Militant Christianity – Evangelical Christianity: Devils in high places

source: DNA India, March 27, 2011

In his explosive new book The Armies Of God: A Study In Militant
Christianity, British-born, Malaysia-based academic Iain Buchanan blows
the lid off a subject that most scholars and journalists tend to shy
away from: the rise of US evangelism as a force in global affairs.

His book looks at how some of the powerful evangelical outfits
operate ? often as US government proxies ? in countries such as
Indonesia, Thailand, and of course, India, and the disastrous effects
this has had on the relationship between the Christian West and
non-Christian cultures, religious communities and nations. He also
unmasks the role played by the seemingly secular ?success motivation?
industry, and its leadership gurus such as Zig Ziglar and Ken Blachard,
who are not only management experts but also conscious agents of
US-style Christian evangelism. Excerpts from an interview:

What led you to write this book?
I
grew up in an agnostic family with respect for spirituality of all
kinds ? from animism to true Christianity. I suppose one of my strongest
incentives for writing the book was to show how, in the West,
inherently decent things like liberal secularism and Christian
spirituality (no necessary conflict here!) are so deeply corrupted by
political power and so dishonestly vaunted as marks of cultural
superiority.

Not many would want to come out in the open and talk about the issues raised in your book. Was that a concern for you?
In
the West, certainly, there is a reluctance to enquire too deeply into
the affairs of organised Christianity ? both at home and overseas.
Western culture is a deeply, subliminally Christian culture, and even
committed secularists have trouble avoiding Christian parameters in
their arguments, and recognising the Christian capacity for wrong-doing.
Among other things, this leads to a rather benign view of the behaviour
of our missionaries overseas ? fed partly by ignorance, and partly by a
sense that the Christian mission can be equated with civilisation. And
such myopia has increased dramatically over the past 40 years, as the
secular West has managed to define a global order largely in its own
terms, with decisive help from its Christian missionaries.By contrast,
of course, the behaviour of non-Christians (especially Muslims) is
scrutinised ruthlessly, misunderstood, and demonised.

Academics
who have attempted to study the work of missionaries in India have been
accused of helping the right-wing Hindutva brigade. Has this been your
experience too?

The glib response to this would be to say
that religious extremism of any kind needs to be exposed. But it is more
complex than this. There is a need to go beyond the purely religious
objection to Christian missionising, and examine the global forces which
define it, and which are subverting countries like India in a far more
comprehensive and profound way than most people realise.

A key
contention of my book is that the extremism of Christian evangelicals is
no more benign than the extremism found in non-Christian religious
groups. Indeed, its local impact can be hugely destructive ? precisely
because of its ability to draw upon a vast global network of forces
(including powerful secular ones), and its ability to penetrate and
shape local forces, whether they be ethnic, religious, political, or
social, according to alien priorities.

You speak at length
of the US?s use of Christianity for it own geopolitical designs. Is
this manifestly part of US strategy worldwide?

Most Western
leaders (not just Bush and Blair) will claim they are inspired by their
Christian beliefs. Sometimes, as with both Reagan and George W Bush,
they quote chapter and verse in support of policy, although usually it
is not so blatant. Certainly, deep in Washington, self-professedly
Christian pressure groups (like the Fellowship Foundation and the
Council for National Policy) have a highly influential membership and a
powerful grip on policy.

Of course, one can debate whether US
strategy is manifestly Christian in inspiration ? few Americans would
say it is not, although most would probably insist that such strategy is
guided primarily by secular concerns.

But there is no doubt at
all that US strategy makes deliberate (and somewhat cynical) use of
Christian agencies in pursuit of foreign policy ? and that the
distinction between the religious and the secular is deliberately
blurred in the process. There are over 600 US-based evangelical groups,
some as big as large corporations, and between them they constitute a
vast and highly organised network of global influence, purposefully
targeting non-Christians, and connecting and subverting every sector of
life in the process.

Most of the major evangelical corporations
(like World Vision, Campus Crusade, Youth with a Mission, and
Samaritan?s Purse) operate in partnership with the US government in its
pursuit of foreign policy goals. World Vision, which is effectively an
arm of the State Department, is perhaps the most notable example of
this. There is also the benefit of a custom-built legislation, with the
International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 providing necessary sanction
to bring errant nations into line.

This means that evangelisation
is an intensely secular pursuit, as well as a religious one. In turn,
of course, the secular powers, whether they be departments of state or
corporate businesses, find such evangelicals to be very effective
partners.

Indeed, most missionaries are not obviously religious. A
case in point is the Success Motivation industry.Many of the most
popular ?leadership gurus? ? Zig Ziglar, Paul Meyer, Os Hillman, Richard
DeVos, John C. Maxwell, and Ken Blanchard, for example ? are not just
management experts, they are also evangelical Christians and conscious
agents of US-style evangelisation. Conversely, groups which, on the face
of it, are primarily religious, may also serve a powerful secular
agenda, such as the collection of intelligence, the grooming of
political or commercial elites, or the manipulation of local conflicts.

Some
accuse the church of fomenting dissent among poor tribals by exploiting
them; others say the church is a liberating force. This debate has gone
on for decades in India?s North-East. What is your view?

The
situation of India?s tribal people, like that of tribal people
elsewhere in Asia, is certainly tragic. And it may be that Christian
activity offers an opportunity to escape the various forms of homegrown
oppression ? state and corporate abuse, Hindu contempt, and so on. But
Christianity in India is a very diverse thing. There are many situations
where the Christian church has taken firm root, and is deeply involved
in local administration, social welfare, education, and so on. Nagaland
is a case in point. There are movements for tribal welfare elsewhere
which are Christian-inspired and doing excellent work.

But there
are many cases, too, of evangelical missions which go into tribal areas
with little respect for local realities, and with an agenda far removed
from tribal welfare. In this, they may be no better and no worse than
the home-grown oppressor. But there is an important difference. Such
missionaries often belong to an evangelical network whose strategic
purpose is defined elsewhere, and which has little loyalty to the local
population, its cultures, its communities, and its welfare, let alone to
the nation as a whole. This is particularly true of the new breed of
US-inspired evangelicals, led by Baptists and
Pentecostalist/Charismatics, who have spearheaded evangelisation over
the past 50 years. It is the working of this wider, and self-consciously
global, structure of behaviour which is of concern.

It is
unfortunate that missions doing good work in tribal areas have their
efforts tarnished by others whose approach is more opportunistic and
exploitative. For the new evangelicals, distaste for paganism is just
part of the equation ? oppressed tribal groups are a relatively easy
target to penetrate in a much wider war against non-Christians
generally, and for influence in strategic (especially border) areas. In
this respect, even a relatively long-established Christian presence ? as
in Nagaland ? has utility as a strategic outpost.

These
are turbulent times for India as its number of hungry and poor are
growing exponentially even as the wealthy in the cities are becoming
billionaires. Does this make harvesting of souls easy? Do missionaries
love turbulence?

It certainly seems, sometimes, that
evangelicals thrive on suffering and disaster. India?s own KP Yohannan,
for example, welcomed the tsunami of 2004 as ?one of the greatest
opportunities God has given us to share His love with people? ? and he
was only one of many expressing such sentiments. There is no question
that many evangelicals exploit the poor and marginalised for reasons
which have a lot to do with narrow theology and political self-interest,
and relatively little to do with long-term practical help.

But
evangelicals court the wealthy and the powerful of a society with equal
passion. One of the most telling features of the new evangelism is the
way it has turned Christianity into a force for protecting the rich and
powerful. US Protestantism, in particular, has worked hard to undermine
the impulse in the church towards social justice and reform. A measure
of its success has been the defeat of Liberation Theology and the
remarkable expansion of US Pentecostalism in Asia, Africa, and Latin
America. More than a quarter of all Christians now belong to
Pentecostalist and Charismatic churches.

In these, as in most new
evangelical churches, great attention is paid to a ?theology? of
economics which stresses individual profit, corporate obedience, the
sanctity of making money, and the power of ?miracles, signs, and
wonders.?This ?theology? is a key part of modern imperialism: it offers
something to both rich and poor, it is safely counter-revolutionary, and
it ties tightly into the wider global network of more secular
influences (in business, government, education, the media, the military)
which underpins Western expansion.

So the evangelical church has a
key role to play in a society as disparate as India?s. It is a form of
social management: it gives divine sanction to the rich, it gives hope
to the struggling middle class, and it cultivates discipline (and
distraction) amongst the poor ? and it does all this with a keen eye to
the West?s self-interest. This is not to suggest that India does not
have its own mechanisms for doing the same things. But such
evangelisation, as a concomitant of Westernisation, is bound to
strengthen as India urbanises and looks ever more Westwards.

A recent issue of the Texas-based magazine, Gospel For Asia,
says: ?The Indian sub-continent with one billion people, is a living
example of what happens when Satan rules the entire culture… India is
one vast purgatory in which millions of people …. are literally living
a cosmic lie! Could Satan have devised a more perfect system for
causing misery?? How and why does such propaganda work in a developed
country like the US in the era of the Internet and the media?

There
are two important points here. First, we must not assume that the
?developed? West is free from wilful ignorance. Indeed, wilful ignorance
is often a very useful weapon. We need enemies, and, as religious
people, we need demons. The utility of Islamophobia is a case in
point.Besides, there?s a useful role for such bigotry within the system:
as a foil for the liberal powerful to prove their liberal credentials.

But
such attitudes are nothing new, of course. Christians have waged such
?spiritual warfare? against their enemies for centuries, and with the
same kind of language. What is new is the vastly increased facility,
offered by the electronic media, for fighting such a war. And this is
the second point.

New technology is spreading, and hardening, such
bigotry. Since the mid-1960s, the evangelical movement has
systematically computerised its entire global operation, creating huge
databases of information on its non-Christian enemies, centralising
administration, and linking some 500 million ?Christian computers?
worldwide for the purposes of fighting ?spiritual warfare? against
non-believers in strategic places. And ?spiritual warfare?, for the
evangelical Christian movement, is not just a matter of prayers and
metaphor: it is also, very decisively, a matter of ?virtuous? troops,
tanks, and drones.

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