The Common Good

Was Iraq a Holy War?

Despite the repeated attempts of former President George W. Bush to renege on his usage of the word "crusade" to describe the Iraq War, there are some in the evangelical community who suspected all along that for Bush and his top aides, the Iraq war was indeed a holy war. At the time, the majority of evangelicals -- including myself -- cheered as the president and his top aides cast the Iraq war in moralistic terms, invoking the name of God to bless the bombs dropped by U.S. planes in the initial "shock and awe" campaign.

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When other Christians tried to tell us that invoking the name of God to bless the invasion of a sovereign nation was wrong, we laughed and mocked. Who in the world--other than liberals of course-- actually believes that the president of the United States of America would launch a modern day crusade?

It turns out that the minority was right. I was wrong.

Earlier this week GQ magazine released a set of memos from none other than the former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. In a set of memos placed on Bush's desk every morning over a period of several months (titled the World Wide Intelligence Update), Rumsfeld quoted numerous passages from the Bible and superimposd them against a backdrop of soldiers, tanks, and fighter planes. If the leader of a Muslim country were to invoke passages from the Quran to call on Allah to bless their troops as they attacked their American enemy, we would have with absolute certainty called that fanatacism -- and we would have ridiculed anyone who thought otherwise. But because it was our leaders and they were calling on the name of our God and reading from our Bible -- even though anyone with an elementary Bible knowledge knew that they were twisting the scriptures by divorcing them from their original contexts -- we called them pious.

To my fellow evangelicals who love Jesus and want to see his purposes fulfilled in our world, here are a few examples of how the holy scriptures were twisted by the Pentagon to sanctify a holy war.

  1. In the first picture, there are three soldiers sitting in prayer with their machine guns pointed heavenward. The scripture reference is Isaiah 6:8 which says, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" I can remember as a young boy going to church and seeing these words on a banner hanging over the center stage of the sanctuary. These words have inspired thousands of Christians to go into all the world and devote themselves as Christ's ambassadors to humanity. Now apparently we're supposed to believe that God had the U.S. military in mind when he inspired Isaiah to write these words.
  2. In another frame we see a tank gliding across the Iraqi desert as the sun is setting. The scripture for the day? Ephesians 6:13 which says, "Therefore take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand." I guess I was absent that day in Sunday School when the teacher said the Apostle Paul had America's War on Terror in mind when he wrote these words. Somehow I always thought this verse was talking about prayer against demonic powers seeking to overthrow believers in their faith. Who would have known?
  3. Perhaps the most bizarre frame is the one using Psalms 33:16. Although the verse says explicitly, "The King is not saved by a mighty army," the verse is plastered across an American tank, a missile, and a U.S. soldier showing that victory does come through a mighty army. Talk about missing the point!?There's only one word for such a blatant misuse of scriptures to sanctify a political agenda -- idolatry!

The American Church let this happen. I let this happen. May God be merciful to us and move upon our hearts to repent.

Aaron D. Taylor is the author of Alone with a Jihadist: A Biblical Response to Holy War. To learn more about Aaron and his ministry around the world, go to

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