and the strengthening of military armaments at tremendous cost—and the latter being done by cutting back on funds that might be used for helping those caught in the web of poverty.
Above all else, followers of Jesus are expected to seek God’s Kingdom, a realm characterized by righteousness (=justice) and shalom (see Matt. 6:33). That expectation, though, clashes with the longing of many conservative evangelical Christians to “make America great again,” a stance that could even, God forbid, lead to another major war.


  1. The first comment received this morning was from local Thinking Friend Temp Sparkman, who wrote,

    "Good morning. I appreciate the spirit and intelligence of this blog. I just question your insistence on still labeling it as fundamentalism. What you are fed up with is the Christian Right, and to your criticism of their warring spirit I’d hope most Christians would say 'Amen!'”.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Temp.

      I appreciate you raising the question about "still labeling it as fundamentalism," but I would remind you that the book I am updating was published in 2007 and is partly historical; fundamentalism was the primary term used throughout the 20th century. In this blog article, though, I refer to "fundamentalists" as "conservative evangelicals" seven times and as the Christian Right three times.

  2. Just after 9 a.m., local Thinking Friend Bruce Morgan commented,

    "Is it not ironic that these same conservative evangelicals are almost all pro-life on abortion?"

    1. Yes, and that is the reason many moderate Christians emphasize a "consistent pro-life" position.

  3. A few minutes later I received this email from Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson in Kentucky:

    E Glenn Hinson
    9:16 AM (5 hours ago)
    to me

    "Thoughtful, Leroy. I can’t identify with conservative evangelicalism for this as for many other political leanings. Represented by the Falwells, it has become chiefly a political ideology supportive of white nationalism."

    1. Yes, that is one of the saddest things about Christian fundamentalism: it morphed into "a political ideology supportive of white nationalism," as you say, Dr. Hinson.

  4. Then this afternoon I received these comments from Thinking Friend John Tim Carr in Arkansas:

    "In my every morning Bible study this morning, I am reading through the book of Psalms and put a question mark on the last verse of chapter 137; where it says, 'bashing their babies heads against the rocks.' I read this just before I looked at your Blog and am wondering when GOD took such vengeance against His & Israel's enemies, why are you so against us protecting us from our enemies?

    "I would agree with you IF we lived in a Righteous world and I could be wrong in my opinion, but IF we didn't defend ourselves; we would probably be destroyed.

    "Like your comments and hopefully how we could react like your well written message."

    1. Thanks for reading and responding, John Tim.

      Well should you put a question mark by the last verse of Psalm 137!

      In Chapter Seven of my book I have a sub-section titled "Warfare in the Old Testament" in connection with fundamentalism's support of war Here is what I wrote there:

      "Without doubt, their beliefs about the Old Testament is one of the main reasons why many conservative/fundamentalist Christians support war. Any cursory reading of the Old Testament clearly shows a conspicuous link between Yahweh-God and various and sundry warlike activities.

      " . . . D. James Kennedy saw divine sanction of the first recorded war, namely, Abraham’s attack of the neighboring kings as recorded in the fourteenth chapter of Genesis. Then the book of Exodus tells about the divine deliverance of the Children of Israel from Egyptian slavery. The fifteenth chapter of Exodus tells how Moses and the children of Israel sang the following song to the Lord: [see vv. 1~6]

      "The bloodiest books in the Old Testament are Joshua and Judges, which contain the record of the conquest of the 'promised land' by the Children of Israel. Yahweh-God is said to have not only commanded the military destruction of the native peoples of Palestine, but the covenant community is even punished when they fail to carry out God’s commands to totally destroy their enemies.

      "There have been several times that I have read the Bible through within a year. One of those years was 1975, and for some reason I read Joshua 6~10 on January 2 of that year. After reading those chapters, I wrote the following in my journal: “I have great trouble appreciating these war stories of Joshua and all the killing and bloodshed. I can’t imagine Jesus marching with Joshua.” And then on January 23, 1975, I wrote: 'Upon finishing the reading of Judges I feel it would be best if the Japanese students I teach did not read this part of the Bible. I have never felt so negative toward the OT as I do now.' My feelings toward much of the Old Testament have changed little in the more than forty years since then.

      "In 1975 my negative attitude about the Old Testament’s support of war were compounded by the way many conservative Christians used those passages to support the war in Vietnam. That unfortunate war, which finally ended later that year, actually seemed to increase the resolve of conservative Christians to give greater support to America’s fight against the evil empires of the world—the Soviet Union in the 1980s and Afghanistan and Iraq in the early years of this century."

      I firmly believe that we Christians need to base our view of war and the use of violence on the teachings of Jesus rather than upon the Old Testament.

  5. Here is the bulk of a longer email message received this afternoon from local Thinking Friend Bob Leeper:

    "I feel like you give us the privilege each week of sitting in on night-school. Much appreciated, as I miss attending classes where significant thoughts and concepts are reviewed and discussed. . . .

    "As a human being who has reverence and appreciation for life (all life), war is such a WASTE. I especially liked (many years ago) a TV ad obviously opposing war where two big old white men in an office fell into a dispute, both of them in suits befitting diplomats and government officials; three piece suits. They disagreed so completely, they got up and did a fist-fight. If there is to be conflict resolution that cannot be settled with good frank round-table discussions, I would prefer the dissenters to personally handle their anger and conflict man to man, so to speak.

    "I saw my dad come home from WW II and he was injured; never shot, but injured to the point of never realizing the stress of war, even for those who escaped with their limbs and life.

    "Thanks for keeping up the good work of pacifism and anti-war. . . ."

  6. I am not a pacifist, but I am opposed to stupid and imperialistic wars, which are mostly just the same thing looked at from different perspectives. I think Augustine was reaching in the right direction with "just war," but his definition proved to be so elastic that many a legion has marched right through it. Imperial Exceptionalism has a long and miserable history throughout the empires of history, including the latest and "greatest" empire of all, the American Empire. America's wars are almost all in furtherance of imperial ambitions, and most of the rest are trying to clean up messes created by prior mistakes. If we waged peace half so diligently as we wage war, the world would be a far better place, as would America.

    Not all wars are shooting wars. We had a cold war with the USSR. We are having a trade war with China. Our President and his party are having a war with reality, most recently hinting he is the King of Israel, the Second Coming of God, and the Chosen One. That's all in the last week. Meanwhile, American Jews who do not vote for him are traitors both to Israel and Trump. We have an immigration crisis on our border because Trump abruptly stopped foreign aid to Central America, causing our banana republics into a death spiral that caused a refugee spike. Many kinds of wars violently suppress and impoverish people around the world. America is at the center of many of them, always looking for a profit for America First. Just remember, as the Orange Antichrist and his GOP followers wage political war on America's voting rights and democracy, eventually imperialism comes home to devour the empire. That is, assuming global warming does not get us first!

    One of the things that came with "orthodox Christianity" was a flat, fundamentalist reading of scripture. Early Roman Christian leaders such as Augustine and Athanasius found themselves in Christian communities mostly consisting of heretics. Soon, enough Roman power was brought to bear that Imperial Roman Christianity became the dominant church throughout the empire. Fundamentalism and Imperialism have been united from the beginning. We need to learn lessons from the suppressed heretics to find different ways to be Christian. Imperial Christianity is co-opted Christianity. I believe Jesus is calling us to do better.

    1. Many thanks for your meaty comments about yesterday's blog posting, Craig. Let me respond with two brief comments:

      1) What you say about "Imperial Christianity" is of great significance, I think. That is the reason I am happy to be affiliated now with an Anabaptist church, for the Anabaptists have never been a part of or affiliated with Imperial Christianity--although there may be a few individuals in Anabaptists churches that might be somewhat aligned that way.

      2) What you wrote about all wars not being shooting wars is certainly true. That is one reason why many of us opposed to the Christian Right emphasize peace and justice. While the emphasis on peace may be primarily opposition to the shooting wars, the emphasis on justice is primarily about other types of wars.

  7. I am late in posting these comments from Thinking Friend Greg Hadley, a
    USAmerican expat who has lived in Niigata, Japan, for many years:

    "So much of your message below resonates with what I am thinking and with how I see issues today. Thank you for eloquently sharing these vitally important ideas. Also, I signed the Christians against Christian Nationalism petition. Thank you for letting me know about this."

    1. Thanks for your comments, Greg. I hope there are others who also signed the Christians against Christian Nationalism petition, but you are the only one to this point who has mentioned doing so. Thanks for being proactive!

  8. About this time yesterday I received the following comments from Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for sharing chapter seven of your book. It provides an excellent explanation of how militarism has infected fundamentalist Christianity.

    Although not strictly a pacifist, I believe every effort should always be made to avoid war, which is humankind's greatest, and deadliest, folly. Wars often flow from injustice, or the perception of injustice, so to avoid warfare, injustice needs to be addressed and this can only happen when the full dignity of every human being is affirmed.

    As for fundamentalist, or conservative evangelical, Christians, who embrace militarism, they seem to have forgotten, or choose to ignore, Matthew 5:9, 'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.' (Modern translations sometimes use 'children' instead of the literal 'sons.')"

    1. Thanks, as always, for your pertinent comments, Eric.

      And many thanks for reading not just the blog article but, I assume, the entire chapter, which was attached in the email I sent you Thinking Friends.