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Blood Thirsty Christians???
October 23, 2004
Why Are Some American Christians So Bloodthirsty?
Understanding Pro-war Christians' Indifference to Civilian Deaths
by Dr. Teresa Whitehurst
It's been going on for years now. Almost daily we read that another child, another parent, another sister or brother, another grandpa or aunt, is killed in Afghanistan or Iraq by U.S. weaponry in Mr. Bush's "war on terror." Sometimes it's a wedding party, or a bunch of kids, or a family of six. Sometimes it's a journalist, or a whole group of journalists, who may even be killed on camera in real time for all the world to see and hear.
But no matter how bad it gets, nothing seems to change Americans' support for war, which for some reason is stiffest among Christian supporters of the Bush administration. "Stuff happens in a war zone." "Don't worry because God is in control." With these and other slogans, I've been reassured by countless pro- war Christians that, as long as civilians aren't intentionally targeted, taking their lives is okay, maybe even predestined, God's will.
Recently a Christian from Australia wrote to ask, "Why are American Christians so bloodthirsty? Why do they support the war in Iraq, no matter how many innocent people are made to suffer? We just don't understand why they're willing to kill other people so that they can feel more safe – it's so selfish!"
She's right, and she's wrong. She's right about the fact that many Christians in America will blindly support whichever war their president promotes, with the assumption that his much-advertised praying guarantees us that God approves of all those bombs and missiles, and even the inevitable collateral damage.
This "don't worry, be happy" stance of pro-war Christians can make those of us who suffer at the news of civilian deaths almost green with envy: How do they go blithely to church, pray and give an offering, then go eat some nice mashed potatoes and gravy at Cracker Barrel with nary a worry about the families being bombed or shot or crushed by their own military at that very moment?
But she's wrong in her assumption that all Christians in the U.S. find civilian deaths an acceptable price to (let someone else) pay for Mr. Bush's ultimate goals. Many, including those in the evangelical community, were raised to obey Jesus' teachings above any other, and suffer mightily whenever they learn that more innocent people have lost their lives to this terrorizing "war on terror."
She's also wrong about the seemingly bloodthirsty attitude of pro-war Christians; most of them are nice people on a personal basis. They love their kids and their fellow Americans, and would never have supported the bombing of, say, Oklahoma City's malls and suburbs in an effort to target a Timothy McVeigh. And they certainly don't go around saying they hope a lot more civilians are killed by U.S. bombs and guns. They've been trained to deny it's happening or downplay its importance, thinking instead about Iraq's future democracy, the next life, or the "big picture."
Failure to Care: How it Happens
The reasons for blindness or indifference toward civilian casualties are several. Many if not most pro-war Christians, particularly those in the southern and midwestern states:
rarely see news accounts of civilian casualties because our major TV news programs and newspapers either omit those stories altogether or mention them in passing (without photos, the crucial element in terms of public opinion) and, wanting to believe that Bush's war is working, do not seek out evidence of the maiming and killing of our troops or of Iraqi civilians,
have been immunized against thinking for themselves or doubting the Bush administration with certain Bible verses (particularly those verses in Romans telling us to obey and submit to governmental authority figures) – a passive stance that's strikingly different from the questioning that Jesus both urged and modeled toward greedy, power-seeking, and hypocritical authority figures (e.g., "false prophets" and "wolves in sheep's clothing"),
are told not to worry, when they do hear of civilian casualties, that life in the flesh is less important than life eternal (one European writer told me that a friend confided, "Yes it's sad, but if some Iraqi civilians are killed by U.S. bombs and it saves even one soul, it will have been worth it" – a sentiment that, sadly, is not unusual),
feel they dare not oppose this or any war because talking about peace, objecting to war's human cost, or even referring to the United Nations has become associated in their minds with the Antichrist and eternal damnation, thanks to fictional works based on Thessalonians such as the Left Behind books and video (this video makes clear the fearful reasoning behind the knee-jerk reactions of many pro-war Christians against peace itself, peacemakers of any kind [poignant indeed in light of Jesus' teaching, "Blessed are the peacemakers"], the Middle East "road map," international dialogue and cooperation, and any form of human rights accountability), and
have been convinced by right-wing preachers, authors and radio hosts (people like Rush Limbaugh are the most influential, because their voices are heard for hours daily rather than written in a book or heard once a week in church) to shift their allegiance away from Jesus' teachings about merciful behavior toward and compassion for family and stranger alike ("the least of these") to the more pro-violence, pro-war values espoused by various non-Gospel biblical writers.
Each of these is a powerful influence, but when combined, they dramatically alter Christian values in fundamental ways. Whereas evangelical churches used to teach compassion (in liberal doses, not conservative soundbites) and warn against responding to threats or attacks with violence, today's conservative churches urge parishioners to support capital punishment, zero- tolerance policies of all kinds, and corporal punishment to "shape the will" of babies, toddlers, and children. Someone raised in this kind of environment grows up to become an adult who's afraid to step out of line, and who naturally resents or even hates those who feel free to do so.
White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card summed it up best: President Bush sees Americans as so many children who need a father to guide and protect them. Indeed, conservative Christians are raised for a dictatorship where the "leaders" make the calls and are not to be questioned, rather than a democracy, where dissent is a cherished right. As linguistics professor George Lakoff has concluded from his study of the conservative-liberal divide that's polarizing American society, conservatives (the popular but by no means accurate label) are accustomed to, hence gravitate toward, a strict father – and nothing can be more strict than "our father" Bush demanding that we accept without question all the "stuff" that happens in his war.
Moral Relativism: In War, Anything Goes
But most importantly, conservative Christianity in the U.S. has succumbed to that which it has, in decades past, most rigorously warned against: moral relativism. By restricting any discussion of morality to sexual behavior, right- wing politicians have obliterated the once-central Christian teaching that the way we teach others is of paramount importance to God. Cleverly "working the room," pro-war politicians have infiltrated churches to such a degree that killings and torture are no longer within the province of morality. When morality is only about sex, no aspect of war – even the killing of entire families – can arouse criticism, much less condemnation.
In short, everything that happens in the execution of war, even that which is flagrantly in violation of the moral values that Jesus taught regarding violence and revenge, prayer for enemies and peacemaking, becomes acceptable when Jesus' teachings are compartmentalized as relevant only in our personal lives. When Jesus is sidelined, those parts of the Bible that support authority, no matter what it does to innocent people, will take precedence. This is what has happened (often with the prodding, political influence and financial support of right- wing political organizations) in many of our churches today. Unless Christians begin to speak up publicly for the teachings of Christ – the cornerstone of our faith – we will continue to slide into the kind of moral relativism that causes others to wonder why we are so bloodthirsty.
200 US Theologians Challenge "Theology of War"
Because of a deep and growing concern about an emerging national "theology of war," the increasingly frequent language of "righteous empire," and official claims of "divine appointment" for a nation in a "war" on terrorism, more than 200 seminary and college professors have signed "Confessing Christ in a World of Violence."
The key points of the confession are:
-- Jesus Christ knows no national boundaries. We reject the false teaching that any nation-state can ever be described with the words, "the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it."
-- Christ commits Christians to a strong presumption against war. We reject the false teaching that a war on terrorism takes precedence over ethical and legal norms.
-- Christ commands us to see not only the splinter in our adversary's eye, but also the beam in our own. We reject the false teaching that America is a "Christian nation," representing only virtue.
-- Christ shows us that enemy-love is the heart of the gospel. We reject the false teaching that any human being can be defined as outside the law's protection.
-- Christ teaches us that humility is the virtue befitting forgiven sinners. We reject the false teaching that those who are not for the United States politically are against it.
The statement concludes: "When the church is in danger of being co-opted by a theology of nationalism and militarism, we must faithfully confess Christ. We believe that peacemaking is central to our vocation in a troubled world where Christ is Lord."
The full statement and list of more than 200 signers is available online at the Sojourners website.
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Phone: 202-328-8842 or 1-800-714-7474
This is attributed to Dr. Robin Meyer, pastor at Oklahoma City's
Mayflower Congregational Church (UCC), and professor of rhetoric at
Oklahoma City University. It purports to be her remarks at a peace rally
at Oklahoma University on
November 14, 2004:
As some of you know, I am minister of Mayflower Congregational Church in
Oklahoma City, an Open and Affirming, Peace and Justice church in
northwest Oklahoma City, and professor of Rhetoric at Oklahoma City
But you would most likely have encountered me on the pages of the
Oklahoma Gazette, where I have been a columnist for six years, and hold
the record for the most number of angry letters to the editor.
Tonight, I join ranks of those who are angry, because I have watched as
the faith I love has been taken over by fundamentalists who claim to
speak for Jesus, but whose actions are anything but Christian.
We've heard a lot lately about so-called "moral values" as having swung
the election to President Bush. Well, I'm a great believer in moral
values, but we need to have a discussion, all over this country, about
exactly what constitutes a moral value -- I mean what are we talking about?
Because we don't get to make them up as we go along, especially not if
we are people of faith. We have an inherited tradition of what is right
and wrong, and moral is as moral does. Let me give you just a few of the
reasons why I take issue with those in power who claim moral values are
on their side:
---When you start a war on false pretenses, and then act as if your
deceptions are justified because you are doing God's will, and that your
critics are either unpatriotic or lacking in faith, there are some of us
who have given our lives to teaching and preaching the faith who believe
that this is not only not moral, but immoral.
--When you live in a country that has established international rules for
waging a just war, build the United Nations on your own soil to enforce
them, and then arrogantly break the very rules you set down for the rest
of the world, you are doing something immoral.
--When you claim that Jesus is the Lord of your life, and yet fail to
acknowledge that your policies ignore his essential teaching, or turn
them on their head (you know, Sermon on the Mount stuff like that we
must never return violence for violence and that those who live by the
sword will die by the sword), you are doing something immoral.
--When you act as if the lives of Iraqi civilians are not as important as
the lives of American soldiers, and refuse to even count them, you are
doing something immoral.
--When you find a way to avoid combat in Vietnam, and then question the
patriotism of someone who volunteered to fight, and came home a hero,
you are doing something immoral.
--When you ignore the fundamental teachings of the gospel, which says
that the way the strong treat the weak is the ultimate ethical test, by
giving tax breaks to the wealthiest among us so the strong will get
stronger and the weak will get weaker, you are doing something immoral.
--When you wink at the torture of prisoners, and deprive so-called
"enemy combatants" of the rules of the Geneva convention, which your own
country helped to establish and insists that other countries follow, you
are doing something immoral.
--When you claim that the world can be divided up into the good guys and
the evil doers, slice up your own nation into those who are with you, or
with the terrorists -- and then launch a war which enriches your own
friends and seizes control of the oil to which we are addicted, instead
of helping us to kick the habit, you are doing something immoral.
--When you fail to veto a single spending bill, but ask us to pay for a
war with no exit strategy and no end in sight, creating an enormous
deficit that hangs like a great millstone around the necks of our
children, you are doing something immoral.
--When you cause most of the rest of the world to hate a country that
was once the most loved country in the world, and act like it doesn't
matter what others think of us, only what God thinks of you, you have
done something immoral.
--When you use hatred of homosexuals as a wedge issue to turn out record
numbers of evangelical voters, and use the Constitution as a tool of
discrimination, you are doing something immoral.
--When you favor the death penalty, and yet claim to be a follower of
Jesus, who said an eye for an eye was the old way, not the way of the
kingdom, you are doing something immoral.
--When you dismantle countless environmental laws designed to protect
the earth which is God's gift to us all, so that the corporations that
bought you and paid for your favors will make higher profits while our
children breathe dirty air and live in a toxic world, you have done
something immoral. The earth belongs to the Lord, not Halliburton.
--When you claim that our God is bigger than their God, and that our
killing is righteous, while theirs is evil, we have begun to resemble
the enemy we claim to be fighting, and that is immoral. We have met the
enemy, and the enemy is us.
--When you tell people that you intend to run and govern as a
"compassionate conservative," using the word which is the essence of all
religious faith-compassion, and then show no compassion for anyone who
disagrees with you, and no patience with those who cry to you for help,
you are doing something immoral.
--When you talk about Jesus constantly, who was a healer of the sick,
but do nothing to make sure that anyone who is sick can go to see a
doctor, even if she doesn't have a penny in her pocket, you are doing
--When you put judges on the bench who are racist, and will set women
back a hundred years, and when you surround yourself with preachers who
say gays ought to be killed, you are doing something immoral. I'm tired
of people thinking that because I'm a Christian, I must be a
supporter of President Bush, or that because I favor civil rights and
gay rights I must not be a person of faith. I'm tired of people saying
that I can't support the troops but oppose the war.
--I heard that when I was your age, when the Vietnam war was raging. We
knew that that war was wrong, and you know that this war is wrong--the
only question is how many people are going to die before these
make-believe Christians are removed from power?
This country is bankrupt. The war is morally bankrupt. The claim of this
administration to be Christian is bankrupt. And the only people who can
turn things around are people like you--young people who are just
beginning to wake up to what is happening to them. It's your country to
take back. It's your faith to take back. It's your future to take back.
Don't be afraid to speak out. Don't back down when your friends begin to
tell you that the cause is righteous and that the flag should be wrapped
around the cross, while the rest of us keep our mouths shut. Real
Christians take chances for peace. So do real Jews, and real Muslims,
and real Hindus, and real Buddhists--so do all the faith traditions of
the world at their heart believe one thing: life is precious. Every
human being is precious. Arrogance is the opposite of faith. Greed is
the opposite of charity. And believing that one has never made a mistake
is the mark of a deluded man, not a man of faith.
And war -- war is the greatest failure of the human race -- and thus the
greatest failure of faith. There's an old rock and roll song, whose
lyrics say it all: War, what is it for? absolutely nothing.
And what is the dream of the prophets? That we should study war no more,
that we should beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into
Who would Jesus bomb, indeed? How many wars does it take to know that
too many people have died? What if they gave a war and nobody came?
Maybe one day we will find out
"It's sad religion is still being used as a weapon of war not the arm of peace."
-Beth Maxwell Boyle
'Feuch air fear coimhead Israil
Cadal chan aom no suain.'
(The Shepherd that keeps Israel
He slumbers not nor sleeps.)