Are you a “Christian warmonger,” a “Red-state Fascist,” a “Reich-Wing nationalist,” an “Imperial Christian,” a “Christian killer,” a “pro-life murderer,” a “double-minded warmonger,” a “God-and-country Christian bumpkin,” or a “warvangelical Christian”? According to Laurence M. Vance, Ph.D., you may be if you support current U.S. foreign policy and the current actions of the U.S. military. Do you get your news from the “Fox War Channel” and the “War Street Journal”? If so, you need to read Vance’s books War, Christianity, and the State: Essays on the Follies of Christian Militarism and War, Empire, and the Military: Essays on the Follies of War and U.S. Foreign Policy.
War, Christianity, and the State is a collection of 76 of Vance’s essays written between 2003 and 2013, all of which appeared on LewRockwell.com. Vance accurately summarizes the contents of the chapters:
In chapter 1, “Christianity and War,” Christian enthusiasm for war and the military is shown to be an affront to the Saviour, contrary to Scripture, and a demonstration of the profound ignorance many Christians have of history. In chapter 2, “Christianity and the Military,” the idea that Christians should have anything to do with the military is asserted to be illogical, immoral, and unscriptural. In chapter 3, “Christianity and the Warfare State,” I argue that Christians who condone the warfare state, its senseless wars, its war on a tactic (terrorism), its nebulous crusades against “evil,” its aggressive militarism, its interventions into the affairs of other countries, and its expanding empire have been duped. In chapter 4, “Christianity and Torture,” I contend that it is reprehensible for Christians to support torture for any reason.
Vance writes as a conservative, evangelical, fundamentalist Christian, holding degrees in history, theology, accounting, and economics. His main message in War, Christianity, and the State is that
If there is any group of people that should be opposed to war, torture, militarism, and the warfare state with its suppression of civil liberties, imperial presidency, government propaganda, and interventionist foreign policy it is Christians, and especially conservative, evangelical, and fundamentalist Christians who claim to strictly follow the dictates of Scripture and worship the Prince of Peace.
Vance sharply rebukes supporters of the warfare state, particularly Christians, and illustrates the follies and horrors of war. He points out the hypocrisy of Christians who support U.S. militarism, the warfare state, the neoconservative-dominated Republican Party, and those who believe almost everything coming from Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, and Glenn Beck. Many such Christians claim to worship the Prince of Peace yet wholeheartedly endorse acts of violence against other people in the form of war. He dubs such Christians “Christian killers” to illustrate this contradiction.
While some Christians may in fact be opposed to the numerous wars of aggression entered into by the United States, they almost to a person still “support the troops,” because the troops are “just following orders” and are thus justified in their killing of those who have not actually attacked the U.S. homeland. While Vance admits that killing in genuine defense of one’s life or family is justified, he also argues that killing other human beings, Christian or not, merely because the government labels them as “the enemy” is not justifiable and is therefore murder. In light of this, Vance believes that Christians should not serve in today’s military, and if they are already in the military, they should refuse to kill people in wars of aggression, no matter the consequences. Vance elaborates:
Most people say the troops are not responsible because they’re just following orders.... Many evangelical Christians agree, and join in this chorus of statolatry with their “obey the powers that be” mantra....
First of all, the last time I looked in my Bible, I got the strong impression that it was only God who should be obeyed 100 percent of the time without question.... If the U.S. government told someone to kill his mother, any American would be outraged if he under any circumstances went and did it. But if the government tells someone to put on a uniform and go kill some Iraqi’s mother, the typical American puts a yellow ribbon on his car and says we should support the troops.... Being told to clean or paint a piece of equipment is one thing; being told to bomb or shoot a person is another.
War, Empire, and the Military is a collection of 127 of Vance’s essays written between 2004 and 2014, with the bulk of them appearing on LewRockwell.com. Vance notes of the seven chapters:
In chapter 1, “War and Peace,” the evils of war and warmongers and the benefits of peace are examined. In chapter 2, “The Military,” the evils of standing armies and militarism are discussed, including a critical look at U.S. military. In chapter 3, “The War in Iraq,” the wickedness of the Iraq War is exposed. In chapter 4, “World War II,” the “good war” is shown to be not so good after all. In chapter 5, “Other Wars,” the evils of war and the warfare state are chronicled in specific wars: the Crimean War (1854-1856), the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), World War I (1914-1918), the Persian Gulf War (1990-1991), and the war in Afghanistan (2001-). In chapter 6, “The U.S. Global Empire,” the beginnings, growth, extent, nature, and consequences of the U.S. empire of bases and troops are revealed and critiqued. In chapter 7, “U.S. Foreign Policy,” the belligerence, recklessness, and follies of U.S. foreign policy are laid bare.
According to Vance, the underlying theme in this collection of essays is
opposition to the warfare state that robs us of our liberty, our money, and in some cases our life. Conservatives who decry the welfare state while supporting the warfare state are terribly inconsistent. The two are inseparable. Libertarians who are opposed to war on principle, but support the state’s bogus “war on terrorism,” even as they remain silent about the U.S. global empire, are likewise contradictory.
War, Empire, and the Military is a great study of history and a must-read for anyone who supports current U.S. foreign policy. Vance begins the book by explaining the views of classical Western thinkers and the views of the Founding Fathers regarding war, empire, and the military, telling how (and why) the early Americans were very much opposed to the modern warfare state with its foreign entanglements, foreign wars, and massive military budget. After all, the U.S. military, Vance says throughout both books, is now used for everything but its original purpose: the defense of the United States and the securing of her national borders.
In addition to giving detailed accounts of why many of the wars of the past two centuries were actually fought (often not the reasons given in American public-school history classes), Vance includes a number of essays depicting the horrors of war from the perspective of soldiers on the battlefield. After reading many of these accounts, only the most calloused individuals would still be eager to see America involved in another war.
War, Christianity, and the State is no doubt the more controversial of the two books. Many conservative Christians will vehemently disagree with Vance’s views on the current evils of the U.S. military and war in general. In fact, Vance mentions the criticism he receives from many Christians (most of whom are not in the military) for his opposition to U.S. foreign policy and the warfare state. He admits that he has been called “liberal,” “communist,” “anti-war weenie,” “traitor,” “coward,” “America-hater,” and other vulgarities that will not be printed here. But Vance argues his points well, and provides a great deal of historical background on Christian opposition to war and the views of the Founding Fathers on war and standing armies to make his case. Additionally, Vance includes a number of essays featuring letters he has received from military personnel who agree with him. An open-minded reader who is a genuine Christian would find it difficult to disagree with Vance’s primary theses in both books.
A few small criticisms are in order. There is a great deal of overlap among the various essays, which is to be expected, and which Vance admits to in the beginning of both books. Additionally, there are a number of minor spelling and grammar errors, and, as the essays were primarily online postings, there are many spots that were obvious hyperlinks that do not show up in the books, which can be a bit awkward for the reader. This, also, Vance admits to.
But as mentioned above, both books — War, Christianity, and the State and War, Empire, and the Military — are must-reads for conservative Christians, many of whom have supported the military and the American warfare state. Although Vance has a literary wit and offers sharp criticism of those he disagrees with in order to provoke a thoughtful response, open-minded readers will no doubt come to agree with many of his views.
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Christianity and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State
Laurence M. Vance
Vance Publications (Pensacola, Fl.), 2008
By Doug Bandow
One of the great ironies of modern Christianity is how warlike many Christians are. Not all Christians, certainly. And many believers at many times in history have put state and ruler before church and God. Yet it remains striking how many conservative evangelicals unabashedly acted as shock troops backing the Iraq invasion. Everyone from Jerry Falwell to Pat Robertson to Chuck Colson to D. James Kennedy to James Dobson to a host of lesser Christian leaders propagandized on behalf of President George W. Bush. A few war supporters have been humbled by the resulting catastrophe in Iraq, but most disclaim any responsibility for the debacle. Some, such as John Hagee, who has endorsed Sen. John McCain for president, now bray for war against Iran.
Laurence Vance, a serious Christian writer and teacher, offers a dramatic counterpoint. In his latest book, Christianity and War, Vance collects 79 essays on military and foreign policy. He spares no one, declaring: "Christians who condone the warfare state and its nebulous crusades against evil have been duped. There is nothing Christian about the states aggressive militarism, its senseless wars, its interventions into the affairs of other countries, and its expanding empire."
Im probably viewed as a bit of a nutty pacifist at my church. I opposed the Iraq War from the beginning, dismissed the argument that Christian theology requires reflexive support for extremist Likud Party rule in secular Israel, and criticized the tendency of believers to conflate Christianity with the Republican Party. But I am a hopeless squish compared to Vance, who lives in the Florida Panhandle, one of the most conservative parts of the country; it is a miracle that land so weighed down with military bases and personnel hasnt sunk.
Vance ably mixes history and theology to make his points. Although evangelicals, in particular, act as if nothing could be more natural than carrying a Bible in one hand and shooting a gun in the other, many church fathers were strongly antiwar and sought to limit its occurrence. Vance cites as one example Hugo Grotius, the Dutch Christian who helped create the idea of international law.
Many early American Christians also railed against war, which, one wrote, "contradicts the genius and intention of Christianity" and is "contrary to the Gospel." Another Christian leader complained that "the chief wonder is that Christians, followers of the Prince of Peace, should have concurred in this mad idolatry of strife, and thus been inconsistent not only with themselves, but with the very genius of their system."
Grotius detailed conditions to govern just and fair conduct in war but, notes Vance, "The fact that a government claims a war is just is irrelevant, for American history is replete with examples of American presidents who have exaggerated, misinformed, misrepresented, and lied to deceive the American people into supporting wars that they would not have supported if they had known the facts." George W. Bush, Lyndon Johnson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson all make the list. So do Abraham Lincoln and James Polk.
Argue that the wars were justified if you wish. But the deception is unmistakable. And use of deception to win over the American people cannot be justified.
However, deception probably wasnt necessary to win over many clerics. Vance chastises Christians who fall for the age-old tactic of government using religion to whip up war fever. He writes: "Many supporters of the senseless war in Iraq are high on religion. Add a religious element to a war and the faithful will come out in droves in support of it. In the case of the current war in Iraq this is easy to do. Because the United States is supposedly a Christian nation, the war can be turned into a modern-day crusade since Iraq is a Muslim nation."
He also argues that "Christian warmongers would rather be associated with Bush and the war than with people whom they and others have deemed undesirable. In actuality, however, they are choosing to be associated with a war criminal and murder than with the truth just because some people who are usually wrong happen to be right on this particular issue."
Here, as elsewhere, Vance speaks plainly. He compares the manipulation of American Christians today to that of other Christians at other times, noting how German soldiers wore belt buckles with the inscription "Gott Mit Uns" (God With Us). He adds that "The lesson here is clear: The state uses religion for its own sinister purposes, and especially for that most destructive purpose of all what Jefferson called the greatest scourge of mankind and Washington called the plague of mankind war."
Vance refuses to compromise his rhetoric when talking about the United States or the U.S. military. Hes at times painfully provocative but usually correct. His tone is like the proverbial fingernail across a chalkboard: a typical conservative Christian will want to cover his or her ears and run screaming from the room. Yet Vance forces the complacent, including antiwar activists such as myself, who want to think we are taking thoughtful, nuanced positions, to reconsider our most basic beliefs.
America proclaims liberty around the world, Vance writes, "But rather than receiving a proclamation of liberty, what many people in foreign countries receive instead are threats, bombs, and bullets." Ouch! He goes on, "From a Christian perspective there is only one way to describe U.S. foreign policy: it is evil. It was evil before the United States invaded Iraq, and it would still be evil if the United States withdrew all of its forces from Iraq tomorrow. It is because of our foreign policy that the U.S. military has become through its wars, interventions, and occupations the greatest force for evil in the world. U.S. foreign policy sows discord among nations, stirs up strife where none existed, intensifies the hatred that many foreigners around the world have for Americans and each other, and creates terrorists faster than we can kill them." Double ouch!
His negative view of military service may cut deepest. As the son and brother-in-law of career military men, I deeply respect the armed services, though it was not a life that appealed to me. As difficult as I imagined it would be to kill another human being, Ive always believed that a military is necessary to protect America in a dangerous world. Yet Vance is right that most of the U.S. governments wars, interventions, and threats do not advance American interests and often create enormous hardship for others.
So what of the responsibility of military personnel? Vance complains that "Not only are U.S. soldiers not viewed as responsible for the death and destruction that they bring, we continually see signs and yellow ribbons expressing support for the troops. We also frequently hear from church pulpits that we should pray for the troops." However, in his view "it cant be said that the actions of U.S. soldiers in this war are so different from the actions of Russians, Germans, and Turks that they should be commended instead of condemned. Labeling the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq a just war does not make it one."
Its an extraordinary challenge. Certainly the U.S. invasion of Iraq was woefully imprudent and failed to meet just war criteria. It cant be called humanitarian because it has created more death and destruction than it eliminated. Yet defenestrating Saddam Hussein was a blessing and many of those on the receiving end of U.S. bullets today are evil men who have murdered and brutalized others. My gut says Vance is wrong to blame service personnel but there is power and purity to his argument.
It comes as no surprise, then, that Vance argues against anyone joining the military. He doesnt even think Christians should become military chaplains. He believes that being answerable to government inevitably compromises ones convictions. More fundamentally, to become a chaplain requires that one "join the military" and "support the activities of the military." His question to those thinking of serving: "Is asking God to bless and protect the troops as they shoot, bomb, maim, mine, destroy, interrogate, and kill for a rogue state with an evil foreign policy consistent with the Christianity you find in the New Testament?"
Theres much more in Christianity and War. Vance devotes several essays to the practical case against the Iraq war. He cites then-Defense Secretary Richard Cheneys arguments against invading Iraq. He flays talk show host Rush Limbaugh for contending that todays troops losses dont matter since traffic deaths are higher. Vance looks at other wars, and assesses Americas imperial foreign policy. He cheerfully explains "whats wrong with the U.S. global empire."
Most of his essays are spot on. Hes not always right. But he always makes readers think.
Of course, Vance never changes his tone, bringing to mind abolitionist William Lloyd Garrisons promise when he inaugurated The Liberator: "I will not equivocate. I will not retreat a single inch and I will be heard." Laurence Vance does not equivocate. And he will be heard.