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COUNCIL on CHRISTIAN APPROACHES to DEFENCE AND DISARMAMENT
Notes of a Discussion Meeting introduced by Daniel Plesch, at 39 Eccleston Square on Tuesday 20th April 2004.
Daniel Plesch, a Research Fellow at Birkbeck College, University of London, introduced a discussion on the question: “Can we engage with Conservative Christian America?” by explaining that his familiarity with the American political scene was based on a decade and a half’s experience of working in and visiting the USA. Although he had discussed this theme before with many groups, CCADD was the first specifically Christian group with which he was doing so.
By Conservative Christian America he meant mainly Christian “Fundamentalists”; more particularly Southern State Baptists – there were some who viewed Conservative Christian America as a sociological entity. The influence of this group since the start of the Bush Presidency was first brought home to him during the Senate confirmation hearings of John Bolton, when Sen. J Helms while introducing him described Bolton as a man whom he would like to have beside him on the Day of Revelation – this recommendation was accepted by the Senate committee, with only Sen. John Kerry hesitating to confirm! – such behaviour is considered normal within the US political system.
Daniel also introduced members to “Bushwatch”; a newsletter reporting actions and opinions of the Presidency in the context of literal interpretation of scripture: Generals are sent forth to “do God’s work” and ‘religious’ cultural issues are embedded in the political system and its decision-making. Scope for constructive dialogue on some of these matters has become limited.
Among some policymakers there is a belief that the Apocalypse is unfolding in our time: this pervades much thinking in Middle America, giving rise not only to an Apocalyptic/Armageddon genre of literature and fiction, but also to a rationale for supporting Israel, whose ‘restoration’ is a prerequisite for ‘Armageddon’. These trends are described in “Made in Texas”, by Michael Lind, and form a strong strand of thought in US politics.
The whole direction of political thought by Conservative Christian America is a crucial contemporary issue, and may be something that a Christian group like CCADD may be able to understand.
A wide-ranging discussion followed. Members were reminded that such perceptions of war were not new; for instance, during the Great War Europeans were encouraged to believe that God was on their side, and those killed were perceived by some as glorious martyrs. It was felt that CCADD as a body could not do much other than to influence individuals.
Another view was that literal interpretation of the scriptures was not necessarily unsound: we have no proof that Armageddon will not occur, and it is not irrational to foresee a huge battle in the Middle East with enormous loss of life: such possibilities should not be dismissed.
It was observed that conservative Evangelism is a growing force among British Christians, so it is possible that beliefs similar to those prevalent in America may become more widespread in the UK. Although many may regard scripture as a metaphor, others don’t.
Another point raised was that there is confusion and misunderstanding about the difference between a “Just War” and a “Holy War”, which are not necessarily the same. Reference was made to a book, entitled “Is Religion Killing Us?” Another question was how far American Conservative Christian attitudes were shared by the people of Israel.
In conclusion Daniel expressed disappointment at the feebleness of the Liberal Christian response to domination of American politics by Conservative Christians, who spent much time and money affirming their views in the media. While discussions were not possible because the ‘fundamentalists’ believe they are right, Liberals could make more effort to use advertising and the media, political agitation at local level, and money to put forward their alternative point of view. Paradoxically it has been the EU administration that has suggested a method of highlighting right-wing Congressional Districts, and using economic sanctions against them to induce changes of attitude.
Attention was drawn to a dialogue which has developed between British and American Methodists (two distinctly separate religious groups) concerning Biblical interpretation. Finally, it was suggested that as fundamentally Christianity, Islam and Judaism all recommend peaceful relations between all mankind, use of the term “Fundamentalist” to describe conservative and exclusive attitudes is inappropriate: such people should be renamed “Extreme” or “Extremist”.