Culture At Large

Theology and the Iraq War


Charles Marsh, an evangelical Christian and religion professor, questions what he sees as the shaky theological basis for evangelicals' overwhelming support for the Iraq War in this New York Times op-ed.

In researching this topic, Marsh reviewed war sermons delivered by influential evangelical ministers in the months leading up to the 2003 start of the war. He concludes that these preachers embraced the war plans even though such support required them to reinterpret traditional Christian doctrine:

The war sermons rallied the evangelical congregations behind the invasion of Iraq. An astonishing 87 percent of all white evangelical Christians in the United States supported the president's decision in April 2003. Recent polls indicate that 68 percent of white evangelicals continue to support the war. But what surprised me, looking at these sermons nearly three years later, was how little attention they paid to actual Christian moral doctrine. Some tried to square the American invasion with Christian "just war" theory, but such efforts could never quite reckon with the criterion that force must only be used as a last resort. As a result, many ministers dismissed the theory as no longer relevant.

Some preachers tried to link Saddam Hussein with wicked King Nebuchadnezzar of Biblical fame, but these arguments depended on esoteric interpretations of the Old Testament book of II Kings and could not easily be reduced to the kinds of catchy phrases that are projected onto video screens in vast evangelical churches. The single common theme among the war sermons appeared to be this: our president is a real brother in Christ, and because he has discerned that God's will is for our nation to be at war against Iraq, we shall gloriously comply.

Marsh laments that such positions are world away from the sentiments of the evangelical Lausanne Covenant of 1974, which expressed, "the church is the community of God's people rather than an institution, and must not be identified with any particular culture, social or political system, or human ideology." He condemns this evangelical abandonment of the global Church in exchange for political access and power and asks what it will take for evangelicals to recognize "our mistaken loyalty."

I'm sure this editorial will put many Christians on the defensive, but criticisms from a fellow evangelical deserve a hearing. Marsh raises some important questions: Have evangelical politics taken a more prominent role than traditional Christian doctrine? Do we still believe in a global Church or has patriotism changed our loyalties? And, if Marsh is correct, what is gained or lost by these shifts?

(via From the Salmon)

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