[N]o national government could ever secure a more powerful organ of official propaganda than a church quickening moral indignation against the enemy of the moment. – Herbert Butterfield
I vividly recall the chaotic scenes as the South Vietnamese army abruptly collapsed, with overloaded Hueys and C-5As trying to ferry a desperate last few to safety. “This is manifestly not Saigon,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken claimed, despite the clear correlation to Vietnam in 1975. But with the Americans pushing and shoving a hasty evacuation from Kabul as the enemy overruns the city – in all its heart-wrenching tragedy – I’ve seen this movie before.
“The blood of this nation will be on the hands of the Biden/Harris administration,” intoned Franklin Graham. “If you voted for Biden, you did this,” one right-wing pundit intoned. I agree. But if we’re playing the blame game, we all are implicated. Yes, America’s abrupt exit from Afghanistan has been a debacle, as we’ve heard from numerous armchair quarterbacks. It’s the end of an American-made, slow-motion catastrophe. Someday, a historian, looking back on our time will judge that war-mongering evangelicals helped light the conflagration – and kept it burning with divine complicity.
With the enthusiastic aid of evangelical leaders, what started out as a punitive military mission to force the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden took on messianic overtones. GWOT – the Global War On Terror – became an unlimited ‘war for righteousness’. President Bush’s repeated use of the heavily-weighted word “crusade” was interpreted by many outsiders as implying a clash of religions – not so much their respective civilizations. “I am driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, ‘George go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan’. And I did.”
Bush spoke of God, to God, and ultimately, for God. The problem was not all inside Bush’s head. “When we pick a president, we are in fact choosing a minister of God”, wrote Bryan Fischer. Many evangelicals believe the President is anointed, not elected. Taking matters into our own righteous hands was the theme of the day, with some advocates blithely calling for vengeance on whatever Muslim enemy was most readily at hand. A Pew survey conducted in 2012 found over half of Americans felt our wars should be fought, whether right or wrong.
In committing the country to war, Bush had also committed the evangelical god into making victory happen. America’s military foray was divinely ordained for a higher purpose as God’s blunt instruments of wrath on iniquitous humanity. The church in deifying the state was now complicit as its court chaplain, and biblical peace-making became the answer to a question no one was asking. In fact, authoritative evangelical voices moved to quash any potential moral opposition; it becoming a matter of apostasy to question the born-again President.
There were seasons over the past 20 years for evangelicals to exercise the Divine “No” as America killed its way to peace. What began as a Just War became Just A War no longer having a discernible rhyme or reason. “History is rife with discarded grand meaning where wars became drawn out,” wrote Herbert Butterfield, “and continued long after their high-minded aims seem forgotten”. Even by 2012, Afghanistan had become a purposely-ignored problem – just as the KIA number hit the 2,000 mark. It seemed the war had twisted into such an abstract form that it no longer resembled the objectives we originally sought to achieve.
Walter Wink wrote that where “man first directs war, only too soon it is war which is directing man; as though a devil were presiding over the affair.” And that is where our Holy Afghanistan Crusade has taken us. This week, America lost its war in Afghanistan. Evangelicals lost their spiritual version of it long ago by doing the will of the demonic enemy within ourselves.