Should soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan proselytize?
Blogging and me share a love/hate relationship. One the one hand, I hate writing articles because often it takes me hours of mental sparring to get to exactly what I want to say. On the other hand, I love the feeling of accomplishment after having written. Yes, I know it’s weird, but this is why I only post about once or twice a month. My mental sanity can’t take much more.
Over the past few days, however, I’ve felt a compulsive urge to go to my computer and start typing. Call it a blogging binge if you will. My only justification for this latest binge is the hope that at least a few people will read what I have to say and put themselves through the same agonizing soul searching as I’ve had to do over these past few days. So if you’re ready for some no holds barred gut grabbling heart stopping soul searching, please read on. If not, I’ll understand.
It all started a few weeks ago when I read a post by Brian McLaren on the Sojourners blog stating that according to a recent Pew survey, white evangelical Christians are the one group in America the most likely to support torture. This really bothered me. The reason it bothered me—and I’m still unable to let it go even as I write—is not because I don’t understand the moral complexities involved in protecting our country. What bothers me is that if the survey is correct, then that means there’s something in evangelicalism—more specifically white evangelicalism—that causes people who look like me and think like me to be more prone to violence than others even after all other moral factors are considered. Troubling!
It doesn’t stop here. It’s come to my attention that Christian soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have been actively distributing Bibles and attempting to convert Afghanis and Iraqis to Christianity—and now Al Jazeera is blasting footage throughout the Muslim world of Lieutenant Colonel Gary Hensley, the chief military chaplain in Afghanistan, counseling his followers in how to “hunt souls for Jesus” by distributing the New Testament to Afghani civilians as “gifts.”
One might ask why I as a Bible believing Christian—and a missionary at that—would be so vehemently opposed to this? I can understand why some might think that I’ve had a sudden memory loss and forgotten that Jesus told His followers to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” Why in the world would I oppose soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan distributing Bibles to the local population?
Here’s why. Imagine our country was invaded by…say a country like Indonesia…a country with a majority population of Muslims. Imagine further that the president of Indonesia called the invasion a “jihad to rid the world of evil”—but then turned around and insisted that the invasion of America was not a war against Christianity and has nothing to do with trying to impose Islam on the American people. Now further imagine that the same invaders that occupy our country and patrol our streets with tanks are also distributing copies of the Koran in English at the local Wal Mart—howbeit with smiles on their faces. How likely is the average American citizen going to buy the story that the invasion of our country had nothing to do with attacking our faith, especially given our knowledge of the long history of Islamic/Christian relations?
Now that I think about it, there is a connection between these two stories. Remember what I just mentioned about the footage of Lieutenant Colonel Gary Hensley counseling his followers to “hunt souls for Jesus?” That took place at the huge military base in Bagram. If you’ve ever seen Taxi to the Dark Side, then you’ll know that Bagram is a place that—at least we know in the past—the U.S. military has used to torture and detain prisoners indefinitely. And by the way, very few of the prisoners—at least initially—were known terrorist suspects. Many of them were handed over to the U.S. military—with little to no evidence against them—by tribal warlords looking for a quick buck.
If this isn’t a call to action for Christians to wake up to the reality of the militarization of our faith, then I don’t know what is. According to a world public opinion poll taken in five Muslim countries, nearly two/thirds of the respondents said they believe the “war on terror” is an effort by fundamentalist Christians to spread Christianity in the region. Is it really that hard to understand why?
It’s time for Christians to wake up and divorce once and for all our faith from all things military. Mixing the Kingdom of America with the Kingdom of God not only does serious damage to our country; it also does serious damage to the integrity of the gospel. Let the missionaries proselytize. Soldiers should stick to doing what they do best. Defending our country—and our constitution.