Backward Christian soldier: An open letter to the Christian General

[ Jim Wallis is the editor of the roughly evangelical justice magazine, Sojourners. Here’s his October, 2003 letter to the right-wing fundamentalist, Lt. General Boykin, who characterized the Iraq war as a spiritual war in which Christian Soldiers take on Islam’s “false god.” Bush did not reprimand Boykin — preserving the possibility for the Christian right that Bush may secretly support Lt. General Boykin’s position. But the Administration denied the General speaks for anyone beyond himself — thus preserving the possibility for the rest of the country that the Administration is sane. –doclalor ]

by Jim Wallis

Dear Lt. General Boykin,

You’ve gotten a lot of press this week, General. Perhaps you didn’t expect the things you’ve been saying in churches to go public – about America’s “Christian army,” the holy war we’re waging against the “idol” of Islam’s false God, and the “spiritual battle” we’re fighting against “a guy named Satan” who “wants to destroy us as a nation, and he wants to destroy us as a Christian army.” You call yourself a “warrior for the kingdom of God,” but most of your service has been with the Special Forces and the CIA. You say, “We in the army of God, in the house of God, in the kingdom of God, have been raised for such a time as this.” You apparently have no doubt that “America is still a Christian nation,” while other nations “have lost their morals, lost their values.” You think “George Bush was not elected by a majority of the voters in the United States,” but that “He was appointed by God.” You say, “He’s in the White House because God put him there.” And maybe you believe God has put you in the new position to which you were just appointed as deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence.

Because your views sound like a “Christian jihad” at a time when the United States government is sensitive to offending the Muslim world, you have become a controversy. I’m sure you’ve been under a lot of pressure since the story of your religious views broke in the Los Angeles Times. Your critics say your private religious views are your own business, but when you speak with your uniform on, you’re a spokesperson for the U.S. military and government. We don’t need to make the Arab world angrier at us than they already are and it doesn’t help when you say things like, “Why do they hate us? The answer to that is because we are a Christian nation. We are hated because we are a nation of believers.” Or when you describe the Muslim warlords you fought in Mogadishu, Somalia, as “the principalities of darkness” and a “demonic presence in that city that God revealed to me as the enemy,” that “will only be defeated if we come against them in the name of Jesus.”

General, I think the hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers” must have been written just for you. I’m sure your superiors have already given you a lesson in politics and public relations. And I’ve heard you have toned down your opinions and said you didn’t mean to offend anyone. Whether you keep your job is a political question, the outcome of which we will know soon enough.

But I want to raise some different issues: biblical theology, bad teaching, and church discipline. General, your theology bears no resemblance to biblical teaching. You utterly confuse the body of Christ with the American nation. The kingdom of God doesn’t endorse the principalities and powers of nation-states, armies, and the ideologies of empire; but rather calls them all into question. You even miss the third verse of “Onward Christian Soldiers,” which reminds us, “Crowns and thrones may perish, Kingdoms rise and wane, But the Church of Jesus, constant will remain.” And let’s not misinterpret the famous first verse, “Onward Christian soldiers marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.” The cross, General, not the Special Forces.

Brother Boykin, I believe you are a product of bad theology and church teaching. Why were you never given sound biblical tools to help you discern the shape of your vocation? Why were you never taught in Sunday school about the real meaning of the kingdom of God, and the universality of the body of Christ? And why have you never heard that only peacemaking, not war-making, can be done “in the name of Jesus?”

General, I really don’t want to blame you for the lack of Christian teaching that you have obviously suffered. But there is a legitimate issue of church discipline here. When a high-ranking military officer espouses a zealous religious nationalism that claims the name “Christian” for both his nation and his army, and when he invokes the name of Jesus – not to love our enemies as he instructed, but rather to target them for destruction – the church must discipline that errant brother and name his public statements for what they are, not mere political incorrectness, but idolatry. General, you have substituted your nation and your army for God, your faith is more American than Christian, the Jesus you claim is not the Jesus of the New Testament, and his kingdom will not be ushered in by the U.S. military.

Whatever happens with your job, I pray that you find a church that offers you the ministry of repentance, forgiveness, and restoration to a more authentic biblical faith.

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