Baptist state newspaper editorials on the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq swung from the biblically bizarre to morally insightful.
The most outlandish editorial appeared in the Pathway, the newspaper of the Missouri Baptist Convention.
After attacking Catholic bishops and mainline Protestant leaders for opposing the war, Editor Don Hinkle wrote that “pacifism is unbiblical” and defended war based on Old Testament texts.
“Jesus was not pacifist. He encountered Roman soldiers and never once told them they had to leave the army,” Hinkle reasoned. “Twice in the New Testament, he cleared the temple by force.”
Contrary to Hinkle’s biblical literalism, biblical scholars generally reject the interpretation that Jesus cleansed the temple twice. Some fundamentalists attempt to harmonize the chronological differences between the synoptic Gospels, in which Jesus cleansed the temple at the end of his ministry, and the Gospel of John, where Jesus took the same action at the start of his ministry.
In extending his strained argument against the idea that Jesus was a pacifist, Hinkle noted, “Jesus even told his disciples to sell their coats and buy a sword.”
“I say it’s time we went shopping,” Hinkle concluded.
Another pro-war editorial, which also appealed to a peculiar understanding of just war theory, appeared in the Florida Baptist Witness.
Like Hinkle, Editor James A. Smith Sr. sought to circumvent the widely held Christian view that Jesus favored non-violence and peacemaking.
While Smith did acknowledge the Sermon of the Mount and noted Paul’s parallel teachings in Romans 12, he evaded the directives of these biblical teachings.
“I believe when the entire biblical witness is taken into account,” Smith wrote, “it’s clear government has an obligation to punish those who do evil.”
The loss of Jesus as the criterion for interpreting scripture in favor of one’s personal beliefs enabled Smith to prioritize Romans 13 over the Sermon on the Mount and to argue that the United States had a God-ordained duty to punish evildoers such as Saddam Hussein.
Other Baptist state paper editors addressed the war with calls for prayer.
“Regardless of one’s personal views about the current war efforts, prayer is an essential response,” wrote Trennis Henderson, editor of Kentucky’s Western Recorder. “Prayer should be a first priority in the lives of Christians.”
Henderson said, “We can unleash the powerful weapon of prayer as we seek spiritual victory for the Kingdom of God.”
Lonnie Wilkey, editor of Tennessee’s Baptist and Reflector, wrote, “Now is the time to stop criticizing the president and to pray for him like you have never prayed before.”
“Our troops and other military leaders need to be lifted up continually throughout the day,” he wrote.
Only Marv Knox, editor of the Baptist Standard, wrote pointedly about praying for American troops and their enemies.
“Pray for George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein,” the Texas editor wrote. “Remember that God loves our enemies as much as God loves us.”
Unlike Wilkey’s plea for national unity in support of the war, Knox spoke in favor of free speech and expression of different ideas. “Even when we disagree over here, we must remember the great value of being free to disagree,” Knox wrote.
Another insightful piece appeared in the Biblical Recorder, in which Editor Tony Cartledge compared the language of war and evangelism.
“The war jargon is strikingly similar to the language of conquest many evangelicals use to describe evangelism and missions,” the North Carolina editor wrote.
Crusades, mission force, platforms, targeting and impact are words of both military action and mission efforts, Cartledge said.
“Unfortunately, many of the world’s people think of ‘American’ and ‘Christian’ as equivalent terms. Whether right or not, there is growing world opinion that Americans are bullies who want to build an empire for own purposes,” he wrote. “When American Christians use the language of conquest to describe their mission efforts, it feeds this tragic perception, with nothing but harm on the horizon for the reputation of evangelical Christianity.”
Cartledge said Christians need more positive words to talk about evangelism.