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War For Souls And Empire
In Christ's Name

By Yoginder Sikand

10 October, 2006

Although rarely commented on in the press, Christian fundamentalism has emerged as a powerful factor in shaping American foreign policies, particularly in the 'Muslim world'. With a born-again Christian fundamentalist as President of America this is hardly surprising. And that this can only further worsen already embittered relations between the 'West' and the 'Muslim world' is too obvious to need any explanation.

Right-wing evangelical American Christian groups in America are among the most vociferous supporters of Bush's global 'war on terror'. As they see it, all religions other than (their version of) Christianity are nothing less than inventions of the Devil. Their followers, they insist, are doomed to eternal perdition in hell. For them, America's current 'war on terror' is nothing less than a divine mandate to America to break down the walls of heathendom, paving the way for them to pursue what they call their global commission to spread the 'good news' of Christianity.

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is one of the several American evangelical groups strongly backing Bush's imperialist offensives in Iraq and elsewhere in the 'Muslim world'. Established in 1845, the SBC is the largest and most powerful ultra-conservative Protestant Christian organisation in the country. It has a membership of some 16 million in America, with some 42,000 churches. In a statement of its beliefs it insists that salvation is possible only through belief in Jesus Christ and his death on the Cross, and is predicated on baptism in the Christian church. Non-Christians, no matter if they have led morally upright lives, 'become transgressors' and 'are under condemnation, that is, they are lost'. It insists that those 'without a personal commitment to Jesus Christ will be consigned to a literal hell, the place of everlasting separation from God'. The SBC, like other evangelicals, sees as its primary task the conversion of the entire world to Christianity. 'The Great Commission mandate of our Lord Jesus', it declares, 'compels us to disciple the nations' (SBC Resolution on the Priority of Global Evangelism and Missions, 1999). In 2003 its overseas church membership stood at more than 7 million, with 1523 international missionaries working in the field.

Bush, for his part, has made no bones about his sympathies for the SBC. In 2002 he delivered an address to the SBC's annual convention through satellite (accessible on, where he explicitly acknowledged the role of preachers of the SBC in 'nurturing' his 'faith'. He indicated in no uncertain terms his support to the SBC and its agenda by declaring, 'You and I share common commitments', including 'protecting human dignity' and 'human rights'. He ended his speech by thanking the SBC for what he called its 'good works'. 'You're believers, and you're patriots, faithful followers of God and good citizens of America', he said in closing, beseeching God to bless them and America.

As an ultra-right wing church, the SBC's political stance has consistently been pro-establishment, and one of its principal functions has been to provide suitable theological sanction to American imperialism. In the heydays of the Soviet Union, the SBC was regarded as a bulwark against what was seen as the menacing threat of communism. It lent full support to the American state's war on communism, which it equated, in its own words, with 'cancer'. The 'Christian faith', it declared, 'is incompatible with communism'. It expressed its gratitude to 'all agencies, organizations and persons who guard our homes, our churches and our nation against communist subversion'. 'We speak our No to communism when we say Yes to Jesus Christ', it announced in a resolution passed at its annual meeting in 1962 at the height of the Cold War. It insisted that the 'proper and only adequate response to the challenge of communism is to be thoroughly Christian, and to seek to establish and support New Testament churches at home and abroad'. This, of course, tied in comfortably with the American policy of sponsoring right-wing Christian groups in the so-called 'Third World' to counter 'red menace'.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, American Christian evangelicals have been among the most forceful champions of the Huntingtonian thesis of a 'clash of civilisations' pitting the 'Christian' West against Islam. Leading evangelicals have issued statements that clearly indicate that they see America as engaged in nothing less than a crusade against the Muslim world. No sooner had Bush announced America's latest imperialist offensive in Iraq (which he termed as a 'crusade') than the SBC rallied behind him to provide his declaration with religious sanction. At its annual meeting in 2002 the SBC passed a lengthy resolution on the 'war on terrorism', exhorting Christians to rally behind Bush. It enthusiastically blessed American imperialist aggression against Iraq by arguing that the Christian scriptures explicitly 'command civil authorities to restrain evil and to punish evildoers through the power of the sword'. It fervently appealed to Christians to 'pray for those in authority', and applauded what it called the 'moral clarity' of Bush in his denunciation of 'terrorist' groups as 'evildoers'. It resolved to 'wholeheartedly support the United States government, its intelligence agencies and its military' in what it called the 'just war' against the 'terrorist networks'. But, as it saw it, the war, while necessary, was not the final solution to the problem of 'terrorism', which could only come about through the global spread of Christianity. Hence, it concluded its resolution by insisting that the 'conversion of the people of all nations to salvation through belief in the Lord Jesus Christ' was 'the only ultimate answer to all forms of terrorism'.

The 2002 meeting of the SBC also passed an important resolution on the situation in West Asia. Like most other American evangelicals, and following faithfully the official American line, it expressed unstinted support for Israel. It insisted that the Old and the New Testaments 'affirm God's special purposes and providential care for the Jewish people', and argued that 'The Jewish people have an historic connection to the land of Israel, a connection that is rooted in the promises of God Himself'. It declared, in no uncertain terms, that Israel properly belonged to the Jews, claiming that the 'international community' had 'restored' land to the Jewish people in 1947 in order to 'provide a homeland for them and to re-establish the nation of Israel'. No mention, of course, was made of the forcible occupation of the land by the Zionists and the consequent killings and forced migrations of thousands of Palestinians, both Muslims and Christians. In a thinly veiled reference to Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation it expressed its 'abhorrence of all forms of terrorism as inexcusable, barbaric and cowardly'. It provided 'Christian' sanction for denying the Palestinians the right to oppose the Israelis ('We denounce revenge in any form as a response to past offences', the resolution read), but at the same time asserted that Israel had the alleged God-given right to oppose the Palestinian resistance ( '[We] support the right of sovereign nations to use force to defend themselves against aggressors'). In sort, it parroted what seems to be the standard American and Israeli line on the Palestinian issue.

The SBC is just one of a vast number of well-heeled American fundamentalist Christian organsations that are today major players in American domestic politics and exercise a powerfully influence in shaping American foreign policies. The silence of the Western media, by and large, on their pernicious theology and their backing for Western imperialism is hardly surprising, given that the entire onus for the deteriorating relations between the 'West' and the 'Muslim world' is consciously sought to be placed solely on the onus of the Muslims themselves. Clearly, if at all the 'clash of civilisations' thesis is to be prevented from coming true and leading the world to the brink of Armageddon, Christian fundamentalist imperialism cannot be left unchallenged.

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