The Common Good

U.S. Foreign Policy Versus the Great Commission

Samuel Huntington, the Harvard political scientist and the author of The Clash of Civilizations, contends that unless things change, we are facing an era marked by religious wars.

Just about every military struggle between 1945 and 1995 was over political-economic ideologies. This was true of revolutions in Latin America and Southeast Asia led by Leninists and Maoists trying to establish Communist regimes, or by the CIA endeavoring to overthrow governments that were antithetical to U.S. interests. But from 1995 on, Huntington points out, revolutions and wars generally have been fought over religion.

In the Philippines, Kashmir, Sudan, and in several other "hot spots," religious militants have been endeavoring to establish domination in the name of their gods through the muzzles of guns. It remains an obligation by religious moderates to stand up against such militants and to work for reconciliation between conflicting religio-political camps. The alternatives are all-out war on a mega-level, or endless acts of terrorism.

Those of us who are Red Letter Christians have still another concern with respect to these religious wars. We are a people committed to evangelism, and we realize that as religious wars escalate, our opportunities to preach the gospel in many places, and especially in Muslim countries, where it is seldom heard, are dramatically diminished.

At just about every conference on missions, there are regular calls for new missionaries to spread the gospel to the millions of people who live in the 10/40 window. The 10/40 window refers to the land mass that reaches from 10 degrees above the equator to 40 degrees below the equator, and stretches from the Atlantic eastward to the Pacific. The population in the 10/40 window is overwhelmingly Muslim.

It doesn't take much for Red Letter Christians to recognize that the hostilities between Muslims and Christians have increased greatly as of late because of certain geopolitical events-particularly as we consider what has been happening in the Holy Land and the consequences of a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. It is not surprising that the Islamic world is growing more hostile toward the gospel than ever before. Around the world, Muslims are viewing the American army in Iraq as a Christian army reviving the likes of the medieval Crusades, which were marked by a massive slaughter of Muslims and the occupation of holy Islamic lands by so-called "Christian" conquerors.

The American toleration of the oppression of Arab peoples in Palestine, which our government could work to stop, has exacerbated a jihad that will settle for nothing less than having the Jewish people pushed off the land and into the sea, and an unbridled hatred of Christian Zionists.

The ramifications of our nation's "big-stick" foreign policies in the Middle East have been severe for missionary work. For the first time in a thousand years, churches in Baghdad are being burned down. The Coptic bishop of Iraq was kidnapped and later found dead. Christians, facing persecution, have fled Iraq by the tens of thousands, so that a Christian community that once numbered more than 1.3 million is now down to 600,000.

In Pakistan, missionaries are finding it harder and harder to continue their work. Where once there were as many as 400 missionaries, it has been reported that the number is now down to 40.

Red Letter Christians should recognize that there is a certain unity among Muslim peoples that is ritually generated and sustained. Consider the social and psychological sense of solidarity of a billion people around the world who, five times a day, all turn and bow toward the same city, Mecca, and recite the same prayers. It should be easy to understand how this spiritual oneness creates a milieu in which injustice to any of their people can be deemed an attack on the entire Islamic people. It requires little imagination to recognize that America's militaristic ventures in the Middle East, and the CIA's toppling of legitimate Muslim governments (check the 20th-century histories of Iraq and Iran) are setting up barriers to the missionary enterprise in the 10/40 window.

It baffles me as to how the same evangelical Christians who are committed to spreading the gospel in the 10/40 window support with enthusiasm military actions and diplomatic policies that make evangelizing those who live in that part of the world nearly impossible. Perhaps in the long run they put nationalistic jingoism and our lust for oil above the call of Christ to go into all the world and preach the gospel.

We Red Letter Christians have a responsibility. We must act quickly to not only stop an immoral war and end the oppression of Arab peoples, but to help our missionary-minded evangelical brothers and sisters understand that America's militarism is curtailing our capacity to spread the gospel.

Tony Campolo
Tony Campolo is founder of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education (EAPE) and professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University.

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