Book Review: American Militarism vs the Kingdom of God

Fight To join the discussion about Fight A Christian Case for Nonviolence, or to order a copy, go here

Fight is an ironic name for a book that is a polemic on the Christian call to nonviolence.

The book’s author, Preston Sprinkle, wrote the book in response to and as a conversation with America’s militaristic evangelical community. Even though I have a few problems with some of his interpretations of specific scriptures, I think he’s got a point. In fact, I think he’s dead-on accurate in many of his conclusions.

I remember seeing a video of one of our preachers here in Oklahoma City. This preacher was speaking (I can not regard his speech as a sermon of any sort) to a thoroughly roused-up and enormous congregation. Since the speech was going out over the airwaves, his actual audience was much larger.

This preacher was charging up and down the stage, mike in hand, using all the theatrics at his disposal. He would bend over and lower his voice to make a bottom dropping point at one place, and then straighten up and shout out his next point. It wasn’t a sermon. It was a performance.

And it wasn’t even vaguely Christian.

This man was taking verses out of the Bible to weave a totally fallacious case that somehow or other Jesus supported invading Iraq.

He had his audience in the palm of his hand. After all, most of them came to this particular church because they liked performances for their sermons and because they wanted “christian teaching” that would get them going emotionally while making them feel great about whatever they wanted to do in the first place.

The audience cheered and yelled like they were at a football game.

I haven’t seen many things that disgusted me more than this performance sermon and its clearly heretical mis-use of Holy Scripture to support a war.

I knew, even then, that the whole Iraq invasion was a sham. This was an unnecessary war that we were going into for reasons that had nothing to do with what we were being told. I have never understood why anyone would have had trouble seeing through the excuses for this war.

I also saw that if America’s Christian community did not stop using Christ to justify war, it would eventually destroy itself. People will follow the theological heresy of militarism so long as if feels good. But, as Europe has shown us, bombed out buildings and gas ovens do tend to dim the luster of it.

War is an almost preposterous evil. The Civil War general, William Tecumseh Sherman, the same General Sherman who burned Atlanta and waged war on the civilian population in his infamous march to the sea, said that war is hell.

He was right.

A friend of my husband’s went to view the federal building after the bombing here in Oklahoma City. “That is nothing,” she said as she gazed at the ruins. “Nothing.”

She had lived through war waged on a large scale. She had, in her youth, seen whole cities razed to bombed out hulks, human beings burnt to ash as they hid in their bomb shelters.

We are so soft when horror comes to us. We can not bear our losses, cannot abide our pain. But we treat war itself, which is savagery writ unimaginable, as if it was a computer game. Maybe we do that because we can switch our wars off in the same way that we switch off computer games.

There is very little reportage of what is happening on the perpetual warfront that America has embarked on. We bomb and slay without the rest of us here at home knowing about it. Our best hint of what is happening is when we see our own soldiers, returning to us with shattered bodies and — often — shattered minds.

Something ugly is out there on the other side of the endless rambles of the talking heads debating their endless gaffe reporting about what some politician said to a friend in an elevator or mumbled under his or her breath when he or she thought the mike was off. Something really ugly is out there, but we can’t see it, don’t know about it.

Our only real intimation is that we hear constantly about our national debt. We are told that the cause of this debt is us. It’s Social Security and Medicare. It’s the public schools. The whole debt and economic malaise of this country is the fault of those who pay the bills: The American people. No one mentions, no one even whispers, that we are funding a war colossus that asks for more, more, more ever single year and has been doing so since World War II.

We never talk about that 800 lb gorilla sitting in the middle of the room eating all the bananas. Such talk would be unpatriotic. It would mean that we don’t want to “defend ourselves” against all those people out there “who want to kill us.”

Militarism is a false idol. It is also, according to the author of Fight, anti-Scriptural and anti-Christian.

Fight takes the reader on a survey of the Scriptures from the viewpoint of looking at God’s teachings about war and militarism. Notice that militarism is a category that is distinct from war. One is an action of government-sponsored violence. The other is an outlook, a belief in war itself. It is an idol.

A large part of what Mr Sprinkle writes about the Old Testament necessarily focuses on discerning what God meant, rather than what He said. This is important to all Christians because the Old Testament seems in many ways to challenge the New Testament. Western Civilization is at its best when it is responding to the clear teachings of the New Testament, and at its worst when it looks for excuses for its murderous impulses in the Old Testament.

How are Christians meant to understand the seeming contradictions in attitude between the two covenants?

Mr Sprinkle does a fine job of presenting his answer to this, at least so far as it concerns war and war making. Fight is a well-written, well-researched presentation of his viewpoint concerning violence, war and the call of all Christians to follow Christ, even to the cross.

I don’t honestly know what I think about some of the points he makes. I need to think them through first before I can say. But I do think the book is a good read that opens a debate American Christians need to have.

I do not want to see Christians in this country fall into the trap that Christians fell into in Nazi Germany of supporting militarism right down to the pit of hell.

I am not and never have been a pacifist. I believe in self defense. That would seem to put me outside the ideal Mr Sprinkle is advocating. However, I cannot deny that his presentation is compelling.

My main interest in his book is that it starts a needful conversation. I remember that preacher charging around the stage, preaching what was clearly the heresy of militarism to a cheering crowd. I see this country edging ever closer to economic ruin while we feed our resources into the maw of a war machine. And I know that we must change or die.