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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

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.

3 comments:

Julia said...

Thank you so much for this post! I, too, have been deeply disturbed by the Pew poll showing that the majority of Christians support torture, more Christians than atheists! And almost as disturbed by the lack of interest in this topic I have found among Christian friends.

Also thank you for articulating so clearly what's so troubling about the proselytizing by soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have had a hard time doing so myself--now I can just point people to this post!

Bless you for this.

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Thank you Julia.

longbrevity said...

I can't say that I agree with your perspective here. We are talking about individual soldiers, not the entire military, that are proselytizing. What you are describing is more of a Taliban action-- take power and set up a religious infrastructure that *requires* people to participate. If some Islamic power was in control of my environment and offered me a Koran, I would not take offense to the offering. If they came and burnt down the churches and confiscated Bibles, it would be a whole different affair. What Al Jazeera chooses to spin as news for their audience, shouldn't be much of our concern-- unless you think that the Christian faith is more about managing and maximizing PR.

The call for "Christians to wake up and divorce once and for all our faith from all things military" is misplaced. We are talking about individual Christian soldiers acting out as part of their personal faith. Your call for "divorce" would require there to be no Christians in the American military. If that happened, there would soon be a call to re-evangelize the Godless military. The American military is not comprised entirely of Christians, there are also atheists, Muslims, Hindus and many others differing religious faiths. Having served in the military in the middle east, I can tell you from experience, that the number soldiers who have a faith, of any significant grounding, that would compel them to share their faith with others is in the ultra-minority... this is not a major issue... it is Al Jazeera hype.

The one place I would lean to agree on the anti-proselytizing bandwagon would be as a matter of military policy. In a situation where the military power perverts the normal interactions of people and causes people to be forced into a religious encounter with a proselytizer would be wrong. Soldiers shouldn't be (actively) proselytizing while on duty and all proselytizing should be carried out primarily on a soldiers down-time.

Also, in places, like Saudi Arabia, where proselytizing is illegal, soldiers should be accountable for their actions both to the military and the society in which they operate. If the military used their power to permit soldiers to carry out activities that are otherwise illegal, that would be morally repugnant. With that said, I still don't think that soldiers should not proselytize in those situations. If so led, they should practice their faith and suffer the consequences if caught and prosecuted. Any such activity should only be carried out under clear discernment and much prayer.

I think your reaction to all of this is not an informed or reasoned one. Saying that Christians should not declare the gospel because it makes us look bad, is a impotent perspective to have. Don't neuter the gospel, it has been a dangerous thing to support for two millennia. Do some people do a poor job at it? Yeah, Does that mean that we should halt practicing our faith until the optimum politically and socially correct method can be devised happens? Certainly not. If one person is led to the Lord in the midst of all of this, would it not be worth it?

God is either in control of this mess or He isn't. Sure there is massive amounts wrong with the way that Christians go about things. But if there is anything that we can learn from Jesus, it's that good PR isn't worth what you think it is. Sometimes the bad stuff sets the stage for God to work something great. If Jesus managed his PR such as to have not offended anyone, you and I would be without much hope right now, because there would have been no reason for people to have crucified him.