Evangelical Pacifism in the War on Terror - by Mark D. Tooley

Will turning the other cheek keep us safe from Islamofascists?


The new Evangelical Left largely agrees with the old Religious Left that traditional religious conservatives have distorted the Bible with their patriotism, support for America’s wars, and friendship for Israel. For left-leaning Evangelical elites, no less than for old Mainline Protestant bureaucrats, pacifism, at least for America, is the answer.

A new voice for evangelical pacifism is a young missionary named Aaron Taylor, who writes for Jim Wallis’ Sojourners, and who recently authored the book Alone with a Jihadist, which argues that Christian pacifism is the right retort to radical Islam.  Is surrender to Islamic terror the only correct Christian response?  For Taylor, as for increasing numbers of evangelical elites who reject traditional Christian Just War teachings, the answer tragically is “yes.”

“The version of Christ we have in America, especially white evangelicalism, is so huge with nationalism and patriotism, so fused together, we need a radical separation,” Taylor surmised in a recent interview.   Too many religious conservatives take biblical “verses out of context to justify… American wars,” he fretted.  “When it comes to invading sovereign nations.  Or Israel bombing Gaza and hundreds of civilians dying,” we need to “switch the burden of proof around,” he urged.

Apparently Taylor was previously a traditional conservative evangelical. But his 2006 participation in a film documentary by leftist Canadian director Stephen Marshall about Christianity and Islam post-9-11, called “HolyWars,” brought him together with an Irish convert to radical Islam. In the jihadist, Taylor wearisomely “saw a mirror image of my own side, militant evangelical Christianity,” “support for Israel and America,” and the “same militancy I see on a lot of on Christian television.”  His encounter with the radical Muslim that supposedly so reminded him of conservative American evangelicals was a “traumatic experience” that motivated his appeal for Christian pacifism in Alone with a Jihadist.

In a recent column for Sojourners, Taylor naturally lashes out at President Obama’s troop surge in Afghanistan, which he found disturbingly reminiscent of George W. Bush, if somewhat “less arrogant.”  Still, Taylor opined that Obama’s “rejection of unilateralism, his willingness to dialogue with enemies, and his understanding of the limits of power—howbeit nuanced—make him about as good of a president as we can expect on the foreign policy front given the current state of American culture and, more specifically, the American Church.”

Americanism militarism, Taylor has discovered, originated with America’s “civil religion of God, guns, and country,” which seduces even liberals into “glorifying military heroes and showing off the Pentagon’s latest weapons technology.”  America’s supposed love of war will not change until “the words ‘fighting for freedom’ become more associated in the average American mind with strikes, boycotts, and voter registrations than with ground invasions and bombing raids.”

Like many left-leaning evangelicals, Taylor is a disciple of the late Notre Dame teacher and Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder, who claimed that the demand for non-violence was the central message of Christ’s crucifixion.   Yoder’s devotees, most prominently Duke Divinity School teacher Stanley Hauerwas, insist that pacifism should be Christianity’s defining tenet.  They reject the Just War tradition that has guided the vast majority of Christians, based on Church Fathers like St. Augustine, and St. Paul’s admonition in Romans 13 that God has ordained the state to “wield the sword” against evil.

“What if John Howard Yoder replaced Augustine as the intellectual giant of the Western Church?” Taylor dreamily asked in his Sojourners piece.  “For that to happen, a lot more Bible-believing Christians are going to have to be convinced that Romans 13 is not a carte blanche for Christians participating in state-sanctioned violence, that the Old Testament is a poor pretext for just war theory, and that John the Baptist wasn’t condoning violence when he didn’t tell the Roman soldiers of their day to give up their occupations.”

Like most Christian pacifists, Taylor boasted that his approach is “radical.” And he is untroubled by his break from most Christian tradition, complaining that Protestant Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin “didn’t go far enough,” but the “people who did were the Anabaptists,” or the spiritual ancestors of Mennonites, Quakers, and Amish.   Apparently Taylor’s seven hour meeting with a militant Jihadist was enough to persuade him that most of Christianity was wrong about government’s vocation to protect its people from violence and terror.  Historically, most Mennonites and Quakers have allowed others to fight their wars without condemning them.  But the new breed of Evangelical Left Anabaptist wannabes  insist they must denounce people of faith who appreciate police and militaries as moral necessities in a fallen and turbulent world.

Taylor’s Jihadist interlocutor complained to him that Christianity and democracy failed to create “godly government” and allows evil to “run rampant,” by not executing homosexuals and adulterers, among other omissions.  Of course, thousands of years of Jewish and Christian tradition have addressed how faith should interact with governance. But Taylor seems largely to ignore these moral teachings, or portray them in caricatures, with his website asserting that “many Christians support warmongering and unnecessary bloodshed rather than peacemaking.”  His website describes his discovery of pacifism grandly as the “solution to end all religious/quasi-political warfare.”  Purportedly, “many fundamentalist/evangelicals tend to ascribe [sic] to a Zionist theology, which believes that it is good to be at war with anyone who opposes the Christian right, to expedite the glorious return of the Messiah, there is one crusader, Aaron Taylor, who believes otherwise.”

The Evangelical Left, so ashamed of the patriotism of traditional religious conservatives, believes that its own brand of absolutist pacifism will cleanse the American’s church of its warmongering sins and ultimately, perhaps, redeem America from its supposed thirst for bloodshed.  Taylor’s website claims that if “Christians everywhere were to return to their pre-Augustine heritage of non-violence as a way of life, then the social impact of the church would be greater than that of the Protestant Reformation.”

Such utopian pacifism may appeal to seminary campuses, book fairs, and religious online chat rooms.  But mainstream Jewish and Christian ethics have always chiefly addressed the real world, not an imagined ideal.  Historic Christianity empowers the state to repress, where possible, crime and terror, not surrender to chaos.  But for many on the Evangelical Left, contempt for America, and for Israel, override fidelity to historic Christian beliefs.