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Statement on Christian Nationalism and the Gospel

Just War Errancy in Christian Nationalism Statement

Last week, the Christian Nationalism debate heated up within Christian Twitter. Much has already been written and said regarding G3’s response, The Gospel Coalition, and the precise thoughts of Stephen Wolfe laid out in his treatise. This week, there was released the official draft version of the Statement on Christian Nationalism which sets out to define the somewhat ambiguous terms and a theology surrounding the Christian and the role of government. The authors of the statement include, James Silberman and Dusty Deevers with editorial contributions by William Wolfe, Joel Webbon, Jeff Wright, Cory Anderson, and Ben Woodring.

The statement is overall a positive development for Christian Nationalism as the movement is being helmed by those who have been fighters for the Church in the culture. The statement contains twenty articles using an affirmation and denial structure regarding Christian Nationalism, that permits agreement and common ground to bring together those even if they think government should only legislate second table matters.

However, the statement is not perfect, and there is a glaring flaw, which has nothing to do with font.

18. Just War

WE AFFIRM that war is only to be waged: (1) for a just cause involving the protection of human life from persecution; (2) as a last resort when peaceful methods of conflict resolution have been diligently pursued and exhausted; (3) in pursuit of achievable goals; (4) with the pure motive and intention of establishing peace and justice as quickly as possible; and, (5) by moral means that scrupulously avoid civilian casualties and only inflicts as much violence as is necessary for the achievement of the objective. We affirm that even when a war is just according to the above criteria, nations should be extremely cautious in discerning whether a proposed war is wise, taking every contingency into account. We affirm that many imperial wars have been waged throughout human history primarily for self-serving purposes such as vainglory or acquiring money, land, or natural resources and that those who declare and wage such a war are guilty of the sin of murder.

WE DENY that war is ever a means by which the gospel, or simply good ideas about government and society, are to be spread. We deny that holy wars are ever morally permissible. We deny that governments may coerce civilian participation in unjust wars.

Scripture: Genesis 1:27; Exodus 22:2; Deuteronomy 20:10; 2 Corinthians 10:4; John 18:3-11, 36.

The bolded section is that which is objectionable and most subjective. This statement would condemn wars that would be for the acquisition of land or other natural resources and impute sin upon those who fought such wars. Of the verses listed, Deuteronomy 20:10 bears the most implication for warfare, which states that peace must be offered preemptively whenever the Israelites waged war against a city. 

“When you approach a city to fight against it, you shall offer it terms of peace. If it agrees to make peace with you and opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall become your forced labor and shall serve you. However, if it does not make peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. When the Lord your God gives it into your hand, you shall strike all the men in it with the edge of the sword. Only the women and the children and the animals and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourself; and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the Lord your God has given you. Thus you shall do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not of the cities of these nations nearby. Only in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes. But you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin against the Lord your God.

Deuteronomy 20:10-18 NASB1995

The offer of peace is prerequisite and the law in question is written as an instruction for offensive warfare, not a prohibition thereof. The law in question applies not to the nations who were to be removed from the land, but to those beyond it. Though not a mandate, the law does not prohibit war of conquest. The actions are instead subject to regulation. The extrapolation of Just War Theory cannot be made from the Bible verses provided in the statement.

I would hereby lay out the following reasons to the errancy of the above language:

First, the Israelites would engage in offensive conquest, even after the initial conquest of the Promise Land. It was not murder for them to bear out the judgment of God upon the Canaan nor later against the nations like Aram and Edom, who were both adversaries and subjects to the kings. The benefits to the kingdom(s) would have been material and financial. These lands existed outside the Promised Kingdom, yet their subjugation was the benefit of their obedience to God or otherwise a blessing allowed by God. Moreover the retroactive application of Just War Theory on the Bible would impute the sin of murder on Joshua, David, Solomon, and other successful kings of Israel where no guilt is described or prescribed in Scripture.

Second, God ordains the rise and fall of the nations. This is a prevailing theme throughout the Book of Daniel, in which God lays out His plan for the various world powers which would arise. Babylon would rise to power, followed by Persia, then the Greeks, and then the Romans. Each of these world powers were instruments in God’s plan. The imperialism of Rome was permitted for the spread of the Gospel across the Mediterranean. Therefore, Christians should not be myopic to the rise of nations, understanding there is perhaps a divine plan at work.

Third, Imperialism and Colonialism allowed the spread of the Gospel. Just as Rome was instrumental in God’s plan, so too have the empires of Christendom, most notably the British and American Empires. European colonialism was waged for profits, yet the colonial subjugation of the New World, Africa, Asia, Australia allowed for the Gospel to reach these nations where the Gospel had never gone before and plant the church to unchurched peoples. This was a net positive, and it came because of colonial or imperial interests, which were materialistic and financial in nature. Missionaries today continue upon the foundations established from colonial interests. Moreover, this statement as written imputes sin upon soldiers of these respective kingdoms, whether it be British soldiers fighting in Africa or India, American colonists fighting King Philips War (1675) against the natives, or William Henry Harrison winning the Ohio Territory. Other examples might include Cortez’s conquest of Mexico, in which he led a revolt against the Aztecs using their own vassals. This overthrew a system of barbary. This statement would blanket condemn as sin that which allowed the gospel to be spread to the nations and allowed for Christianity to spread to previously pagan peoples.

Fourth, war for “acquiring money, land, or natural resources” is a subjective standard. Any territorial dispute, whether it be a border dispute or a competing claim, would fall in violation of this statement. Because peoples have migrated and settled, with magistrates changing hands, this has led to vastly different claims to whose land a territory belongs. In reality, it belongs to God. But how many adherents to this statement would defend modern Israel’s right of offensive warfare, yet not bestow such standard to another nation. Both the Israeli’s and Palestinians have a claim to the same land, with the only material difference being the party which bears control over the land (Israel), so are we guilty for backing one party in their claim over the other despite the acquisition of this land being in violation of this statement? What about the American Civil War, where Union soldiers invaded the sovereign Confederacy who had every legal right to secede under the US Constitution. This would constitute an invasion for land and natural resources against states which dissolved voluntary union with the federal government. One side’s fight to end slavery is another side’s war for independence from “northern aggression.”

Fifth, are current US veterans guilty of murder for participation in recent US wars? Modern wars have been for naught. The invasion of Iraq overthrew a legitimate government under false pretense. If the pretense of risk to national security is falsified, it would merit the war unjust, and therefore this statement would impute such sins against US veterans who neither desired nor profited from the war in Iraq yet were tasked with killing those they fought against. The same could be said of Afghanistan. It would have been better to have invaded for oil or rare earths, but to have fought two wars for no material benefit is an even greater folly. Yet I would not impute such standard nor is it founded in Scripture.

Solution

I would move that the bolded language be stricken from the statement as unnecessary and ambiguous in application. Moreover, it unfairly and unbiblically imputes the guilt of murder where there was no murder. I might further elevate my criticism that this article would justify involvement in foreign conflicts antithetical to citizen interests, like American involvement in Ukraine under the guise of “protection of human life from persecution” or as a means of “establishing peace and justice.” The language, as written, would encourage such entanglement in foreign boondoggles. Intervention in war should only be for the proper defense or benefit of the host nation.

Christian Tradition began with pacifistic leanings, which overall condemned military service, particularly during a time when Rome was pagan and had intermittent periods of persecution against the Church. As Christian Nations arose, they too fought in wars against pagans, and tragically other Christians. Thus, it is necessary to have a theology pertaining to war that can be utilized by Christian magistrates and those who serve in such armies. A Christian “Just War” article should consider whether the conflict is between nations of Christian tradition or if one party is pagan, whether they be Islamic or human sacrificing Aztecs.

Theoretically, a high threshold should be required for there to be war between two Christian nations. Meanwhile, against pagan nations, offensive wars when prudent have enabled the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom and the Great Commission. If Christians treated pagan nations under the framework of Deuteronomy 20, one cannot conclude that the offensive action is therefore inherently unjust.

Conclusion

I would maintain that the Statement on Christian Nationalism is a positive development in Christian thought and should hopefully endeavor peace with those siding with G3. There are other lessor imperfections within the statement, though not as errant as Article 18. Given recent government encroachments, an article on bodily autonomy should have been included. The same could be said of a biblical stance on property rights, and the limits thereof, from government during a time when farmers are being regulated for environmental reasons. Immigration should be more adequately addressed rather than veiled through “border security.” The statement should be broadened beyond the immediate American context to apply to all nations and be useful for future generations, just as the Frankfurt Declaration was about more than just Covid. 

If anything, I would hope the writers receive feedback to this statement so that it might be improved upon with a broader array of Christian thought rather than rush to publish this statement before it is fully refined. Allow iron to sharpen iron so that the best statement might be written.

Evangelical Dark Web plans to deliver modifications to the Statement tomorrow.

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2 Responses

  1. Wonder if the bit about “(3) in pursuit of achievable goals” is a tad too subjective…

    1. I would agree, and “achievable goals” could easily be cover for neoconservative warmongering.

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