Left-wing evangelist Tony Campolo, one of Bill Clinton's post-Monica counselors, has declared that America's ostensibly aggressive war policies against Muslims are inhibiting the spread of the Gospel. And he rather uncharitably lambasted American evangelicals who do not share his leftist perspective as "jingoistic" and motivated by oil "lust."
"U.S. Foreign Policy versus the Great Commission" is the provocative headline of Campolo's polemic on Jim Wallis' Sojourners blog. It espouses a new but constant theme for the Evangelical Left: an assertive U.S. foreign policy inhibits evangelism in other cultures because America supposedly represents crusading Christianity to supposedly victimized Muslim peoples.
According to Campolo, America is provoking "religious wars" around the world that have especially soiled the image of Christians among presumably otherwise friendly Muslims. Describing himself as a "Red Letter Christian," the title of his recent book, Campolo and other cohorts on the Religious Left claim they are guided exclusively by the often red lettered words of Jesus found in many Bibles.
"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," Campolo calmly explained to the Sojourners audience. "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."
As Campolo's recollected, the Cold War was sustained by conflicts between Marxist revolution and CIA-instigated coups. With a similar moral detachment, perhaps the evangelist would also describe World War II as a feud between German and British imperialism. Campolo explained that "political-economic ideologies" characterized the American-Soviet competition, but "religious war" fuels the current strife. Citing Samuel Huntington, who probably would not recognize Campolo's interpretation of his views about the "clash of civilizations," the evangelist listed current "hot spots" such as the Kashmir, Sudan, and the Phlippines. In each place, "religious militants" are clamoring for power through violence in the name of "their gods." Campolo declined to mention that these conflicts, like so many others, are spearheaded by radical Islamists. Such an admission might undermine his preferred theme, that the U.S. has unnecessarily provoked Muslims into their reasonable antipathy towards America.
The Evangelical Left is desperately trying to win American evangelicals away from their conservative voting habits by arguing that conservative domestic and foreign policies in the U.S. somehow undermine Christian evangelism. Oddly and inaccurately, Campolo described the "10/40 window," an evangelical term for the region of people "unreached" by the Gospel from the Atlantic to the Pacific, between 10 and 40 degrees above the Equator. Campolo reinvented this term to refer to 40 degrees BELOW the Equator and claimed the peoples in this window are "overwhelmingly Muslim." Actually, by either definition, this window is mostly non-Muslim, including most of the 2 billion people of India and China, plus the millions in traditionally Buddhist Southeast Asia. But again, the evangelist is inextricably focused on his theme of American oppression of Muslims.
"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," Campolo explained. "The ramifications of our nation's 'big-stick' foreign policies in the Middle East have been severe for missionary work." The evangelist described the torment of and imploding population of Christians in Iraq. He also cited the implosion of Christian missionary efforts in Pakistan. Why are Christians, both indigenous and missionary, suffering in these mostly Muslim lands? Campolo fingered only America, without any reference to the actual tormentors, who are Islamists.
Instead, Campolo preferred to invent excuses for Muslim hatred towards America and, by extension, towards Christians in general. Citing the "unity" and "solidarity" among Muslim peoples, the evangelist explained that "spiritual oneness creates a milieu in which injustice to any of their people can be deemed an attack on the entire Islamic people." Indeed, we need "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."
In Campolo's fervid "imagination," Christians are disliked in the Middle East because Anglo-American intelligence sided with the mobs who supported the Shah against the mobs who supported the Iranian premier who had attempted to topple the Shah, and all this over half a century ago. The toppling of governments in the history of the Middle East is so very unusual, that the Shah's restoration in 1953 after a few days exile is uniquely notorious among Muslims, Campolo insisted, accurately representing the mythology of the Western Left.
"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 support military actions and diplomatic policies that make evangelizing those who live in that part of the world nearly impossible," Campolo mourned. "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."
How generous of the evangelist to ascribe "jingoism" and oil "lust" to fellow Christians who do not share the Religious Left version of America as chief pariah in modern world history. Sanctimoniously, Campolo concluded: "We Red Letter Christians…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."
By "oppression" of Arab peoples, Campolo naturally was not referencing the monarchies, dictatorships and theocracies that corruptly govern almost all Arab countries. Apparently he is uniquely referring to the elected government of Iraq and also to democratic Israel, which the evangelist presumably sees as simply an arm of American imperialism against the Palestinians.
The Religious Left in America, like the international secular Left, tragically believes many of the hateful fables that radical Muslims perpetuate about America. They can never admit that radical Islam itself is innately violent and spiteful, and would remain so, even if the United States were to curl up and die a quiet death. Campolo, of course, wants to blame the current U.S. administration for Islamic hatred of America. But why not blame the Carter Administration, whose refuge for the Shah provoked the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis? Or blame the Nixon administration for rescuing Israel during the 1973 war? Or blame the Truman Administration for supporting the creation of Israel? For that matter, why not blame the Jefferson Administration, for warring against Islamic pirates who governed North Africa 200 years ago?
Fewer than 10 percent of the world's Christians live in the United States, and American policies cannot not be rationally conflated with Christianity. Islamist regimes were persecuting Christians and other religious minorities many centuries before July 4, 1776. That Religious Left icons like Campolo prefer to condemn their own country than radical Islam speaks far more about them than about America.
Mark D. Tooley directs the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C.