From the NYT Op-Ed page:
Wayward Xtian Soldiers
IN the past several years,American evs, and I am one of them, have amassed greaterpolitical power than at any time in our history. But at what cost toour witness and the integrity of our message?
Recently, I took afew days to reread the war sermons delivered by influential ev mins during the lead up to the Iraq war. That period, from thefall of 2002 through the spring of 2003, is not one I will rememberfondly. Many of the most respected voices in American ev circles blessed the president's war plans, even when doing so requiredthem to recast Xtian doctrine.
Charles Stanley, pastor ofthe First B Ch of Atlanta, whose weekly sermons are seen bymillions of television viewers, led the charge with particular fervor."We should offer to serve the war effort in any way possible," said Mr.Stanley, a former president of the Southern B Convention. "G battles with people who oppose him, who fight against him and hisfollowers." In an article carried by the convention's B Pressnews service, a mis wrote that "American foreign policy andmilitary might have opened an opportunity for the Good News in the land ofAbraham, Isaac and Jacob."
As if working from a slate ofev talking points, both Franklin Graham, the ev andson of Billy Graham, and Marvin Olasky, the editor of the conservativeWorld magazine and a former advisor to President Bush on f-basedpolicy, echoed these sentiments, claiming that the American invasion ofIraq would create exciting new prospects for prstlyzing Muslms. TimLaHaye, the co-author of the hugely popular "Left Behind" series, spokeof Iraq as "a focal point of end-time events," whose special role inthe earth's final days will become clear after invasion, conquest andreconstruction. For his part, Jerry Falwell boasted that "G ispro-war" in the title of an essay he wrote in 2004.
The warsermons rallied the ev congregations behind the invasion ofIraq. An astonishing 87 percent of all white ev Xtians inthe United States supported the president's decision in April 2003.Recent polls indicate that 68 percent of white evs continue tosupport the war. But what surprised me, looking at these sermons nearlythree years later, was how little attention they paid to actualXtian moral doctrine. Some tried to square the American invasionwith Xtian "just war" theory, but such efforts could never quitereckon with the criterion that force must only be used as a lastresort. As a result, mins dismissed the theory as no longerrelevant.
Some preachers tried to link Saddam Hussein with wickedKing Nebuchadnezzar of Book fame, but these arguments depended onesoteric interpretations of the Old Testament book of II Kings andcould not easily be reduced to the kinds of catchy phrases that areprojected onto video screens in vast ev chs. The singlecommon theme among the war sermons appeared to be this: our presidentis a real brother in Xt, and because he has discerned that G'swill is for our nation to be at war against Iraq, we shall gloriouslycomply.
Such sentiments are a far cry from those expressed in theLausanne Covenant of 1974. More than 2,300 ev leaders from 150countries signed that statement, the most significant milestone in themovement's history. Convened by Billy Graham and led by John Stott, therevered Anglican ev pr and writer, the signatoriesaffirmed the global character of the ch of JC and thebelief that "the ch is the community of G's people rather than aninstitution, and must not be identified with any particular culture,social or political system, or human ideology."
On this page,David Brooks correctly noted that if evs elected a pope, itwould most likely be Mr. Stott, who is the author of more than 40 bookson ev th and Xtian devotion. Unlike the Pope JohnPaul II, who said that invading Iraq would violate Catholic moralteaching and threaten "the fate of humanity," or even Pope BenedictXVI, who has said there were "not sufficient reasons to unleash a waragainst Iraq," Mr. Stott did not speak publicly on the war. But in arecent interview, he shared with me his abiding concerns.
"Privately,in the days preceding the invasion, I had hoped that no action would betaken without United Nations authorization," he told me. "I believedthen and now that the American and British governments erred inproceeding without United Nations approval." Reverend Stott referred meto "War and Rumors of War, " a chapter from his 1999 book, "New IssuesFacing Xtians Today," as the best account of his position. In thatessay he wrote that the Xtian community's primary mission must be"to hunger for righteousness, to pursue peace, to forbear revenge, tolove enemies, in other words, to be marked by the cross."
Whatwill it take for evs in the United States to recognize ourmistaken loyalty? We have increasingly isolated ourselves from theshared faith of the global Ch, and there is no denying that ourFaustian bargain for access and power has undermined the credibility ofour moral and ev witness in the world. The Hebrew prophetsmight call us to repentance, but repentance is a tough demand for apeople utterly convinced of their righteousness.