Wednesday 11 August 2010

Why many global citizens could be justified in their (mis?)perception that US military efforts are part of a "Christian Crusade"

The following examples, most of which come from a well-researched story on "Christian Crusaders" in Harper's Magazine, May 2009 issue, may help explain why I personally...

1) find this to be theologically problematic: whenever offensive (in every sense of that term) military endeavours get construed as enforcing "God's will"


2) feel that chaplains in the military can quite easily have their theological integrity and respect for other faiths severely compromised.

Why?  Take a gander at these recent and current realities:

--a bible verse etched into military firearms

--the video footage showing US soldiers in Afghanistan discussing how to distribute Bibles translated into Pashto and Dari

--An Easter Sunday raid on Iraqi insurgents in 2004. Special Forces Officers, inspired by a showing of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, wrote the words "Jesus Killed Mohammed" in Arabic on their Bradley Fighting Vehicle and shouted the saying in both English and Arabic to entice Muslim soldiers into the open before embarking on an attack to put down the insurgency.

--A meeting of an underground all-male, cadet-led prayer group at the U.S. Air Force Academy where members discuss, among other things, the deceptions necessary for missionary work in China. The author attended the group's meeting under the promise that he would not publish the group's name out of fear that: "Those who do believe in separation of church and state might interfere with its goal of turning the world's most elite war college into its most holy one, a seminary with courses in carpet bombing."

-- Interviews with Lieutenant Colonel Bob Young in which he defends and shows no remorse for stating that it would be better for a black to be a slave in America and know Christ, than to be free and not know Christ.

--- A speech given by Army Lieutenant Colonel Greg Metzgar before the Officers Christian Fellowship - a group with 15,000 active members at 80 percent of military bases - in which he stressed: "Christian soldiers must always consider themselves behind enemy lines, even within the ranks, because every unsaved member of the military is a potential agent of `spiritual terrorism.'"

---Excerpts from a book published in 2005 by Lieutenant Colonel William McCoy, Under Orders: A Spiritual Handbook for Military Personnel, which describes an "anti-Christian bias" in this country he seeks to counter by making the case for the "necessity of Christianity for a properly functioning military." McCoy's book was endorsed by General David Petraeus, who said: "Under Orders should be in every rucksack for those moments when soldiers need spiritual energy." General Petraeus, while claiming his statement was not meant for the public, has never recanted his statement.

AND RIGHT NOW WE HAVE THIS:  Jihadist Web site Uses Mass Baptism of Marines As Proof of 'Christian Crusade' in Afghanistan ! (click on that hyperlink)

The article states something many may be unaware of, and then raises a very important question:  "...over the last several years, Christian 'fitness' programs have sprouted up through the major armed forces branches, and high level officers in the Army Reserves have even asserted that “the application of the principles of [Christian] Scripture” can help returning vets to overcome post-traumatic stress disorder....So, if Christian beliefs are intrinsic and necessary to the U.S. military’s fighting capability, how would American military campaigns differ from crusades?"

Does anyone here have a good response to that question?  (Some tried, in the rather interesting reader response section after that article.)

My point is: All this makes it so much more challenging in our communication with people of other faiths for those (like me) who believe that to follow Jesus means resisting involvement in war and violence in all its forms, and to seek alternative non-violent ways to resist evil and love one's enemy.  (By the way, you won't find accounts of any Christians in the first 300 years in the history of the faith believing otherwise.)

When people experience the sort of behaviour described above it makes it all too easy to equate Christianity and the message of Jesus with the toxic distorted message of exceptionalism and nationalism so popular in America right now, perpetuated by those who have their God mixed up with their country, or their warmongering - disguised as "peacekeeping" - mixed up with their faith.  (And obviously it doesn't even matter anymore which political party one is from!)   How in heaven does a military chaplain keep this stuff straight?

I hope this helps make it clear why I am and always will be a pacifist Christian. (Note: I did not say "passivist.") While I have some friends who are chaplains in various branches of the military - and a couple of them are pretty good friends at that - I could never be one.   While I know that Jesus hung out with people from all strata of society and levels of responsibility, and I also know his disciples (particularly Peter) had a strong influence on at least one soldier - a Roman centurian - I want to be entirely honest.  I personally am having a very hard time envisioning Jesus focusing his ministry as a chaplain in the military - at least as we know it to be now in America and for the purposes that servicemen and women now get deployed around the world. 

I do sincerely hope this generates some thoughtful discussion and that we can pursue some authentic dialogue on these rather troubling issues (below.)



  1. By all means, lets send atheists into battle, then there will be NO conscience at all in regards to what they do.

  2. Dear Anonymous:

    Your logic is fallacious. You equate atheism with immorality and rampant warmongering? Do you have any atheist friends? Those I know personally (and there are several) also live by a strong moral code. And those I have conversed with on this subject are totally opposed to this war in Afghanistan on moral grounds.