America’s Evangelical Taliban
Pierre Tristam/Daytona Beach News-Journal, August 1, 2006
At this late stage of the Bush rapture, American evangelism is a lot like the Exxon Valdez: Massive, sloshing with oily energy and not a little drunk on its power as it steers through hazards of its own designs. The moment evangelicals began tearing down the church-state wall, the rubble became their shoals. The wreck will be ugly. It will take years to mend because, as one of their own, Minnesota’s Rev. Gregory Boyd, recently put it: “Never in history have we had a Christian theocracy where it wasn’t bloody and barbaric. That’s why our Constitution wisely put in a separation of church and state.” Meanwhile, too much damage is being done by policies keyed to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” not to have lasting consequences abroad and at home.
The wreck’s effects abroad are spreading. Remember William Boykin, the Army lieutenant-general who went around Christian congregations after Sept. 11, telling them how he knew that “my” God “was bigger than his” (one of Osama’s lieutenants), “that my God was a real God, and his was an idol”? Instead of being relegated to sorting junk mail in a Pentagon basement, Boykin was promoted to undersecretary of defense for intelligence—including the supervision of prison interrogations. It’s “his” God against the jihadis now in Iraq and Afghanistan, and apparently “his” God against the Constitution or the Geneva Conventions.
The evangelical assault on secular values at home is no less dangerous than its Islamic variant. It’s a difference of degrees, not substance. The difference is hard to see when evangelicals eagerly thump for blood-letting abroad or stage-manage it like Boykin and his crusading commander-in-chief do. John Hagee is a Texas evangelical and leader of that hybrid known as the Christian Zionist movement. He commands a huge following and the ear of politicians, Bush among them. Earlier this month Hagee led a rally of 3,500 evangelicals at a Washington hotel, where he called Israel’s attacks on Lebanon a “miracle of God” and proof that Israel was doing God’s work. Hagee was quoted in The Wall Street Journal as saying that for Israel to show restraint would violate “God’s foreign policy statement” toward Jews. Bush sent Hagee a message of praise for “spreading the hope of God’s love and the universal gift of freedom.”
When he’s not thumping for Israel, Hagee raises money for Republican causes and beats war drums in line with his clash-of-civilizations thesis. “This is a religious war that Islam cannot—and must not—win,” he wrote in a recent book. He also sees the United States heading toward a nuclear confrontation with Iran, itself a fulfillment of a joyful promise: “The end of the world as we know it is rapidly approaching,” he writes. “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad—the best is yet to be.” In other words, war is a good thing, rapturous and necessary and sealed with a kiss from God, as the world edges toward Armageddon. The Bush presidency is that evangelical view’s self-fulfilling prophesy. Militants for Hezbollah, Hamas and the Taliban speak the very same language. Only the roles are reversed.
Gregory Boyd, author of those words in the first paragraph about every Christian theocracy’s sorry history, is the sort of evangelical who wants to prevent a complete wreck. His profile appeared in the Sunday New York Times, yang to Hagee’s Journal yin three days earlier. Boyd wants evangelicals out of politics, out of cheering for war and turning politics and patriotism into “idolatry.” “ America wasn’t founded as a theocracy. America was founded by people trying to escape theocracies,” he tells his Minnesota congregation. Boyd, writes The Times, “lambasted the ‘hypocrisy and pettiness’ of Christians who focus on ‘sexual issues’ like homosexuality, abortion or Janet Jackson’s breast-revealing performance,” as well as the claim the evangelicals alone know the right values. “All good, decent people want good and order and justice,” he says. “Just don’t slap the label ‘Christian’ on it.”
Boyd and Hagee are the good cop and bad cop of American evangelism as it pulpits its way to 50 million congregants and beyond. The bad cop is winning right now. It’s always easier to destroy than build. We should know. Boyd and Hagee have their twins all over the world of Islam, where theocratic thumping is the regressive rule. There, too, the likes of Hagee are winning. But that’s not our battle. It’s Islam’s to resolve, if it can. Our battle is with our own domestic Taliban, if it doesn’t sink us on those shoals first.