The nation has a rich history of ministers who have gone to the public airways either as hawks or doves. Generally, the hawk model has been more visible.
German churches offered their church bells to be melted down into cannon balls for World War I. They no doubt had gleaned such an idea from southern Protestant churches, which did the same during the Civil War.
Cautious pacifism seemed to be more equated with cowardice than it did with Christian ethics. More recently, a splinter group of the Baptist General Convention of Texas equated being a pacifist with being a pagan.
In the Vietnam era, Col. R. B. Thieme, head of a national tape ministry, often preached in a military uniform. Thieme, who often swore from the pulpit, would tell congregants it was their “God-given right to kill Gooks.”
Today, TV preachers Jack Van Impe and John Hagee fill their programs with charts on the end of the world, with biblical predictions regarding the region of the Iraq conflict. The Southern Baptist Convention’s national ethics organization head endorsed the war against Iraq, saying it falls under the category of a “just war.”
By contrast, another evangelical Baptist, Jimmy Carter, wrote in the New York Times that the war does not fit those qualifications and denounced the doctrine of “pre-emptive war.”
I recently attended a service by the Rev. James Forbes of Riverside Church in New York City. He opposes the Iraq war and has allowed anti-war demonstrators to use the church for a rally. Forbes told the audience that the only truly “regenerated people” oppose the war with Iraq. In Baptist lingo that means you are saved.
I recall comments written by Harry Fosdick and George Truett, famous pulpit legends of early last century. Though both were miles apart on their theology, both regretted allowing themselves to be drawn into promoting America’s participation in World War I. Their note of caution appears to go unheeded by the current generation of proclaimers.
Preaching is equated with “thus saith the Lord.” Through ministry’s ongoing attempt to make application to modern thought, personal opinions often get mixed up with divine mandates.
Billy Graham, in seeking to be an international evangelist, has steered clear of such public endorsements of national policy. That has left his ministry open to overseas mission endeavors.
In the Old Testament, ministers were exempt from the military. The exemption did not imply they sat at home and set military strategy.
Donald S. Wilkey Jr. is pastor of First Baptist Church in Onalaska, Texas.