Tuesday, August 07, 2007
War and peace: Did evangelicals' support for Iraq invasion damage credibility?
...“I think [conservative evangelicals] abdicated or relinquished their prophetic role from the beginning” of President Bush’s administration, said Adam Taylor, senior political director for Sojourners/Call to Renewal, a progressive evangelical group that opposed the war from the start.
But Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public-policy agency, said he thinks he and other conservative evangelicals who supported the war were fulfilling their roles properly.
“I think that most of the evangelicals I think of -- the majority that supported liberating Iraq and the minority who didn’t support liberating Iraq by military force -- both spoke truth as they saw it to power,” he said. “And if they do that, they’re certainly speaking prophetically.”
Land led a group of five prominent evangelical leaders who, in the run-up to the war in the fall of 2002, signed an open letter declaring that Bush’s designs on Iraq satisfied the criteria of Christian “just-war” theory.
They wrote the letter to counter the chorus of Christian leaders -- including mainline Protestants, Catholics and fellow evangelicals -- who already had spoken forcefully against the war.
Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s then-dictator, “has attacked his neighbors, used weapons of mass destruction against his own people, and harbored terrorists from the al-Qaeda terrorist network that attacked our nation so viciously and violently on September 11, 2001,” the letter said.
Its signers included Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson, a Baptist. In a Dec. 2002 article for Christianity Today magazine, Colson argued that the classical definition of Christian just-war theory should be “stretched” to accommodate a new age in which terrorism and warfare are intertwined.
He concluded that “out of love of neighbor then, Christians can and should support a preemptive strike” on Iraq to prevent Iraqi-based or -funded attacks on the United States or its allies.
Charles Stanley, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta and a former Southern Baptist Convention president, even argued from the pulpit that war may be sometimes divinely justified.
“Throughout Scripture, there is evidence that God favors war for divine reasons and sometimes uses it to accomplish his will. He has also given governments and their citizens very specific responsibilities in regards to this matter,” Stanley said in a sermon broadcast internationally on his television program.
Polls at the time and later on showed that white evangelical Christians were among the war’s strongest supporters. However, along with the rest of the public, evangelical support for involvement in Iraq has slipped considerably in polls taken over the last year.
Nonetheless, Land said he continues to believe the decision to attack was right at the time, even if the war itself has been mishandled.
“I still think that the liberation of Iraq was a noble cause, and it also was in the self-interest of our country and the other countries in the region,” he said in a recent telephone interview. “And it certainly caused the fall of one of the more dastardly personages of the 20th century in Saddam Hussein.”
But, with a sizable number of Americans now saying the war was a mistake for America, Sojourners’ Taylor said the fact that some of the evangelical community’s most prominent leaders seemed to endorse Bush’s agenda wholeheartedly makes the war a mistake for evangelicalism itself.
“In terms of the credibility of the evangelical voice and community, certainly it’s had an impact,” he said.
Evangelicalism has “become something of an appendage of the Republican Party” to many non-evangelical Americans, Taylor said....