For many theologically conservative Christians, support for American foreign military intervention is on a level with support for the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture — zealous, absolute, and unwavering. Laurence Vance’s new book, Christianity and War, and Other Essays Against the Warfare State, is a much-needed reminder of the destruction, horror, and (frequently) the injustice of war.
Conservative Christians are generally receptive to arguments against the welfare state, but Vance believes Christians are missing the connection between the welfare state and the warfare state. As Randolph Bourne famously said, “War is the health of the state,” and, by the way, that would be the same “state” that has been the source of oppression for countless Christians for millennia. Opposing the welfare state while indiscriminately supporting any war our government chooses to launch is tragically incoherent.
A blind nationalism has deprived American Christians of judgment when it comes to their nation’s own wars, and Vance’s book is an antidote. He has a good awareness of historical Christian (or at least Protestant) objections to war, and reminds us that God does not demand unquestioning support of our government’s actions. In this vein, he includes a strong criticism of fellow Baptist Jerry Falwell’s “shameless pseudo-patriotism” in defense of the Iraq war. Another essay argues from the Ten Commandments that “the military is no place for a Christian.” And, Vance points out, if one were to respect the views of the Anti-Federalists (whose efforts resulted in the Bill of Rights), we would have to conclude that the very idea of a standing army has serious problems.
Vance is not a pacifist. He recognizes that there are justifiable reasons to use violence against other men. These include capital punishment, self-defense, and “just war.” But Vance favors the perspective of libertarian Murray Rothbard, who argued that there have been only two “just wars” in American history — the first begun in 1776, and the second begun in 1861. War is far more common than “just war.”
Vance’s caution against a militaristic, expanding state is essential today. As he writes, “Christian enthusiasm for war is at an all-time high.” Support for the Iraq war, even with its dubious rationale(s), is expected in churches. It is common for prayers from conservative pulpits to petition God for the success of American troops in Iraq, not merely their safe homecoming. The justice of the war is unquestioned by many Christians, especially since a Republican is in the White House. The idea that the U.S. government has limits on its jurisdiction, limits that forbid it from being the world’s forcible promoter of the false ideal of democracy, is lost in the nationalistic fervor. Many churches fly an American flag out front, perversely above the flag that has become known as the “Christian flag,” and display the flag in the sanctuary as well. God has demanded that we have no other gods before Him, and yet our reverence of the civil government has become idolatrous.
The book is a quick read, and the essays are compelling. Some are essentially long quotations from worthies like Thomas Jefferson or Cato. The passages selected are good, so the reader probably will not mind. But because the essays were originally written as stand-alone articles for the Internet, this sometimes shows through with a lack of cohesiveness. The last essay is somewhat anticlimactic, as it is a discussion of which countries have American embassies with contingents of Marine security guards. It is intended to provide support for Vance’s claim about the expanding American military presence overseas, but as a concluding chapter, it lacks punch. Among my few remaining complaints would also be the lack of an index.
Overall, however, the book is quite good. Christians should return to a healthy skepticism of government and its wars. Vance is right. Christians should put down the rubber stamp of approval for U.S. military action. Christianity and War is available from vancepublications.com or 1-800-363-9604.
- Timothy D. Terrell
Timothy Terrell is associate professor of economics at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He is assistant editor of the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics and is an Associated Scholar with the Mises Institute.