Evangelical scholar looks at old war sermons
Charles Marsh, professor of religion at the University of Virginia and author of The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice, from the Civil Rights Movement to Today and God's Long Summer, has an op-ed in today's New York Times, in which he says American evangelicals "have amassed greater political power than at any time in our history. But at what cost to our witness and the integrity of our message?"

To illustrate how evangelicals sold out to the man, he "reread the war sermons delivered by influential evangelical ministers during the lead up to the Iraq war."

"As if working from a slate of evangelical talking points," evangelicals—he names Franklin Graham, Marvin Olasky, Charles Stanley, Tim LaHaye, and Jerry Falwell—claimed "the American invasion of Iraq would create exciting new prospects for proselytizing Muslims. … The single common theme among the war sermons appeared to be this: Our president is a real brother in Christ, and because he has discerned that God's will is for our nation to be at war against Iraq, we shall gloriously comply."

This view, Marsh says, is in marked contrast to the perspective of John Stott. The theologian and minister did not speak for or against the war, but told Marsh recently, "Privately, in the days preceding the invasion, I had hoped that no action would be taken without United Nations authorization. I believed then and now that the American and British governments erred in proceeding without United Nations approval."

Marsh longs for the evangelical unity of the 1974 Lausanne Covenant, mostly written by Stott.

"The signatories affirmed the global character of the church of Jesus Christ and the belief that 'the church is the community of God's people rather than an institution, and must not be identified with any particular culture, social or political system, or human ideology.'" Marsh wrote. Now, he says, we American evangelicals "have increasingly isolated ourselves from the shared faith of the global church, and there is no denying that our Faustian bargain for access and power has undermined the credibility of our moral and evangelistic witness in the world."

"No denying" may be a bit strong—one imagines that those named by Marsh would deny his statement. But is Lausanne's unity and message really the best touchstone here? After all, the Lausanne Covenant was a statement about general principles. It had nothing specific to say about American involvement in Vietnam (the war had ended just one year earlier) or about the U.S. president breaking trust with the American people in the Watergate scandal.

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It's also worth noting that several prominent evangelical leaders from the global church (including Peru's Samuel Escobar and Argentina's René Padilla) criticized the Lausanne Covenant for not saying enough about Christian social responsibility and the need for the church to preach liberation from political captivity. They sounded an awful lot like Marsh, in fact.

And is Stott the best evangelical to promote in contrast to "liberation (of Iraq) theologians" like Falwell and LaHaye? After all, silence in the face of what one perceives as injustice is hardly laudable. John Stott's fellow evangelical Anglican theologian/pastor Tom Wright, by contrast, spoke directly against the war in very strong terms.

Marsh is unlikely to change many minds with this piece. As he himself notes, "The Hebrew prophets might call us to repentance, but repentance is a tough demand for a people utterly convinced of their righteousness."

So are we left with a stalemate? Not necessarily. The pro-war evangelicals have a very hard task ahead of them, because their arguments for the war haven't held up. Those who argued that war was justified because it would lead to greater religious freedom in the country now need to answer whether the war was unjustified because it has brought less religious freedom to the country.

Others are in a greater bind. One Christian leader told Christianity Today in September 2002 that two requirements must be met to justify an attack on Iraq: irrefutable evidence connecting Hussein to the attacks of September 11 and proof that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction are being prepared for imminent use.

"If you fulfill these, an attack is justified," this leader told Christianity Today. "The president has an obligation to communicate why he is asking our nation to sacrifice, as well as why he is willing to sacrifice combatants and innocents on the other side."

That person was Robert McGinnis, vice president of policy for Family Research Council, one of the most conservative religious groups in Washington. Other evangelical leaders also told us that proving connections with the 9/11 attacks was imperative to attacking Iraq. Many others in Christianity Today's survey of evangelical opinion before the war had much stricter standards.

"If all we do is blast out a regime and conditions of long-term civil war are all that's left, then the operation can hardly be justified," said the Center for Public Justice's Jim Skillen—whom no one would confuse with Jim Wallis. "Are the countries around Iraq prepared to work with us to make sure a better regime gets in, and not a worse one? Does the U.S. have the support of allies to do that while rebuilding Afghanistan? There has to be an agreement and not a presumption that the U.N. will pick up the work."

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If he merely reads the paper he's writing for, it's little wonder that Marsh might think he's a lone evangelical voice speaking against the war. But he's far from it, and evangelical opposition to the war has been there from the earliest days of the debate.

The hidden story, though, is that John Stott really does represent the majority in this story. He's an evangelical who had his reservations about going to war with Iraq with so few allies, remained silent, and is speaking up now that the war isn't going well. A March 2003 survey from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life asked those who attend church at least once per month whether their clergy had talked about the war. Only one in five said that their clergy had taken a position—7 percent in favor of the war, 14 percent against.

Weblog is sympathetic to Marsh's assertion that evangelicals' "Faustian bargain for access and power has undermined the credibility of our moral and evangelistic witness in the world." But cherry picking quotes from pro-war evangelical leaders to prove that point at the cost of being factually inaccurate about actual evangelical beliefs about the war only further undermines evangelical credibility and witness.

More articles

War and terrorism:

  1. Patriarch of Antioch accuses the USA of destroying interreligious peace in Iraq | The military intervention of the USA and their allies in the life of Iraq has destroyed the interreligious peace throughout the region, Patriarch Ignatios of Antioch and All the East believes (Interfax, Russia)

  2. Praying for our colleague facing death in Iraq | I don't know Jill Carroll. In fact, I'd never seen her byline or read anything she'd written before last weekend. But she is my sister, my colleague, a fellow idealist who believes that what she writes might have the power to make the world a better place (Cathleen Falsani, Chicago Sun-Times)

Violence at Ethiopian Christian festival:

  1. Ethiopian police fire on demonstrators | A witness said the demonstrators were denouncing the head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church for being aligned with the ruling party (Associated Press)

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  1. Ethiopia festival turns violent | At least one person has been killed and 22 wounded after violence broke out at an Ethiopian Christian festival (BBC)

Assisted suicide:

  1. Suicide and states' rights | Americans from different regions often have different values and approaches to problems. A state's voters should be making the difficult decisions about the medical care in their state -- not an unelected federal official, such as a U.S. attorney general (Editorial, The Providence Journal, R.I.)

  2. Bad law, good ruling | Let Oregonians decide assisted suicide's morality (E. J. Dionne Jr., The Washington Post)

Abortion and Supreme Court:

  1. Roe v. Wade forever | Legalized abortion's 33rd anniversary (Ronald Bailey, Reason)

  2. Hypocritic oath | Scalia on abortion vs. Scalia on assisted suicide (William Saletan, Slate)

  3. One-sided silence | However clever, Alito's ambiguity on abortion harms the nation (Joel Belz, World)


  1. Christian Coalition sued for unpaid bill | The Christian Coalition goes to court today in Richmond, where the former powerhouse of the religious right faces a lawsuit filed by a Maryland moving company that says it was underpaid when it moved the group out of its Washington offices three years ago (The Washington Times)

  2. Dobson roused faithful for Abramoff's aims | Did Focus on the Family knowingly campaign for lobbyist's casino clients? (Colorado Springs Independent)

  3. Is religious right poised to set Harper's agenda? | Though all three have a right to their religious beliefs, recent statements might scare some people, especially those concerned a conservative religious agenda could strip away what they regard as hard-fought freedom (The Toronto Star)

  4. Which sins should our state laws address? | The current debate in Olympia over gay rights has me thinking about everything deemed wrong in the eyes of believers in Christianity or other religions (Julie Muhlstein, The Daily Herald, Everett, Wa.)

Church and state:

  1. U.S. seeks dismissal of bias suit | Air Force doesn't have policy on evangelism, motion says (Associated Press)

  2. Texas convention wins tax-exempt status challenge | Reversing an earlier decision, officials in Tarrant County, Texas, Dec. 21 said that the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention's office and property in Grapevine, Texas, would enjoy tax exempt status (Baptist Press)


  1. Class over: Anti-evolution forces lose another round | Labeling a course 'philosophy' to sneak intelligent design into the curriculum doesn't relieve school district from presenting material objectively — using the best scholarship and assigning readings representing a range of views (Charles C. Haynes, First Amendment Center)

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  1. Catholics and evolution: Interview with Cardinal Christoph Schönborn | Are Christian values compatible with Darwinism? A Catholic leader sets out his views on evolution and intelligent design (Beliefnet)

  2. Textbook case | The ID debate follows the model of past scientific revolutions (Gene Edward Veith, World)


  1. PC president bans The Vagina Monologues on campus | The Rev. Brian J. Shanley, Providence College's new president, calls the popular play "morally objectionable" and says there are better ways to work toward preventing violence against women (The Providence Journal, R.I.)

  2. Call for Da Vinci 'adult rating' | The organisation says children should be protected from what it calls "insidious" lies about Catholicism (BBC)

  3. A prickly TV topic: a priest's life | The idea that priests, like all men, are not perfect might seem like a tame one. But NBC's effort to translate the premise into a TV series has brought protests that the show is anti-Christian. An interview with Jack Kenny, the creator and executive producer of The Book of Daniel (Fresh Air, NPR)

End of the Spear:

  1. Waging war and peace in the Amazon basin | This fact-based story of conflict and resolution between a primitive warrior tribe in Ecuador and peace-seeking Christian missionaries is inspiring despite its sentimental excesses (The New York Times)

  2. Friendship: An incredible act of forgiveness | Yes, Steve Saint and his father's murderer are pals. Get over it (The Washington Post)

  3. In his father's footsteps | Raised in a missionary family, Steve Saint embodies a story of tragedy and redemption that he tells in 'End of the Spear' (The Orlando Sentinel)

  4. Triumph from tragedy | Five missionaries' murders were not the end of the story (David M. Howard Jr., The Wall Street Journal)

  5. 'End of the Spear' | Scored to a thematic blend of tense jungle drums and choral voices, the slickly produced Christian docudrama "End of the Spear" recounts with spiritual breathlessness the circumstances surrounding the real-life killings of five missionaries at the hands of a violent indigenous Amazon tribe in Ecuador in 1956 (Los Angeles Times)

Church life:

  1. Church quits denomination over gay marriages | Members of Pilgrim United Church of Christ voted by the slimmest of margins last night to leave the denomination, becoming the 66th to withdraw from the UCC since it approved a nonbinding resolution last summer endorsing same-sex marriage (The Toledo Blade, Oh.)

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  1. Churches wary of evangelist's visit | Two local Baptist churches have warned people not to blindly accept Benny Hinn's Miracle Crusade (Fiji Times)

  2. Religion in the News: Baptist war continues | After purging liberals from their ranks, Southern Baptist conservatives who won control of their denomination are now taking aim at each other (Associated Press)

  3. We're fed-up with almighty racket | Unholy row over rock 'n' roll church (The Daily Record, Scotland)

  4. Activists look to lawsuit in bid to save parishes | Activists said they would continue to appeal within the judicial system of the Vatican. But they said last weekend's announcement that their pleas had been rejected by the Congregation for the Clergy, a Vatican agency, has convinced them that their chances of winning in church courts are bleak (The Boston Globe)

  5. Meeting could have lasting impact | Rev. John Richardson: 'It gives us a great deal of assurance how Anglican we are.' (The Birmingham News, Ala.)

Texas Baptists disaffiliate church:

  1. Local church ousted for alleged violation | The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention's executive board has voted to disaffiliate a Baytown church for violating a constitutional provision concerning congregations that affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior (The Baytown Sun, Tex.)

  2. Church removed from convention over gay ministry (Associated Press)

  3. SBTC removes church over homosexuality controversy | The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention's executive board has acted unanimously to disaffiliate a church for violating the convention's constitutional provision concerning churches that "affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior" (Baptist Press)


  1. No reputation remake planned for Judas: Vatican | Despite reports to the contrary, the Roman Catholic Church is not planning to rehabilitate Judas Iscariot, the biblical figure who betrayed Jesus and gave his name to generations of traitors, a Vatican official has said (Reuters)

  2. Catholics ignoring Vatican edicts, survey shows | Nearly 90% of Italians call themselves Catholics, but more than two-thirds favour legal recognition for unmarried couples, according to a study that sociologists say is evidence that Italians tailor their religion to their lifestyles (Associated Press)

  3. Silence that speaks volumes | Pope Benedict XVI is said to believe that Islam is incapable of reform (The Washington Times)

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  1. D.C. diocese will open 1st new school since '51 | It's part of an effort to serve low-income families and an influx of immigrants in the metropolitan area (The Washington Times)


  1. Ex-priest arrested for suspected lewd acts | A former Los Angeles priest who was spared child molestation charges in 2003 by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling was arrested Thursday on suspicion of lewd acts with a child, officials said (Associated Press)

  2. Ex-priest is arrested in abuse case | Michael Baker, who told Cardinal Mahony in 1986 that he molested children but stayed in ministry, is seized as he leaves a plane at LAX (Los Angeles Times)

  3. Priest's sex abuse trial to start | Michael Edwin Wempe, a retired Catholic cleric, has admitted molesting 13 boys. He denies charges that he fondled another youngster (Los Angeles Times)

  4. Jury to ponder death penalty for man convicted of abduction-slaying | Alvin A. Starks found guilty (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Sex and marriage:

  1. Religious organizations against government backed bill on homosexual rights | The Icelandic National Broadcasting Service reports that 20 religious organizations and 19 individuals have dismissed a government supported bill on the rights of homosexuals currently under discussion in Althingi (Icelandic Review)

  2. Md. judge strikes down gay-marriage ban | A Baltimore judge struck down a 33-year-old state law against gay marriage Friday, declaring it violates the Maryland Constitution's guarantee of equal rights (Associated Press)

  3. Bill extends wait time for divorce | Counseling for couples with kids required (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

  4. Gays rush to altar, fearing marriage law at risk | Gay couples across Canada are rushing to the altar, worried that a possible Conservative government will reverse the legalization of same sex marriages (CTV, Canada)

  5. Feisty minister wants to end German baby shortage | Ursula von der Leyen's calls for free childcare and extensive tax breaks for families with small children have put the spotlight on Germany's low birthrate and increasing shortage of children (Reuters)

  6. Ehrlich acts to expand gay partner rights | Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) proposed legislation yesterday that would make it easier for unmarried partners to make medical decisions for one another, calling it an alternative to a bill he vetoed last year that was supported by gay rights advocates (The Washington Post)

  7. A giant step backward for women | I am one of those who, for years, has argued that legalizing same-sex marriage would not open the door for polygamy. Wrong. In these politically correct times, do-gooders expand definitions until words -- or institutions -- lose all meaning. Marriage can mean whatever you want (Debra J. Saunders, San Francisco Chronicle)

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  1. The futility of boycotts | Planning to boycott Microsoft? Get in line (Geov Parrish, Seattle Weekly)

  2. Broadcasters hope java and Jesus make a heavenly brew | It's an espresso stand and a Christian radio station! (Beth Bragg, Anchorage Daily News)

Israel and Jews:

  1. Evangelical leader has no more ties to park plans | Jay Sekulow , an evangelical leader who is chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, is no longer involved in an Israeli proposal to create a Christian tourism center in Galilee, an ACLJ spokesman said (The Virginian-Pilot)

  2. Supersede me | Evangelicals rethink how to convert Jews (Mark Oppenheimer, Slate)


  1. The passion of C.S. Lewis | Alison Lurie on Narnia and its historians (The New York Review of Books)

  2. Not everyone is a believer in faith-based diets | Medical experts warn of false diet prophets (World News Tonight, ABC News)

  3. Ready for his close-up? | Professor's book, mostly but not entirely flattering, looks at T.D. Jakes' rise to fame (The Dallas Morning News)

Other stories of interest:

  1. Genocide in slow motion | Nicholas D. Kristof on Darfur (The New York Review of Books)

  2. Italian court told to prove Jesus existed | Lawyers for a small-town parish priest have been ordered to appear in court next week after the Roman Catholic cleric was accused of unlawfully asserting what many people take for granted: that Jesus Christ existed (Associated Press)

Related Elsewhere:

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Launched in 1999, Christianity Today’s Weblog was not just one of the first religion-oriented weblogs, but one of the first published by a media organization. (Hence its rather bland title.) Mostly compiled by then-online editor Ted Olsen, Weblog rounded up religion news and opinion pieces from publications around the world. As Christianity Today’s website grew, it launched other blogs. Olsen took on management responsibilities, and the Weblog feature as such was mothballed. But CT’s efforts to round up important news and opinion from around the web continues, especially on our Gleanings feature.
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