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.