Monday, January 19, 2009

Militant Evangelical Christianity

Over the past few years, I've noticed a disturbing trend in evangelical Christianity. It seems that some evangelicals are shifting their strategies away from winning people to Jesus through persuasive beliefs and testimonies, toward using strong language and tactics to make their point. I touched on one fanciful, silly manifestation of this tendency in my recent post about the bogus War on Christmas - a war that exists primarily in the minds of some insecure conservative Christians. Today, I'm going to write about a very sinister manifestation of this mindset and (I hope) a far less sinister Salvation Army example.

Pastor Rick Warren, whose name is known to almost everyone who has attended an evangelical Christian church in the past decade, has manifested this trend in a way that chills me much more than the silly Christmas War. You see, Pastor Rick has been preaching, for several years, that Christians need to do "Whatever It Takes" to build God's Kingdom in the world. This message disturbs me because Warren illustrates it with such notable exemplars as Hitler Youth, Lenin's Communist cronies, and those who implemented Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution in China. Moreover, Warren speaks in glowing terms of what the followers of Hitler, Lenin and Mao accomplished.

I've got three problems with Warren's appropriation of the followers of Hitler, Lenin and Mao as examples of admirable devotion to a holy cause. Firstly, the armies of Hitler, Lenin and Mao accomplished what they did through brute force. Surely, Pastor Rick does not believe that God's Army should behave similarly. Secondly, followers of all three of these leaders were brainwashed into their beliefs and coerced into action on behalf of their leaders and dogmas. Surely, Pastor Rick does not endorse such methods for motivating and mobilizing God's troops. Thirdly, there are plenty of more admirable role models that Warren could have chosen instead of these ugly examples. Who might some of those examples be, I wonder?

Let's see, give me a minute to think of someone...

I've got it! Today is Martin Luther King Day in the USA. Perhaps Dr. King and his compatriots would provide some good role models for Christians. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his followers brought about significant changes in American society through peaceful protests against injustice. The only forces they used to reach their goals were those of reasonable persuasion and moral correctness. Even better, King and many of his followers were Christians! Imagine that! Christians who actually acted and made significant changes in their society and culture and didn't even have to get nasty about it! Sadly, Pastor Rick bypasses the examples of King and his cohorts for those of Hitler, Lenin and Mao and their (often reluctant) followers. Nice work, Mr. Warren.

Or, Pastor Warren could have chosen models such as the Peace Corps volunteers who have done (and continue doing) tangible, good works around the world. Nope. Pastor Rick bypasses the Peace Corps for leaders and armies that wrought terrible destruction everywhere they went. Nice call, Mr. Warren.

Enough about Rick Warren. Let's move on to The Salvation Army example - a leader of the "primitive Salvationism" movement - Captain Stephen Court, the Canadian Salvation Army officer who is currently the principal of a Salvation Army training college in Australia. Captain Court posted this nice little tidbit at Army Barmy on January 18, 2009:

I heard Captain Rowan Castle teach the other day and there were some gems. Here are a few of them:

- The Salvation Army is a Jesus vehicle for Kingdom conquest.

And on the definition of The Army as the fist of the body of Christ, RC continued, explaining that The Army only really makes sense in crisis/tension - those times when you clench a fist and fight.

He also taught that Christianity is not about making us safe from the world but about making us dangerous TO the world.

The one lesson that most people around the world learned on September 11, 2001 was to fear forceful religion. I'm pretty sure that Captain Court is not advocating forced conversions. Still, I find the metaphor of the clenched fist disturbing. Whatever happened to the hand outstretched in love? In a world in which some Islamic activists have shown how lethally dangerous they can be, I question whether it's a good idea to propose that Christianity should also be "dangerous." Again, I'm pretty sure that Captain Court isn't advocating Christian terrorism (although his wife and a former student of theirs do condone e-vandalism - definitely one of the stupidest evangelizing tactics I've ever heard of). But, surely, he's not so tone deaf to the concerns of the Post-9/11 world that he doesn't understand how his militant language may confuse, or even frighten, some.

Perhaps evangelical Christians should reconsider the strategies by which they intend to win the world to Jesus and the language they use to describe that conquest. I'm pretty sure that obnoxious militarism in either word or deed is not the correct course to take.

1 comment:

Barbara said...

I totally agree. There are many times that the language people use really turns others away, rather than drawing them in ... which I don't believe was their intention.

From an early age we were taught that we were fighting a battle, a war against the world and satan.