Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Idolatrous Nationalism from SBC Publishing House

militarybible2.jpgThis is no joke. It is not satire. It is the sickening truth.  This is a picture of “The Soldier’s Bible,” part of a series of “military Bibles” being marketed by Holman Bible Outreach International, a division of Lifeway Christian Resources.  Lifeway is the official publishing house of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S.A.  In addition to “the Soldier’s Bible,” the CSB Military Bibles include “the Airman’s Bible,” “the Marine’s Bible,” “the Sailor’s Bible,” and “the Coast Guard Bible,” each with covers in the distinct colors and insignia of the respective branch of the U.S. military. (There is also, I kid you not, a camoflauge edition!)  According to this website, each edition includes not only the texts of the Old and New Testaments (Protestant canon), but the following features: 

  • The Star Spangled Banner
  • America the Beautiful
  • The Battle Hymn of the Republic
  • Onward Christian Soldiers (I guess they missed the “marching as to war” lyrics and failed to understand that the hymn is meant to depict spiritual warfare along the lines of Ephesians 6:10-17 and is not talking about Christian participation in physical warfare at all.)
  • The Pledge of Allegiance (to the U.S. flag and to “the Republic for which it stands”)
  • The Plan of Salvation
  • Scripture readings for all occasions (including the Sermon on the Mount, the Sermon on the Plain, Rom. 12?)
  • Prayers of General George Patton and General/President George Washington! (Wait, wasn’t Patton well-known for believing that Christianity made men[sic] too soft for war? Didn’t he believe that he was reincarnated as an eternal warrior keeping the world safe for more wars? Wasn’t George Washington a Deist??)
  • Quotes from President George W. Bush! (Is that like having a copy of the “Sayings of Chairman Mao?” Which quotes–“Mission accomplished?” “Iraq has weapons of mass destruction?””God told me to smite Saddam and I did?”)
  • Officer’s oath
  • Enlisted personnel oath (I guess they are cutting out Jesus’ ban on oaths in Matt. 5:33-37.)

There are additional features unique to each branch of the service (Shudder!).

Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics has written on these special Bibles and on Lifeway’s hosting of a special event for giving away thousands to military personnel here.  Timed to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force, the Air Force was initially listed as an official sponsor of the event, but backed out under pressure from church-state watchdog groups.  Ordinarily, I would also be concerned about the violations of the First Amendment in a government agency (the Air Force) sponsoring a religious event and favoring one religion over others, at that.  But I am so aghast at the Lifeway’s idolatrous nationalism (and marketing idolatry–worshipping Mars and Mammon while pretending to worship Jesus Christ!!) that the church-state and civil liberties violations pale and fade into the background for me!

This militaristic-nationalistic event (3-days over Memorial Day weekend 2007) features former SBC president Bobby Welch as keynote speaker. Welch, a Vietnam veteran, is the author of You, the Warrior Leader.

Where to begin? Apparently the Southern Baptist Convention’s leadership, or, at least that part of it which makes publishing decisions, has rejected Jesus as the Prince of Peace, the Lamb slain before the foundations of the world.  It has rejected the nonviolence which Jesus practiced and taught; rejected the command to be peacemakers.  This would appear to violate the SBC’s main confessional document, The Baptist Faith & Message which, on OTHER matters, the SBC leadership has increasingly used as a strict creed in recent years.  Although the article on “peace and war” has been watered down from the 1925 version through the 1963 version to the latest (2000) revision of this statement of faith, even the latest version would seem to stand in stark contrast to the militaristic nationalism promoted by these Bibles and the giveaway event.

“It is the duty of Christians to seek peace with all men[sic] on principles of righteousness. In accordance with the spirit and teachings of Christ they should do all in their power to put an end to war.”

That statement of near pacifism is qualified, but not enough to justify the above blasphemy.

Further, the Lifeway people, with at least the tacit support of the SBC leadership at large (they have not protested these products or even raised questions about them), are clearly promoting belief in the United States as a “chosen nation.”  This denies the universality of the gospel. It denies the vision of Pentecost and the vision culminating in Rev. 7:9 in which the glorified church is called out from among all nations, tongues, cultures, ethnic groups.  After all, the message of these Bibles is not merely a denial of Christian pacifism for “just war theory.” No, this promotes holy war in the name of one nation (the U.S.A.), with blessings from past and present military heroes.  This is “throne and altar” theology–a form of thinking which led the German churches to be supine when Adolf Hitler came to power and promised to restore the state churches (Landeskirchen) to their former glory. (It is, perhaps, worth remembering that in the late ’30s, prior to the start of WWII, many Southern Baptist pastors, including an SBC president, expressed admiration for Hitler since he didn’t drink alcohol and closed Germany’s brothels!!!)

Since leaving the Southern Baptist Convention in 1992 for the Alliance of Baptists, I have tried mostly to ignore events in my former denomination. I reject their understanding of what it means to be Christian or Baptist. But this will affect the entire Body of Christ.  This is a perversion of the gospel. I cannot be silent. This blasphemy must be denounced.  Although I generally purchase books without regard to their publisher, I am making an exception here because this is so bad. I will purchase nothing from Broadman & Holman or any other division of Lifeway Resources until these “military Bibles” have been recalled and the project scrapped as the heretical, idolatrous, BLASPHEMOUS project that it is.  I urge you to join me.

Write Lifeway and express your displeasure here.

UPDATE: Other Baptist bloggers are commenting on this horror. Read Bruce Prescott of Mainstream Baptists’s assessment here.  Aaron Weaver, who blogs as Big Daddy Weave, weighs in here.  Brian Kaylor, a communication specialist for the Missouri Baptist Convention, sounds off here.  Laura Seay, political science grad student, lover of Africa, and usually humorous Baptist blogger weighs in here.

May 31, 2007 Posted by | Baptists, Bible, church-state separation, love of enemies, nonviolence, peacemaking | 35 Comments