"Among Protestants, the entire theological tradition of using martial metaphors to describe God's glory has fallen into massive disrepute," writes J. Bottum in the current issue of The Weekly Standard. "Righteousness has come to seem the equivalent of self-righteousness, and hardly anyone believes in genuinely righteous anger any more. If the United States goes wobbly in its war on terrorism—if the campaign peters out in self-doubt and confusion after a few months of bombings—Christian feeling in America will have had something to do with it." Bottum acknowledges that there are real pacifists in the pews—folks with real conviction. But most of the Christians wringing their hands over fighting back against terrorism aren't real pacifists like the Quakers and Mennonites of old, Bottum says. Instead, American Christians are accepting a "soft pacifism … which lacks both the stern Christian pacifist's willingness to accept martyrdom and the hard Christian realist's willingness to use coercive force."
This pacifism without conviction, Bottum concludes,
is dangerous to a nation facing enemies without any softness or tradition of pacifism. It is as well a threat to American Christians, who can fulfill their religious duty either by accepting the suffering that H. Richard Niebuhr called "war as crucifixion" or by taking up the sword in righteous anger to guard the sheep against the wolves—but not by dithering between the two.
Repent, for the day of judgment is nigh
Bottum's article also has the requisite slam against Jerry Falwell's retracted comments, but he tags last week's World magazine editorial by Joel Belz as just as "over the edge" and "contemptible." In that editorial (noted in a Weblog last Friday), Belz called the attacks the wages of America's sins, especially for our idolatrous "gods of nominalism, materialism, secularism, and pluralism. … It's hard to think of more apt symbols of all those 'isms' than the twin towers of the World Trade Center."
"If the reports are accurate, [Americans] didn't hear many sermons that echoed Falwell, Robertson, and Belz" this last Sunday, Bottum writes. The Charlotte Observeragrees—to a point. Whether the attack was God's judgment, is "not an issue being debated in a great many mainstream prayer gatherings and houses of worship across America," writes religion editor Ken Garfield. "But in conservative churches … the question of whether God used the terrorist attacks to punish America—or at least to get its attention—is being asked by some believers." Garfield notes that Ron Allen, pastor of Charlotte's Bible Baptist Church, says he doesn't know if the attack was God's punishment, but "it certainly could be." Glenn Owens, a member of the church, is more direct. "I think God is a loving God," he tells the Observer. "Sometimes as a loving parent, I may have to chasten my children." But the article never really gets into why someone might believe such a idea that so many Americans find distasteful and offensive.
Judgment day is really nigh
While some Christians argue over whether September 11 was a day of judgment, others are wondering how the events of that day play into the Day of Judgment. "I believe World War III actually began Sept. 11, 2001," John Hagee tells the Los Angeles Times. And people are listening: "At Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, people were turned away Sunday as 15,000 packed the sanctuary, the adjoining chapel and 4,000-seat gym to hear Hagee's message that the beginning of the end is coming." But apart from Hagee and a few comments by Hal Lindsey, there's not much in the story to justify the headline, "Talk of 'End Days' Soars." Instead, the article, like several before it, seems like the reporter was sent out explicitly to find folks claiming the end of the world has come—even though almost no Christians are saying that. The Southern Baptist Convention's R. Albert Mohler tells the paper, "We want to avoid putting everything into a neatly wrapped package and timeline."
Still the Times article is better than that of London's The Independent, which is full of baloney. The end-times flick Megiddo, the paper reports, "the briskest business of any U.S. film released at the weekend." Well, that's not exactly true, and doesn't acknowledge that the only major studio release this week was Mariah Carey's Glitter—which had a larger total box office (though drew in less per screen than Megiddo). And then there's this great gem of a paragraph, quoting Church on the Way senior pastor Scott Bauer:
"The Bible teaches us that every generation may be the last one. I don't know if people are afraid of that as such, but there is a sobriety that this is a different crisis from others we have faced." Pastor Bauer was careful in his phraseology, partly because his particular church believes that events can be altered by the power of prayer (and his 10,000-strong congregation has been praying a lot). Partly, too, there is a desire not to alarm people further when they are alarmed enough by facts.
Between articles like this and watching a BBC reporter question the heroism of New York City rescue workers because they didn't find anyone alive after September 12, Weblog is glad he doesn't have to depend on the British news media.
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