Converting Muslims to Christianity is not the key to stability in Iraq, converting American Christians to Christianity is.
Before Christmas, the blogosphere drew attention to a Republican congressman who said that converting Iraqi Muslims to Christianity was the key to ending the violent chaos in that country.
The offline Concord Standard and Mount Pleasant Times quoted Congressman Robin Hayes (R-N.C.), who told the local Rotary Club that Iraqi stability depended on “spreading the message of Jesus Christ, the message of peace on earth, good will towards men.”
Noting that the war had to be won, he said, “Everything depends on everyone learning about the birth of the Savior.”
Hayes mixed evangelical missionary zeal with U.S. military policy, voicing a softer version of the crusader vision from the trash-mouthed Ann Coulter, who said, “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.”
After several days of criticism outside the mainstream press, Hayes, a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Concord, revised his remarks. His spokesperson switched the emphasis from Christianity to Christian principles and blamed Democrats and bloggers for making a big deal out of his undisputed comments.
The window to his soul was opened, however. Hayes disclosed a primal loyalty to the crusade mentality that has dogged America’s war on terrorism.
Shortly after 9/11, the Bush administration had to retract the president’s use of the word “crusade,” a word that he apparently did not understand was a negative term for Muslims, who see the crusades as Christian Europe’s invasion of the Middle East, and some Christians, who view the crusades as a failure of Christianity.
Within a few days of Bush’s backpedaling, the Pentagon changed the name of its military operation from “Infinite Justice,” when a few Christians questioned such a term, including BCE staff who pointed out in the New York Times that the phrase reflected the sin of pride.
Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin fueled the crusade fire in 2003 at First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., where a future president of the Southern Baptist Convention was pastor.
Boykin recalled a story about a Somali warlord who boasted on CNN that he would not be captured because Allah would protect him. When the man was caught, Boykin said to the man, “Mr. Atto, you underestimated our God.”
The general told the congregation, “You know what I knew, that my God was bigger than his” and “I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol. But I prayed, Lord let us get that man.”
At a church meeting later that June, Boykin said, “Why do they hate us? Why do they hate us so much? Ladies and gentlemen, the answer to that is because we’re a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christian.”
Boykin also told audiences of Bush’s divine selection: “Why is this man in the White House? The majority of Americans did not vote for him. Why is he there? And I tell you this morning that he’s in the White House because God put him there for a time such as this.”
Other pro-crusade Christians baptized the invasion as a Christian one with numerous photographs of military baptismal tanks, camouflaged Bibles and combat-fatigued soldiers in worship, such as the Southern Baptist Convention.
A photograph in May 2005 underscored how some active military personnel viewed the war as a crusade. A photograph of a 70-ton, M1A1 Abrams tank with the phrase “New Testament” on its barrel appeared on the official Web site of the U.S. Marine Corps. The caption had a dateline of Haditha Dam, Al Anbar, Iraq, and read “The ‘New Testament,’ a tank with 4th Tank Co., 1st Tank battalion attached to 3/25, prepares to lead the way during a recent mission.”
For several years, some readers of EthicsDaily.com have voiced the crusade mentality, contending that the ultimate solution in Iraq is Christian conversion.
The problem with this view is American Christians themselves. In America everyone knows about the birth of Jesus Christ and the accompanying message of peace on Earth. That knowledge is escapable, especially at Christmas. But that knowledge hasn’t changed the bloodlust of the Christian Right, who see America as the Christian nation that it is not and violence as a missionary strategy that it isn’t.
The knowledge of Jesus Christ hasn’t turned fundamentalists, evangelicals, Catholics, mainline Protestants and quasi-church attendees from their self-righteous commitment to holy war.
No, Christian conversion hasn’t converted America’s pro-crusade churchmen.
Why do some American Christians think that converting others to Christianity would do for non-Christians what it hasn’t done for them?
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.