Evangelicals slam Bush for his 'theology of war'
A group of theologians have signed a statement opposing President Bush's attempt to converge God, church and nation and what they call his 'theology of war.'
Glen Stassen, Fuller Theological Seminary's Louis B. Smedes professor of Christian ethics, said Bush's religious rhetoric confuses the cause of Christianity with that of a nation at war.
For instance, in Bush's 2002 State of the Union address the president labeled Iran, Iraq and North Korea the 'axis of evil,' Stassen said.
"Calling the three nations the 'axis of evil' and refusing to acknowledge any errors that he has made, that sets up a dichotomy between righteous United States and unrighteous 'axis of evil,' Stassen said. "... It leads to a crusade in which Christians think the Christian thing to do is support war-making against an allegedly unrighteous enemy.'
The statement of beliefs, called "Confessing Christ in a World of Violence,' criticizes Bush's use of scripture in a speech on the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Bush described the hope offered by America by saying, "... the light shines in the darkness. And the darkness will not overcome it.'
These words, used in the Bible, apply only to Jesus Christ and no political leader has the right to "twist them into the service of war," the confession says.
The statement's assertions include the claim that Jesus Christ knows no national boundaries, that Christians should have a strong presumption against war and that Christians should exercise humility, which would temper political disagreements.
About 20 professors have signed it, though it has not made the full rounds at Fuller, Stassen said.
Stassen expects that almost all of the seminary's 80 full-time professors will sign it. Fuller is the largest evangelical seminary in the country.
The current confession is not the first time Fuller professors have publicly objected to Bush. About 40 faculty members signed a September 2002 letter opposing Bush's statements about a unilateral pre-emptive war in Iraq. Bush is now campaigning on pre-emptive war and using Christian language in the process, Stassen said.
The Fuller educators are part of a national movement of theologians and ethicists who are signing the document. They are being organized by Stassen, George Hunsinger of Princeton Theological Seminary, Richard B. Hays of Duke Divinity School, Richard Pierard of Gordon College and Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine.
The same five leaders endorsed a recent ad campaign in the national media that proclai "God is Not a Republican. Or a Democrat."
According to a recent study on religion and politics from the University of Akron, 68 percent of Americans want a president to have strong religious beliefs and 63 percent are comfortable when candidates discuss their faith.
The full text of the letter and statement is as follows:
We're writing to you at what we believe is a time of grave moral crisis in our nation. As we listen to the rhetoric coming from the highest levels of the American government, we hear more and more a "theology of war" that sets the US on a messianic crusade, while wrapping itself in a Christian identification. There are times and places in human history when political powers attempt to claim the loyalty of the church of Jesus Christ. In those times, the church is called to reaffirm its fundamental beliefs. We believe that 2004 in the United States is one of those times and places. We have come to the conviction that as followers of Jesus Christ, it is our responsibility to affirm a new confession of Christ.
Over the last weeks, we have agreed to the attached statement. We identify five points that we believe are indispensable for followers of Jesus, and rejections of the current teachings that nullify those points. We believe we have made a critical and thoughtful statement on the theology of war that endangers us, and points to a better alternative.
We invite you to join us in signing this statement. It is our hope that a significant number of leading theologians and ethicists will agree to publicly affirm this confession with us. We would then use the statement and signatories to attract media attention to it.
Please thoughtfully and prayerfully consider this invitation, and if you can join us, please return the form below to firstname.lastname@example.org. Sojourners has offered to collect and coordinate this process.
Thanks very much for your consideration. We invite you to suggest the names of others you think might be interested in this statement. If you have any questions, please feel free to be in touch with any one of us.
Grace and Peace,
Richard B. Hays, George Washington Ivey Professor of New Testament
Duke Divinity School
George Hunsinger, Hazel Thompson McCord Professor of Systematic Theology
Princeton Theological Seminary
Richard V. Pierard, Stephen Phillips Professor of History
Glen Stassen, Lewis Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics
Fuller Theological Seminary
Jim Wallis, Editor, Sojourners
Confessing Christ in a World of Violence
Our world is wracked with violence and war. But Jesus said: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God" (Matt. 5:9). Innocent people, at home and abroad, are increasingly threatened by terrorist attacks. But Jesus said: "Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you" (Matt. 5:44). These words, which have never been easy, seem all the more difficult today.
Nevertheless, a time comes when silence is betrayal. How many churches have heard sermons on these texts since the terrorist atrocities of September 11? Where is the serious debate about what it means to confess Christ in a world of violence? Does Christian "realism" mean resigning ourselves to an endless future of "pre-emptive wars"? Does it mean turning a blind eye to torture and massive civilian casualties? Does it mean acting out of fear and resentment rather than intelligence and restraint?
Faithfully confessing Christ is the church's task, and never more so than when its confession is co-opted by militarism and nationalism.
* A "theology of war" is emanating from the highest circles of American government.
* The language of "righteous empire" is employed with growing frequency.
* The roles of God, church, and nation are confused by talk of an American "mission" and "divine appointment" to "rid the world of evil."
The security issues before our nation allow no easy solutions. No one has a monopoly on the truth. But a policy that rejects the wisdom of international consultation should not be baptized by religiosity. The danger today is political idolatry exacerbated by the politics of fear.
In this time of crisis, we need a new confession of Christ.
1. Jesus Christ, as attested in Holy Scripture, knows no national boundaries. Those who confess his name are found throughout the earth. Our allegiance to Christ takes priority over national identity. Whenever Christianity compromises with empire, the gospel of Christ is discredited.
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." These words, used in scripture, apply only to Christ. No political leader has the right to twist them in the service of war.
2. Christ commits Christians to a strong presumption against war. The wanton destructiveness of modern warfare strengthens this obligation. Standing in the shadow of the Cross, Christians have a responsibility to count the cost, speak out for the victims, and explore every alternative before a nation goes to war. We are committed to international cooperation rather than unilateral policies.
We reject the false teaching that a war on terrorism takes precedence over ethical and legal norms. Some things ought never be done -- torture, the deliberate bombing of civilians, the use of indiscriminate weapons of mass destruction -- regardless of the consequences.
3. Christ commands us to see not only the splinter in our adversary's eye, but also the beam in our own. Alexander Solzhenitsyn observed that the distinction between good and evil does not run between one nation and another, or one group and another. It runs straight through every human heart.
We reject the false teaching that America is a "Christian nation," representing only virtue, while its adversaries are nothing but vicious. We reject the belief that America has nothing to repent of, even as we reject that it represents most of the world's evil. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).
4. Christ shows us that enemy-love is the heart of the gospel. While we were yet enemies, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8, 10). We are to show love to our enemies even as we believe God in Christ has shown love to us and the whole world. Enemy-love does not mean capitulating to hostile agendas or domination. It does mean refusing to demonize any human being created in God's image.
We reject the false teaching that any human being can be defined as outside the law's protection. We reject the demonization of perceived enemies, which only paves the way to abuse; and we reject the mistreatment of prisoners, regardless of supposed benefits to their captors.
5. Christ teaches us that humility is the virtue befitting forgiven sinners. It tempers all political disagreements, and it allows that our own political perceptions, in a complex world, may be wrong. We reject the false teaching that those who are not for our nation politically are against it or that those who fundamentally question American policies must be with the "evil-doers." Such crude distinctions, especially when used by Christians, are expressions of the Manichaean heresy, in which the world is divided into forces of absolute good and absolute evil.
The Lord Jesus Christ is either authoritative for Christians, or he is not. His Lordship cannot be set aside by any earthly power. His words may not be distorted for propagandistic purposes. No nation-state may usurp the place of God.
We believe that acknowledging these truths is indispensable for followers of Christ. We urge them to remember these principles in making their decisions as citizens. Peacemaking is central to our vocation in a troubled world where Christ is Lord.
A view opposing the statement can be found:here