“There are no “blessed wars”. Yet virtually all evangelical, conservative and many mainstream church leaders were active supporters of the Bush wars.When Gulf War I ended (during George Bush the Elder’s presidency), General Norman Schwartzkopf, the field commander, triumphantly proclaimed, “God must have been on our side!”
Such statements aren’t unusual for glory-seeking dictators, kings, princes, presidents and generals, regardless of what religion justified their particular war, but I cringed when I heard this self-professed Christian warrior claim God’s blessings on the war that made him famous.
I cringed when I heard Schwartzkopf claim God’s blessings on the carnage that he helped orchestrate because similar claims have been used to rationalize killing throughout history, from ancient times to some of the darkest days of the modern era. Jesus’s God would not be on the side of the war-makers, but on the side of the peacemakers, the compassionate and long-suffering ones who work to prevent killing and to relieve the suffering of the victims of war.
As the German Nazis went about their systematic purging of any and all leftist or anti-fascist groups – Jews, socialists, homosexuals, liberals, communists, trade unionists and conscientious objectors to war – they insisted that God was on their side, too.
Adolf Hitler claimed that he was doing God’s will. German soldiers, both in WWI and WWII, went into battle with the words “Gott Mit Uns” (God With Us) inscribed on their belt buckles….
Though Hitler’s Nazi regime represented an exceptional form of horror in the industrialized slaughter committed during the Holocaust and related mass killings, it must be acknowledged that other countries, including the United States, have undertaken actions that have destroyed other populations and cultures, often with the blessings of religious leaders.
In the last two decades, the two Bush administrations mounted wars in the Persian Gulf region that had the consent (or acquiescence) of the majority of U.S. church leaders, with prayers from Billy Graham in the White House the night before the invasions began.
Virtually all Christian evangelical, conservative and many mainstream church leaders and their congregations were active supporters of the Bush wars.
Only four American Catholic bishops voted in opposition to Bush the Elder’s Gulf War I (at an annual conference of U.S. Catholic bishops). In Gulf War II, Pope John Paul II declared that the war was contrary to the teachings of Jesus, but most American Catholic leaders and parishioners ignored the pontiff’s warnings and supported the war. Most American Protestants did the same.
Yet, General Schwartzkopf and both Presidents Bush are in “good” company when it comes to believing that God is on their side in war. All U.S. presidents and presidential candidates in recent memory, even President Obama, end their speeches with “May God Bless the United States of America,” the equivalent of the German military’s “Gott Mit Uns.” …
A major unasked question is “what should be the role of religion (specifically Christianity) in the starting and perpetuation of politically motivated wars?”
If war-makers mix religion and politics by invoking God’s blessings on the cannons and the cannon fodder, shouldn’t the churches, which are supposed to be the consciences of the nation, apply core Christian ethical principles to the war question and refuse to cooperate with the slaughter of fellow children of God?
(N.B.: What are “core Christian Ethics”?)
Sadly, for the past 1,700 years, Christian churches have not done so. They have largely failed in their moral obligation to teach and live the Golden Rule and the Sermon on the Mount.
(N.B.: The “Golden Rule” is older that Christ – see Lao Tzu, for example.)
One only has to read the gruesome history of the many “holy wars” and atrocities committed in the history of Christendom, including the Crusades, the Inquisitions, the wars of the Reformation and counter-Reformation, the various genocides including the Nazi Holocaust…
Recall how, when military spokesmen try to explain away the deaths of non-combatants in these wars, they invoke the term “collateral damage” (the euphemism for the unintended killing and maiming of innocents in wartime) and quickly dismiss those deaths by spouting the unconvincing phrase that Schwartzkopf and all other apologists for war use: “we regret the loss of innocent life.”
And they piously mouth these equally insincere words: “our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims.” The same rote phraseology too often comes from the lips of religious leaders…
How can the legalized mass slaughter of war, often progressing to the point of genocide, be a part of a Christian tradition that started out with a small group of inspired, oppressed and impoverished peasants who were trying to live by the highly ethical, nonviolent teachings of their pacifist leader?
Interestingly, the active pacifism of the early Christian church did prove to be successful – and even practical. During the first few centuries of Christianity, enmity and eye-for-an-eye retaliation were rejected. The Golden Rule and the refusal to kill the enemy were actually taught in the church.
Gospel non-violence was the norm, so the professed enemies of those communities of faith were not provoked to retaliation because there was nothing against which to retaliate. Rather, enemies were befriended, prayed for, fed, nourished and embraced as neighbors – potential friends who needed understanding and mercy.
The church survived the persecutions of those early years and thrived, largely because of its commitment to the nonviolence of Jesus. It was not until the church was co-opted by the Emperor Constantine in the early 4th Century that power and wealth changed the priorities of church leaders.
Today, American Christianity is at risk of going the way of the pro-war “Christianity” of pre-Nazi and Nazi Germany, which may in the long run discredit the faith much the way Christianity lost credibility among many Germans because their churches and church leaders facilitated those destructive wars.
The vast majority of Germans before World War II were baptized members of a Christian church, but since WWII ended church membership has fallen sharply and the number of Germans attending weekly worship services is now estimated to be in the single digits.
The psychological and spiritual wounding of the soldiers and their families in the two world wars stripped the German churches of their moral standing….The world would have been far better off if the Christian leaders of the world had been faithful to the ethical teachings of the gospels and quit making blasphemous appeals to God on behalf of war, whether with those “Gott Mit Uns” belt buckles or the “God Bless America” political sloganeering.”
Emphasis and notes mine.