February 12, 2005


Unholy Wars: Two books document the dangers of mixing church and state. (Stan Guthrie, 01/27/2005, Christianity Today)

A new book, Christian Jihad by Ergun Mehmet Caner, of Liberty University, and Emir Fethi Caner, of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, examines this uncomfortable question. The authors bring an unusual perspective to the task. Two former Muslims who now follow Christ, the Caners have drawn international attention for their tough critiques of Islam in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Now, in a clear attempt at intellectual balance, they have exposed to the light what many Christians would no doubt prefer to be left in darkness: the propensity of professed followers of the Prince of Peace to advance and maintain the faith through brutality. In a day in which Islamic extremism terrorizes millions, the Caners have issued a call for Christian humility, knowing that we have traveled much the same violent path. The Muslims' impulse to holy war is doubly horrible for us—horrible because of the slaughter done in the name of God, and horrible because of the self-recognition it ought to produce.

"True authenticity demands that we denounce acts in history in which innocent non-believers were slaughtered for the sole crime of being a non-believer," they write in the introduction. "True authenticity demands that we confront and learn from dark chapters in the past."

The book scans the gamut of ecclesiastical history, from the days of the early church, when Christians were persecuted as dangerous sects or ignored as theological oddballs, through the merging of temporal and spiritual power that began with Constantine. The authors survey the gradual evolution of Christian involvement in war from pacifism (A.D. 30-300) to participation (150-325), from Augustine's Just War doctrine to Christian jihad in the Crusades, from Catholic inquisitions of "heretics" to persecutions of the Anabaptists endorsed by the Protestant Reformers.

Indeed, the saddest and most painful chapter in the book for evangelicals must be the one entitled "Magisterial Mayhem: When a State-run Church Leads to Blood in the Streets." When I was a new Christian, I sloughed off the usual diatribes against Christianity that used the Inquisition and the Crusades as clubs with which to batter the reputation of the faith. After all, I reasoned, these admittedly dark deeds were carried out by Roman Catholics, who did not have much of the Spirit; they had so encrusted the Bible with man-made interpretations that it is no wonder they descended into barbarity.

But what can we say of the barbarity of Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, who cracked down mercilessly on the radical Anabaptists and other dissenters after risking their own lives for religious liberty? Remember, the Reformers were men who recovered the primacy of Spirit-inspired Scripture for the church, yet, disturbingly, their more pure faith did not inoculate them from the virus of Christian jihad.

For the Caners, the issue is not any inherently violent core in Christianity, but the inherently dangerous mixing of church and state, combined with the inherent violence residing in the human heart. They say whenever the state and the church get married, it is not an equal partnership. Instead, the state uses the church to enhance its own power before eventually discarding the church as just another whore.

One particularly intriguing part of Christian Jihad is the eerie juxtaposition of the rhetoric of Pope Urban II, who launched the First Crusade, with the 1998 "Call to Crusade" from Islamic terrorist Osama bin Laden. Both statements describe the threat of an unholy enemy, the slaughters allegedly perpetrated by that enemy, the obligation to fight against the infidels, and the promise of forgiveness of sins for those who join the holy war.

Even more disconcerting are their horrific descriptions of church-sanctioned violence. Let's just say that the Muslims who behead civilians in Iraq would no doubt admire the brutal work of their Christian predecessors.

While jihad is by no means the whole story of the Christian faith, far too often Christians—seeking to inaugurate heaven on earth—have instead brought a taste of hell. Like Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and atheist utopians before and since, Christians too have been corrupted by state power.

The American experience suggests a better and safer course. Eschewing both a godless state and a state church, the United States was built on the foundation of Judeo-Christian virtues, but not on a state religion. Yet while church and state may be legally separate here, they are not enemies. Rather, they are partners for the good of the republic. This experiment has worked, for over two centuries.

It would be helpful if Mr. Guthrie offered some argument of why it's wrong to extend our beliefs even brutally, rather than a blithe assertion that it is. For instance, there's no serious sense in which the current wars (or the wars against Nazism and Communism) differ from the Crusades, as we kill those whose opinions differ from ours and impose our own system of democracy, capitalism, and protestantism. That these are the derivatives of Christianity rather than Christianity itself doesn't seem a particularly significant, while the refusal of secular Europe to join in the war and the opposition of the Democrats seems to speak volumes.


Peace should be the object of your desire; war should be waged only as a necessity, and waged only that God may by it deliver men from the necessity and preserve them in peace. For peace is not sought in order to the kindling of war, but war is waged in order that peace be obtained. Therefore, even in waging war, cherish the spirit of the peacemaker, that, by conquering those whom you attack, you may lead them back to the advantages of peace; for as our Lord says: 'Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God.'
-Saint Augustine

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 12, 2005 6:08 AM

Put simply, if one gets in the habit of murdering those who disagree with him, simply for disagreeing, where does it stop? What disagreements are sufficiently dire to cause one to murder someone else? Are we going to start fighting over which end of the egg to open up first? Fighting is part of human nature and people will invent reasons, however dopey, to justify warfare.

We chose to defend ourselves from the murderous onslaught on Nazism and Communism, which both imposed themselves on other people by force. Our problem with Islam, a religion which preaches conversion by the sword, is much the same. At the time of the Crusades, the West was in an actual military conflict with Islam in places like Iberia and Asia Minor. The West did not start it.

Buddhists, Hindus and Confucians do not try to convert by military means, allowing people to make up their own minds about such matters. Christianity pretty much gave it up by the 19th century and Judaism never was powerful enough to do it, so Jews never developed a culture which butchered people because of their differences.

Posted by: Bart at February 12, 2005 10:45 AM


Yes, we murder those we disagree with.

Posted by: oj at February 12, 2005 10:51 AM

Only when they decide to murder us first. That is what makes the free societies of the West different from the rest of world history.

Had the Soviets and the Nazis wanted to live with everyone else in peace, merely engaging in their predations within their own borders, most of us would have left them alone. It was only when they started marching or starting revolutions hither thither and yon that the civilized world acted against them.

Mere disagreement is not cause for murder except among the morally obtuse.

Posted by: Bart at February 12, 2005 11:12 AM

Huh? The Brits, the South, the Spanish, the Phillipinos, Imperial Germany, Nazi Germany, the Soviets, the North Koreans, the North Vietnamese, The Grenadians, the Nicaraguans, the Haitians, the Serbs, the Iraqis, the Afghans, the Iraqis, etc., etc., etc. There's almost no connection between our deciding to kill people and their having killed us--it's all just ideas.

Posted by: oj at February 12, 2005 11:17 AM

Read the biblical record of the Hebrew return to the Promised Land under Moses & Joshua. Read about how Ezra and Nehemiah responded to inter-faith/ethnic marriages. Read of the battles that Saul & David fought against the "infidels" of their day. NEVER say NEVER Bart.

Posted by: Phil at February 12, 2005 5:08 PM

nature wants conflict, its inherent in the system. just ask a gazelle or a rabbit.

Posted by: cjm at February 12, 2005 6:20 PM