The Triumph of Imperial Christianity
by Laurence M. Vance
by Laurence M. Vance
"If Christ were here now there is one thing he would not be — a Christian." ~ Mark Twain
John McCain may have lost the election, but some of his core beliefs are alive and well among the majority of conservative Christians. True, some of these Christians had their doubts about the genuineness of McCain's pro-life position, his devotion to real conservative values, his faithfulness to the Constitution, and his commitment to reducing wasteful government spending, but there was one principle that they were sure of: McCain is a war hero who served his country in the military, supported the war in Iraq, and would make an ideal choice for a commander in chief to lead the U.S. military in the perpetual war against Islamofascism.
It is bad enough that McCain is an unrepentant war criminal, but it is even worse that he is an incorrigible militarist, imperialist, interventionist, and all-around warmonger who thinks that there is no job in the world too small for the U.S. military. This is the man who jokes about killing Persians with bombs and cigarettes. This is the man who told a reporter that U.S. troops "could be in Iraq for Ďa thousand years' or Ďa million years,' as far as he was concerned." This is the man who wants to start another cold war with Russia. Yet, instead of rejecting McCain outright, many conservative Christians supported him until the bitter end.
But it is not just Christian support for McCain that signals the triumph of imperial Christianity. Every Republican presidential candidate, with the exception of Ron Paul, supported Bush's wars and the aggressive, reckless, meddling, militaristic, and imperialistic evil that is U.S. foreign policy. Conservative Christians would have gotten behind any Republican who received the nomination now matter how much he supported war and militarism.
The election was certainly a repudiation of George Bush and the Republican Party. However, it was generally not conservative Christians who did the repudiating. McCain, after all, still received 46 percent of the vote. Many of the 58 million people who voted for McCain had to be conservative Christians. They certainly didn't vote for Obama. A small percentage probably voted for Baldwin. A smaller percentage probably voted for Barr. An even smaller percentage probably voted for no one since voting is generally considered a "sacred duty" and it was such a "historic" election.
But instead of rejecting war, empire, militarism, imperialism, an aggressive foreign policy, and the warfare state with its suppression of civil liberties and destruction of the economy, many Christians openly embraced these things in the person of John McCain. Now, not every Christian who voted for McCain openly embraces these things, and especially those who fought back a gag reflex and cast their vote for McCain because they thought, sincerely but sincerely wrong, that he was the lesser of two evils. The problem with this latter group, however, is that the war was not even an issue, even among those who voted for McCain for the sole reason that he was more pro-life than Obama.
The terrible truth is that the vast majority of conservative Christians who voted in the recent election were not the least bit concerned about just war theory, U.S. foreign policy, the morality of the war in Iraq, the conduct of American soldiers in Iraq, the wedding parties in Afghanistan destroyed by the U.S. Air Force, the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, the dead, maimed, homeless, and orphaned Iraqi children, the thousands of American troops that died for a lie, the number of devastated American military families, a trillion-dollar-a-year defense budget, the proper role of the U.S. military, domestic spying programs in the name of fighting terrorism, the loss of civil liberties in the name of national security, or the open-ended perpetual war on terror.
The election is historic all right. Even though McCain lost, the election still marks the triumph of imperial Christianity over biblical Christianity.
Imperial Christians have a warped view of what it means to be pro-life. I have had Christians tell me that they despise everything about McCain, including his warmongering, but that they voted for him anyway because he was more pro-life than Obama. But don't adults and foreigners have the same right to life as unborn American babies? There should be no difference between being for abortion and for war. Both result in the death of innocents. Both are unnecessary. Both cause psychological harm to the one who signs a consent form or fires a weapon. Why is it that an American doctor in a white coat is considered a murderer if he kills an unborn baby, but an American soldier in a uniform is considered a hero if he kills an adult?
Imperial Christians have a warped view of the military. Although many of these Christians may criticize the government, they have nothing but praise for the military. They equate U.S. soldiers killing for the state in some foreign war that has nothing to do with defending the United States as defending our freedoms. They publicly honor veterans who bombed, maimed, and killed Vietnamese, Cambodians, Afghans, and Iraqis that were no threat to them, their families, or Americans (until the United States invaded their country), as war heroes, not only on every national holiday, but on special "military appreciation" days as well. Yet, aside from the ministry, they think there is no higher calling for a Christian young person than military service — even though the military spends more time securing the borders, guarding the shores, patrolling the coasts, and protecting the skies of other countries than it does in defense of the United States. Christian soldiers are expected to blindly follow their leaders when it comes to the latest country to bomb or invade. To question the morality of their orders is to question God.
Imperial Christians have a warped view of patriotism. McCain appealed to the militaristic, nationalistic impulses of the Republican base. This, to the everlasting shame of Christians, is the home of the Religious Right. To imperial Christians, patriotism is supporting militarism, imperialism, xenophobism, and especially, nationalism. Patriotism is love of country; nationalism is love of state. Patriotism results in love for the people of one's country; nationalism results in unconditional allegiance to the government of one's country. The patriot knows his country isn't always right and seeks to change its policies; the nationalist thinks his country is always right and that those who seek a change in policy are traitors. Government tools of propaganda used to get young men to fight have always been the same: nationalism and religion. And what a deadly combination they are.
Imperial Christians have a warped view of Christianity. Aggression, violence, and bloodshed are contrary to the very nature of Christianity. And so is defending, making excuses for, condoning, encouraging, and supporting evil — even if it is committed by one's government. Although God commanded the nation of Israel in the Old Testament to fight against heathen nations (Judges 6:16), the president of the United States is not God, America is not the nation of Israel, the U.S. military is not the Lord's army, the Christian's sword is the word of God, and the only warfare the New Testament encourages the Christian to wage is against the world, the flesh, and the devil. The Gospel of Luke alone records an exchange between our Lord and his disciples that is relevant to the conduct of some conservative Christians today:
And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem,
And sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him.
And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem.
And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?
But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.
For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them. And they went to another village. (Luke 9:51—56)
Christians who call for U.S. air strikes on some uncooperative Iraqi or Afghan village know not what spirit they are of. It is certainly not the Holy Spirit. Christian pulpits all across this land are dripping with blood, and it is not the blood of Christ. We hear more from pulpits today justifying American military intervention in the Middle East than we do about the need for American missionaries to go there. Our churches have supplied more soldiers to the Middle East than missionaries. Can you imagine the Roman army in the days of the early church recruiting from Christian churches? It is sad that the unregenerate soldier kills on behalf of the state; it is tragic when one who professes the name of Christ does likewise.
I am not optimistic about reversing the triumph of imperial Christianity. Not when blind acceptance of government propaganda, willful ignorance of U.S. foreign policy, and childish devotion to the military is the norm among conservative Christians instead of the exception.
For further reading on the subject of imperial Christianity, see G. J. Heering, The Fall of Christianity: A Study of Christianity, the State, and War (Fellowship Publications, 1943); Anne C. Loveland, American Evangelicals and the U.S. Military 1942—1993 (Louisiana State University Press, 1996); and Andrew J. Bacevich, The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War (Oxford, 2005).
November 17, 2008
Laurence M. Vance [send him mail] writes from Pensacola, FL. His latest book is a new and greatly expanded edition of Christianity and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State. Visit his website.
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