Levellers

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

  1. […] I had seen these before in a catalog, but just assumed they were regular Bibles with a military-themed cover. […]

    Pingback by Military Bibles | kendallball.com | May 31, 2007

  2. Wow, I have seen these Bibles around and have simply shook my head at such patriotic pandering. I had not really looked at them to see what “extras” they contained. Thanks for the info. Scary. Very scary.

    Comment by Jim Getz | May 31, 2007

  3. This further shows how irrevelent and out of touch the SBC truely is.

    Comment by Fish | May 31, 2007

  4. Sad, very sad. Michael thanks for the post, I would add one other description: SYNCRETISM, the belief in the US as the chosen nation (the New Rome really), her military legions, mixed with the Testimony of the Prince of Peace,the Slain Lamb, very ANTICHRIST, oops another descriptive. How ironic, the great seperatists sleeping with the military, then being caught in bed by none other then the civil liberties, sorry another descriptive, ADULTERY (is a stoning due? Deut 22:23-24). I checked out the link and it seems that the American Bible Society also has published their Desert Camouflage Bible. I’m sure they just want to spread the Gospel, oh and make US$.
    What is really scary is that they “know” they are serving the Lord of Hosts.

    Comment by James gilbert | May 31, 2007

  5. Great post, Michael. And thanks for the link to Lifeway. I’m going to send them a note.

    You know, back when I was in high school our south Georgia church split. A little old lady claimed we moderates read a CBF Bible. That was absurd. Little did I know that militaristic Southern Baptists would be reading from their own military Bible….

    Comment by bigdaddyweave | May 31, 2007

  6. Wow. And I thought having an American flag in the sanctuary was nauseating. This really takes the cake in terms of creative idolatry. Thanks for pointing it out.

    Comment by Aric Clark | May 31, 2007

  7. Fish, thanks for stopping by! Unfortunately, with their huge size (even if the numbers are inflated and, as one of their own recently said, the FBI couldn’t find a third of the members claimed by the average SBC congregation), they are relevant. If they can hold an event in which thousands of these Bibles are given away, they can, at the very least, be the popular image of what a “Baptist” is–giving a black eye to the rest of us Baptists.

    And look how hawkish the Republican candidates for president are: all but one backing the use of torture, all of them falling over themselves to outdo the others in militarism. They are pandering to a Religious Right in which the SBC is a very big fish.

    So, I am afraid they are relevant, in a scary way.

    James, you are also correct. The syncretism displayed here would have caused the biblical prophets to accuse the SBC (or, at least, the Lifeway leaders) of “a whoring after other gods!”

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | May 31, 2007

  8. Thanks, Michael. I have linked to this post here. I’ve also called for a boycott of CBD. After posting the call on my blog, a friend emailed me to inform me that these are being sold in our Bible College’s bookstore. I am working to get them removed.

    Comment by Thom Stark | May 31, 2007

  9. Not all the Republican candidates are insane neocons.

    There is one candidate who is for withdrawing from iraq and staying out of other countries business, and who doesn’t condone torture.

    What’s odd is that he represents what the republican party used to be about. Ron Paul 2008.

    Comment by justinmundie | May 31, 2007

  10. Um, I think that this condemnation of The Soldiers Bible is a bit shrill. Like a lot of people who read this blog, I have a commitment to Christian nonviolence, but most Christians don’t, and some of them serve in the U.S. military. I do hope that every one of them would have occasion to “pick it up and read it” some time.

    If I had my druthers, The Soldiers Bible would have The Geneva Conventions included as an appendix. That might be helpful. “America the Beautiful” is not at all a bad hymn, and even made the cut of the notoriously PC Presbyterian Hymnal. The phrase “God mend thine every flaw” I think is enough to keep the singer from veering off into nationalistic idolatry. Anyway, The Soldiers Bible doesn’t seem to be any more of a concession to nationalistic militarism than Military Chaplaincy, which I’m sure you’re also opposed to, and again, is a role that I couldn’t in good conscience play, but there it is.

    Actually, if you go into any Christian book store, you’ll find Bibles tailor-made for any and all demographic. The Men’s Bible. The Women’s Bible. Our church even boasts a few copies of something called The Extreme Faith Bible, with a skateboarder on the cover. It is this concession niche market consumerism that’s in poor taste and borderline idolatrous.

    Comment by Marvin | May 31, 2007

  11. I re-read your post and saw that they included George W. Bush quotes in the Bible. Now that we can do without.

    Comment by Marvin | May 31, 2007

  12. I don’t mind distributing Bibles to the military. Not at all. I object to the “extras” which encourage a warlike reading of Scripture. Further, I do object to this marketing of Bibles to special groups in recent years. I think it undermines a truly canonical reading of Scripture and encourages private, individualistic readings. I think niche marketing is very problematic with Bibles–and is idolatrous in this case.

    Ron Paul is a Republican presidential candidate who is against the Iraq war–but even he argued in favor of “harsh interrogation” at the debates. The only candidate who didn’t was McCain, a victim of torture, but also a hawk.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | May 31, 2007

  13. I checked and saw that the Marine’s Bible has a statement by Oliver North! The statment is dated 24 April 2003. The first sentence in it says, “Most of the fighting here in Iraq is now over.” Right…..

    Comment by Jonathan Marlowe | May 31, 2007

  14. Marvin, I do not think this shrill at all, and I do not think it is just about non-violence; this is about the testimony of the Bride of Christ, to the powers, principalities, thrones, and this lost world. One example, Brazil everyone watches the US, Evangelicals, Bush, and many Evangelicals are embarrassed with this adultery and a good many non-Evans are disgusted. I used to thing Brazil was so syncretistic, now I think the USA is right there with it.

    Comment by James gilbert | June 1, 2007

  15. Gah. Truly, “he will appoint himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties…”

    I wish Mr. Bush would remember that he is neither a prophet nor a king, but rather a man under the authority of law. And I wish the Congress would do its job and remind him, since he seems to have forgotten.

    Frankly, a “soldier’s bible” is more appropriate to a Mithraist than to any other religion. What next, a temple to Caesar?

    Comment by plain foolish | June 1, 2007

  16. I put up a link to your post yesterday on The Homefront. Today Sitemeter indicated that someone from LifeWay visited my blog. I hope they clicked on the link and read this post.

    Comment by Marty | June 1, 2007

  17. I have to say I am simply shocked this adulterated Bible exists. However, it is only a symptom of the harsh militarism that seems to pervade the American Church. It simply appalls me.

    Where is the gentle shepherd from Nazareth? Would Jesus even recognize what is being promulgated in His name? It seems to me that they have lost their faith in Jesus and have put their misguided faith in guns and bombs!

    If I wasn’t a Christian, I don’t know if I could see Jesus through the fog of war that surrounds American Evangelicals, and that is the most frightening of all.

    Comment by Monk-in-Training | June 1, 2007

  18. Well, M.i.T., I certainly agree. As a U.S. Christian from an evangelical heritage, I can NOT see Jesus in most of what passes for contemporary U.S. Christianity–especially that which loudly calls itself “Evangelical.” A recent survey found that evangelicals were MORE likely to support torture than any other segment of U.S. society! Surely, the kind of religion that can produce these “Bibles” has little in common with following Jesus. It is, as Paul said, “another gospel which is no gospel at all.”

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | June 2, 2007

  19. […] Christianity’s tendency to cooperate with American civil religion, do check out these two posts about a new series of Bibles marketed for U.S. soldiers. The back cover of the bibles reads, […]

    Pingback by catholicanarchy.org » Overboard? | June 3, 2007

  20. Here is a question. Given the facts as presented above, what do we do about it, how do we bring in more of the Beatitudes and less of the Caesarism of the current age?

    What is the next step?

    Comment by Monk-in-Training | June 3, 2007

  21. Well, one way is proclamation: we need bolder pulpits. Far too many ministers are more afraid of losing their jobs if they buck the “patriotism” of their congregations/parishes than are afraid that Word of God will be a fire inside that cannot be contained (Jer. 20:9).

    Another if for congregations/parishes to become involved in faith-based work for justice and peace. This blog lists several such links under my pages for peace and human rights. Monk-in-Training, you are Anglican/Episcopalian, so I would suggest the Episcopal Peace Fellowship (which is the U.S. branch of the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship). Nearly every branch of Christianity has a similar group that is both outwardly focused on working for justice and peace in the world and inwardly focused on reform of the church. Ecumenical groups like Every Church a Peace Church, the World Council of Churches’ Decade for Overcoming Violence Program, and similar organizations are also available.
    A third way to counter this “caesarism” is to nurture as many links between local parishes/congregations and others in the Two-Thirds World as possible. This can be done through denominational mission agencies. Strong “sister church” ties with believers in places on the globe that one’s government is designating as “enemy” tends to get folk raising questions about such “official perspectives.”

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | June 3, 2007

  22. I agree, Michael. I have attended meetings of Pax Christi, as well as Episcopal Peace Fellowship. also lots of Benedictines are getting more interested in a more active witness for peace in the nation.

    I got connected with St. George’s in Baghdad just before our invasion. Sadly it was more stable and safer under Sadaam.

    The internet can help us set up sister church relationships, also – such a good idea.

    Comment by Monk-in-Training | June 3, 2007

  23. Quotes from President George W. Bush???????????????????????????????????

    Whattttt??????????????

    Comment by Katerina | June 4, 2007

  24. More idolatry from Lifeway.

    Comment by thomstark | June 5, 2007

  25. […] becoming even more rightwing and cultic.  But, significantly, this group has not challenged the militaristic Bibles being published by the SBC’s publishing arm or other blatant forms of idolatry.  So, I see […]

    Pingback by The SBC Grows Ever More Cultic « Levellers | June 15, 2007

  26. I cannot believe the lot of you! Doesn’t your bible have Psalms 144:1 “Blessed be the LORD my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight”

    You see my Jesus is not ONLY a mild shepherd from Nazareth, He is a warrior king who is coming again to defeat all His enemies. When that does happen, are you going to tell Him, Lord, I don’t want to, I don’t believe in war?
    From His mouth comes a two-edged sword with which He will cleave nations.

    You see our soldiers need God’s Word as much as we all do.
    Don’t hinder this, encourage it!

    Comment by Donald | June 29, 2007

  27. Well, Donald, I encourage the distribution of Bibles to soldiers–but not this idolatrous nationalism of these “special Bibles.” My Jesus was NEVER a mild shephard from Nazareth (he was a carpenter) and he specifically rejected the role of warrior king in the way he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. As for his Return, Revelation assures us that the Lion of Judah will still be the Lamb Slain Before the Foundations of the World. The only conquering Jesus’ followers are allowed to do is with spiritual weapons, not carnal.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | July 4, 2007

  28. Dear Sir: The idea that George Washington was deist is highly doubtful at best and totally false at worst.He left so many statements & acts that indicated his faith in Christ that to say otherwise is to make him the biggest liar tht ever was. Didn’t you know he was baptized by immersiobn during the revolution by a Baptist preacher (John Gano) whic was witnessed by 60 people. I am not the source of this. Dr. Garland Hendricks, late professor of practical ministries and a member of the Moderate camp wrote a pamphlet on th subject. I had read about this event in another source. Our enthusiasm for our position somtimes blinds us to reality.

    Comment by Dr. James Willingham | January 24, 2008

  29. […] 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, wasnt Patton well-known for believing that Christianity made men[sic] too soft for war? Didnt he believe that he was reincarnated as an eternal warrior keeping the world safe for more wars? Wasnt George Washington a Deist??) Quotes from President George W. Bush! (Is that like having a copy of the Sayings of Chairman Mao? Which quotesMission accomplished? Iraq has weapons of mass destruction?"God told me to smite Saddam and I did?) Officers oath Enlisted personnel oath (I guess they are cutting out Jesus ban on oaths in Matt. 5:33-37.) Idolatrous Nationalism from SBC Publishing House Levellers […]

    Pingback by Where is the outrage about this? - Page 2 - Driving Me Insane | February 27, 2008

  30. I wrote to Lifeway and would love to share what I recieved in return.
    “Jake,

    Thank you for your email of July 14, expressing your strong criticism of
    LifeWay for publishing and selling The Soldier’s Bible. I am pleased to
    try to respond.

    Specifically, these criticisms completely ignore Paul’s positions on the
    role of governments and the use of force to restrain evil. They also
    overlook the positive light in which pagan military officers appear
    throughout the NT. There is no case where any Roman soldier is called to
    leave his work. John the Baptist enjoins soldiers to carry out their
    duties within the bounds of justice. Your information overlooks the fact
    that 3,000 persons from a number of nations were killed in the destruction
    of the World Trade Center. It forgets that the Clinton administration and
    many member nations of the U.N. Security Council believed that weapons of
    mass destruction were being manufactured in Iraq. Given this, should the
    United States or other nations have done nothing in response to this
    unprovoked massive act of terrorism?

    From a personal perspective, as a Navy veteran, I have a problem with the
    implication that a Christian cannot serve his or her country through the
    military. I know or know of many dedicated Christians who have served or
    are currently serving our country through the military. And I strongly
    disagree that the military Bibles are heretical, idolatrous, and
    blasphemous. Our vision statement at LifeWay is, “As God works through us
    … we will help people and churches know Jesus Christ and seek His Kingdom
    by providing biblical solutions that spiritually transform individuals and
    cultures.” We believe that these military Bibles are in harmony with this
    statement and are a great resource to men and women serving in the U. S.
    Armed Forces all over the world, especially those in harm’s way.

    Thank you for taking the time to write and express your concerns on this
    important issue. We are aware that your comments are quoted verbatim from
    an internet article and recommend that you cite the source when quoting
    another document. Although you probably still strongly disagree with our
    position on this product, I hope this information on the rationale for this
    decision will be helpful to you.

    Sincerely,

    Jim Shull
    LifeWay Christian Stores
    615-251-5885
    jim.shull@lifeway.com
    http://www.lifewaystores.com

    I was and am highly offended by his implication that my and our view denies and forgets 9/11. I have included my response.

    “First of all,
    How dare you! You say “Your information overlooks the fact that 3,000 persons from a number of nations were killed in the destruction

    of the World Trade Center. It forgets that the Clinton administration and many member nations of the U.N. Security Council believed that weapons of mass destruction were being manufactured in Iraq.”
    How dare you imply that I am overlooking 9/11! How dare you imply that non-violence is invalid and denies september 11th. How dare you take a concern as a customer and turn it into a chance to make me look like an uneducated person who can’t connect the dots.
    I can inform you now that you have lost a customer for life. Not about the bible, or you carrying it but for you blatant attack on me.

    Also you are highly flawed in your logic that Violent pre-emptive attacks are the only viable response to 9/11.
    You are one of those ‘coin” people as I call them, 2 sides only. When the war, international relations and reponses to attacks are highly nuanced and complex with many possible actions and plans. You’re approach is “intellectually” arrogant and highly biased.
    You ask “Given this, should the United States or other nations have done nothing in response to this unprovoked massive act of terrorism?” As if that our plan of approach was the only possible plan of action. Even in war there would have been and still exist thousands of possible options. You also have to acknowledge diplomatic pressure and negotiations, non-violent approaches, sanctions, police actions etc. “coin people” have trouble taking off their blinders to the myriad of approaches and instead choose to see the single approach they chose as divine right.

    You also say : “From a personal perspective, as a Navy veteran, I have a problem with the implication that a Christian cannot serve his or her country through the military.” This is something of personal perspective, youre right. I would hope instead of being cemented and dogmatic you could be in growth and continuing study. I am sure you do not carry the following books as they are outside of the small theological box but I would highly recommend you read JESUS FOR PRESIDENT by Shane Claiborne, anything by Yoder and Citizenship Papers by Wendell Berry. There are many christians who have for thousands of years been against military involvement, tap into it, instead of narrowing everyone into your own camp.

    I am highly offended by you. I went into this by sending a letter of concern and exhortation, hoping to start a dialogue and discussion and chance for growth for both of us. However, you chose to take the low road and the cheap shop both personally and intellectually, which forves me to lose respect for your company. I will now do what i can to inform friends and other of my distaste and try to encourage others to shope elsewhere. You can and will write this off as a small “liberal” bee in your bonnet, with little influence. Go for it.
    Jake Dockter”

    Comment by jake dockter | July 15, 2008

  31. […] Levellers – Idolatrous Nationalism From SBC Publishing House […]

    Pingback by Southern Baptist Covention - God, Guts, & Guns | the big daddy weave | December 18, 2008

  32. […] also my previous post on the “Military Bibles” with accompanying quotes by George Washington, George W. Bush, […]

    Pingback by A Biblical Case for Christian Pacifism II: Why Start with Jesus? « Levellers | October 11, 2009

  33. I never saw this comment. Though a bit off topic, the myth that George Washington was baptized by John Gano has long been refuted by historians. Washington was officially Episcopalian (Anglican), though he never took communion. Privately, he was a Deist who praised the skeptical writings of Tom Paine. He was also a Freemason–and in those days Baptists denounced Freemasons as a secret society–and accused them of all kinds of heresies which may or may not be true.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | October 12, 2009

  34. […] See his full post on this here. […]

    Pingback by Thom Stark » HSBC & CBD Boycott | November 5, 2009

  35. Military Bible!!!
    1. Falluja: Nuclearbombs+White Phosphorus Bombs!!!
    2. White Christmas with White Phosphorus Bombs on children!
    3. A big christian Love with White Phosphorus Bonboms!
    4. Christmas Genocid in Falluja and Gaza!!!
    5. C.I.A. killed round the World 170.000.000 people!
    6. Criminal U.S.A.
    7. Jesus+Hitler!!!

    Atheist 100%

    Comment by max benser | December 10, 2009


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