Evangelicals And The Art of War

The rhetoric of war can turn immigrants into criminals.
04/12/2017 10:20 am ET Updated Apr 12, 2017
Jean LeClerc; Doge Enrico Dandolo Recruiting for the Crusade, 1621, Public Domain

Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho. Joshua fought the battle of Jericho and the wall came a tumblin’ down. I used to sing that song in Sunday School every week. Funny thing is that no verse ever mentions the slaughter of children and mothers. Or of the people’s screams when they were invaded. We always bypassed those atrocities to focus on how Rahab was rescued because she had helped Joshua’s spies, how miraculous it was the city walls fell down when the Israelites shouted. Never mind that they left no soul alive.

Songs for adults were no less militaristic, with one of the best known hymns being Onward, Christian Soldiers, which describes one’s faith in war terms such as “battle,” “foe,” “army” and the “thrones [that will] perish.” That was in the seventies, but even in the emerging church I attended in Denver, movie clips we were shown often revolved around The Matrix, Braveheart, Gladiator—stories of battle and victory. Understand this: most evangelicals were raised on the rhetoric of war. Before I was ten I knew how to put on the armor of God, from the breastplate of righteousness to the helmet of salvation. It didn’t matter that I was girl—I still got a sword and a shield. We needed this armor because of Satan’s constant attack but also because Christians were persecuted at every turn.

Now, this ideology is both true and false. King James I of England, (also known as James VI of Scotland, the monarch who gave us the King James Bible) told the Puritans that he would “harry them out of the land.” They came to America for religious freedom, but they also helped pave the way for our country to become a theocracy, with God stamped on our money and in our national pledge of allegiance. They defined social relationships and reproductive legislation based on biblical passage. The persecution complex helped give birth to war ideology, where Christians, who are always “under attack” must be on the offense—which, as we know, is the best defense.

We have seen this rhetoric most recently in action when, on Palm Easter Sunday, two Coptic Christian churches in Egypt were bombed, killing at least forty-nine people according to CNN. Immediately, prayers and outrage went out over social media. Franklin Graham did not single out ISIS as the party who took responsibility for the action, instead deciding to include all Muslims in his first post decrying the tragedy. Then, on Tuesday, April 11th, he posted this message to his Facebook Page: “This is a dangerous time for Christians around the world. We see the reports every few days on the news—Palm Sunday is a horrific example. Reports show that some 215 million Christians experience ‘high, very high, or extreme persecution.’ We can’t sit idly by while these atrocities continue. That’s why I am hosting the first-ever World Summit in Defense of #PersecutedChristians, sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.”

I do not want to downplay the horrible tragedy Coptic Christians suffered at the hands of ISIS. What I would like to highlight is that Christians are not the only ones persecuted in Egypt. According to Amnesty International’s annual report for 2016-2017, Shi’a Muslims and Baha’i also experience “discriminatory restrictions in law and practice and inadequate protection from violence.” Meanwhile, “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people face arrest, detention and trial on ‘debauchery’ charges under Law 10 of 1961, on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.” Don’t get me started on women’s rights. We need to fight for the safety of religious minorities, of course, but shouldn’t we be fighting for all of them? Countries that imprison people because of religious beliefs are often horrible to other marginalized groups—whether they are based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or political activism.

Here is where Christians can quickly morph from martyr to monster, for in thinking that they are constantly under siege, they begin to label many others as the “enemy.” The gay couple who wants to marry is undermining the very definition of marriage; the woman who wants an abortion is now complicit in the mass murder of unborn souls. Such rhetoric allows evangelicals to support the ban of Syrian refugees on the basis that they might let in a terrorist while they mourn the death of children in the recent gas attack.

The rhetoric of war can turn immigrants into criminals. Gone are the widows and the fatherless whom God commands Christians to protect as they are now only “illegal” humans infiltrating our country. The list of enemies grows exponentially depending on what part of society the church decides to focus on—be it reading material in school, creationism, sex education. The battlefield encompasses so much of daily life that legislation, bombs, and guns are all Christians have left before they must run to the caves and hide from the antichrist. As long as the church holds on to this siege mentality—that one must attack before one is destroyed—it will never be seen as the fiercely loving embodiment of Christ but instead continue to fight an enemy of its own creation.

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