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Is Christian militarism a betrayal of Christ?

"God is Pro-War," declared Jerry Falwell in the title of an article he authored in January 2004, some nine months after US forces invaded Iraq.

A powerful voice in the Christian community, Falwell was the founder of the Moral Majority that for years served as the largest political lobby group for evangelical Christians.

"One of the primary purposes of the church is to stop the spread of evil, even at the cost of human lives," asserted Mr. Falwell in his piece.

Falwell was not the only evangelical leader who was zealous for the war. "We should offer to serve the war effort in any way possible," said Charles Stanley at about the same time.

A former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Mr. Stanley added, "God battles with people who oppose him, who fight against him and his followers."

His remarks were addressed not only to his congregation in the First Baptist Church of Atlanta but also to millions of television viewers across the United States who regularly watch his sermons.

In the years following 9/11 the pulpits in evangelical churches across the country regularly sounded a call to arms. The message resonated in the pews.

A Pew poll conducted in April 2003 found that 87 percent of white American evangelicals supported the invasion of Iraq. This level of support was almost ten percentage points above that of the general population.

As an evangelical myself, I, too, argued for and supported the war. But over the years I started to have doubts whether this level of belligerence can ever be a rightful Christian stance.

I also began looking into the circumstances surrounding other conflicts in American history and learned that the aftermath of 9/11 was not a unique display of evangelicals' proclivity for war. That proclivity has a long history indeed.

Some one hundred years ago during World War I, Billy Sunday - the most popular American evangelist of the time - travelled up and down the country beating the war drum.

Billy Sunday stumped for recruitment, urged the faithful to keep purchasing war bonds and raised large quantities of money.

He spoke of the conflict as a clash of cosmic forces, telling his audiences: "I tell you it is Bill [German Emperor Wilhelm II] against Woodrow [President Wilson], Germany against America, Hell against Heaven."

The zeal of Billy Sunday and the evangelical community for military confrontation was inexplicable for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the desire to become embroiled in a conflict in which the United States had no discernible vital interest.

Furthermore, America's involvement was in direct contravention to the warnings of the Founding Fathers who repeatedly cautioned against America's military involvement in foreign lands and especially in Europe.

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