The Hawk-Dove comparison explains the responses of a significant number of Southern Baptists. However, new categories of response have also emerged.

Historically, the Hawks have been the loudest voice within the denomination. During the Cold War era, the Hawks embraced an ethos that defined America as a freedom-loving, God-fearing nation. They condemned the Soviet Union as a totalitarian, atheistic state.

For Hawks, national security entailed more than the simple notion of protecting America’s territorial borders; it included defending and promoting the “American way of life.” Hawks viewed the spread of democracy, capitalism and the Christian faith as part of a singular mandate.

When the Cold War ended, discussions began about a New World order. The new paradigm anticipated that multinational alliances would enforce world peace and ensure the rule of law. It was not fully developed when the First Gulf War broke out.

As a result, Southern Baptist Hawks returned to an earlier geopolitical justification of war. Most Hawks used a Second World War analogy. Mike Huckabee, then president of the Arkansas Baptist Convention and now governor of Arkansas, stated, “The reluctance of the world to rise up against the death machine of Hitler’s Nazi Germany resulted in millions of innocent men, women, and children being gassed.”

For Huckabee, war was a regrettable necessity in a “wicked world” estranged from God, and certain situations required “the surgical removal of cancerous limbs.”

A small but vocal anti-war contingent among Southern Baptists has always existed. It has often used the just war doctrine to oppose specific military engagements. The just war doctrine holds that war is the final option for restoring justice or preventing the continual violation of human rights. A just war must ultimately lead to a sustained and true condition of peace.
During the First Gulf War, there were two distinct anti-war groups. Some, like Frank Stagg, emeritus professor of New Testament at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, suggested that the Gulf War presented the ideal opportunity for Southern Baptists to “reassess and reject” the just war doctrine and embrace pacifism as the appropriate Christian response to all wars.

A second group was not prepared to reject just war theory. It used just war doctrine to oppose what it considered a war being waged for economic reasons. John N. Jonsson of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary favored a U.S.-U.N. military presence in the Middle East for “peacekeeping” purposes but refused to “allow … US soldiers to be used as mercenaries to gratify economic expediency.”

The Hawk-Dove comparison explains the responses of a significant number of Southern Baptists. However, new categories of response have also emerged.

One group, which I call Falcons, expresses its nationalism by way of loyalty to the troops rather than defense of American foreign policy objectives. William Fletcher Allen, editor of the Baptist and Reflector, wrote that “those who march for peace in dignity have that right but the demonstrations must not undermine the security of the people or give despair to men and women in combat.”

In addition, some Southern Baptists used the First Gulf War as a way to exorcise the ghosts of Vietnam. Guy Henderson, editor of the Baptist Record, believed that Vietnam veterans had been mistreated and forced back into society without being properly appreciated by the American public. But as the veterans of Operation Desert Storm returned, Henderson boasted that “America [now] stands a little bit taller. The shadow of Vietnam fades, and a winner steps into the circle.”

Vietnam’s legacy also influenced the anti-war culture among Baptists. In devising an acceptable protest strategy, Ken Sehested of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America warned that anti-war groups had to stay in touch philosophically with “mainstream” people—or risk being associated with the 1960s “peacenik” culture. Such an identification would lead to their marginalization.

It is too soon to determine how Southern Baptist responses to the First Gulf War will compare to those of the Second Gulf War. If the lessons of the past are relevant, then they are likely teaching us that the denomination is more ideologically diverse than at any time in its history.

And the Second Gulf War may create even more ideological diversity.

Glenn Robins is assistant professor of history and director of the honors program at Georgia Southwestern State University.

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