Paramilitary Christianity

Fundamentalists love comparing themselves to soldiers and the Christian life to war. Go to a fundy church for a few weeks and chances are good you’ll hear at least one sermon illustration involving soldiers, combat heroism, and a Christian in basic training who shined all the boots that were thrown at him (one can only imagine by Communist spies) as he prayed. If you’re a fundamentalist evangelist or preacher who has served in the armed forces and has good war stories to tell, your future is bright indeed.

It only stands to reason that fundamentalist would not only honor and respect the armed forces but actually imagine them to be a perfect representation of what Christians should look and act like. They love the uniformity, the short haircuts, the perfect posture, and the shiny, shiny shoes. They relish the idea of troops who are willing to follow orders from their leaders without question. They bask in the thoughts of a righteous army with very large guns blasting away the unholy denizens of evil empires.

Perhaps it doesn’t really occur to them that the aim of Christianity is to save people, not use Gospel foot soldiers to blow them into spiritual smithereens. Fundies may never ride in the cavalry but they’re in the Lord’s army. Yes, Sir.

63 thoughts on “Paramilitary Christianity”

  1. As I recall it was a comparison of single-mindedness not the ability to slash and destroy the ‘enemy’…for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal.

  2. I may never march in the infantry…
    A local church gave my daughter a pamphlet on their summer programs. This was the church that gave her dog tags after a lesson on the “full armor”. There’s “God’s Girls” and for the boys, “War Games”. And don’t get me started on the gender stereotyping.

  3. I would be shocked to meet a evangelist or pastor who has real war stories to tell. All of them I’ve met were draft dodgers. They only spend their time trying to persuade those who really did serve that PTSD doesn’t exist.

  4. At BJU you heard this sort of thing all the time. You had the few who were comparing our rules to military rules and saying…see we are training you to fight the fight of faith. Of course there were others who would compare and say…see things aren’t so bad. Honestly, though, knowing how Bob Sr. thought this comparison is very apt. The private in the army cannot question his authority, to do so brings great peril on his head. It is that sort of absolute control that drives Fundamentalism. I’m sure they see the army and lick their chops wishing they could exert that much control over their congregation. Bob Sr. looked at the Catholic church and longed for Fundamentalism to have a non-sacred pope who could tell everyone what to believe.

  5. I would be shocked to meet a evangelist or pastor who has real war stories to tell.

    I featured one such man here. He’s a war hero and he does have great stories from Vietnam. He’s also a fundamentalist of the crazy variety.

    I’ve known more than a few pastors and evangelists who served.

  6. You had the few who were comparing our rules to military rules and saying…see we are training you to fight the fight of faith.

    I spent some time working at the United States Military Academy, West Point. In conversations with a cadet I compared notes with him on the rules he had to follow vs. the ones I’d had at PCC. He thought I had it worse than he did. True story.

    Of course, that was before PCC went all liberal and stopped requiring suit jackets at dinner.

  7. In conversations with a cadet I compared notes with him on the rules he had to follow vs. the ones I’d had at PCC. He thought I had it worse than he did. True story.

    Some of my cousin’s fellow cadets at the Citadel thought I’d have had an easier time there than at BJU.

  8. Maybe it’s something I’ve noticed both from growing up in a charismatic home and having several Fundamentalist friends from going to a nearby Christian school for a few years, but it seems like the Fundamentalists and the Charismatics seem to have more areas in common than they would like to admit, this being one of them (although the charismatic use of said analogy faded out by the mid-1990s).

  9. Some of my cousin’s fellow cadets at the Citadel thought I’d have had an easier time there than at BJU.

    That’s only because the Citadel is fully of weakling girly men. (or at least that’s what I was given to believe at West Point. 🙂 )

  10. This philosophy translates into a self-pitying, melancholic attitude for some (who, perhaps, don’t care too much about fighting) who complain that the Christian life is tough and full of landmines. They are the ones that beat themselves for not having been able to make it for the Wednesday prayer meeting or who are sad for their Southern “Baptist” neighbor who has not surrendered to the Lord in the area of music.

  11. “On a somewhat related note, any school that thinks naming their team “the Crusaders” is a good idea really needs to read more history.”

    I don’t know. Having studied the Crusades I think that’s a rather fitting name for fundy schools.

  12. And kudos on the correct spelling of “cavalry.”

    I hated it when we sang that song and everyone said, “I may never ride in the Calvary…”

    On a somewhat related note, any school that thinks naming their team “the Crusaders” is a good idea really needs to read more history.

    *ahem* Campus Crusade for Christ *ahem*

    Of course, when I was in school, I was in the Navigators, an organization with military roots.

  13. My school was named Crusaders, by the time we studied the crusades in high school I was wondering why we had that as a mascot. It’s still their mascot.

  14. This reminds me of an incident at HAC when I was a student back in the 80’s.

    If I remember correctly, while Reagan was president, the US had quite a long period of peace (no wars apart from the Cold War). The fundy’s were getting restless.

    I was in the “preacher boy’s” class in the chapel with about 700 other guys. Ray Young came on the stage in front of the class and made the victorious announcement that the US had just invaded Grenada. We had no clue where Grenada was, but the cheers from the preacher boys were huge! We were so excited that the US was “showing its muscle” to the rest of the world. (We were going to let those stinkin’ communists know who was boss.) How shameful that we acted that way.

    At the time, something seemed wrong about cheering for an invasion, but looking back, it seems downright sinful.

  15. Concerning a certain school that maintains Crusaders as their mascot, I can assure you (as someone who is very closely connected with them) that it is not a mascot that is supported by the majority of the institution. Unfortunately, our majority is not the group that is able to change such things. 🙁

    If it’s any consolation (which I’m sure it’s not), we hearken back to the “Crusades” of the Fundamentalist 60’s and 70’s rather than the historical term of the Middle Ages…. But I fear that knowledge will do little to affect your opinion of us. 🙂

    God Bless

  16. we hearken back to the “Crusades” of the Fundamentalist 60’s and 70’s rather than the historical term of the Middle Ages

    So your mascot is a preacher boy? or an outdoor tent?

    Because if it’s a guy in armor on horseback then that kind of doesn’t work.

  17. @Darrell, as much as I admire the product of West Point, I’ll have to disagree with their perspective. 😉

    And, as a medieval military historian, I have to say for the record that the Crusades are grossly misunderstood and there’s nothing wrong with having a Crusader as a mascot. Stuff Modern People Like: beating up on the Crusades. But that’s a discussion for elsewhere.

    I guess I just don’t understand this post. St. Paul characterized the Christian life as war–albeit against unseen enemies–and individual Christians as soldier who had to make sure their gear was complete and in full repair. Is this post just about the weird extreme to which fundies take the metaphor? The affection with which fundies regard the military? Or do some fundies actually start paramilitary militias out in the woods?

  18. I wonder how many men who served in WWII and later became preachers ever used their experiences as sermon illustrations in later years? My thinking is that it’s been very few. There was something different about that generation.

    In contrast, having a former pastor who was in Vietnam, it seemed like every illustration included his war stories.

  19. @Darrell, I speak a little tongue in cheek there. The point is that the intent of the mascot was not that we go around on horseback killing Muslims in an attempt to either benefit our moral souls or to take over lucrative trade routes. The image meant something different to the founder(s) of the school. It meant being spiritual soldiers.

    Unfortunately, their meaning was only understood by a tiny segment of American Fundamentalism for a very short period. I wouldn’t choose the same mascot myself — though I understand why they did so. I also know that our mascot does not effectively communicate our ideals to the majority of the world (including yourself). So I believe we should change it — however, not being the president or a board-member, my opinion doesn’t count that much.

  20. Is this post just about the weird extreme to which fundies take the metaphor?

    It’s about how they single out this one metaphor to the the singular way to look at the Christian life.

    I daresay Paul said more about the Christian life being that of a slave than he did that of a soldier. But you won’t likely see a bunch of kids dressing up like slaves and mopping floors and whatnot.

    I fear that’s because it doesn’t play into the sort of Christian nationalism that we’ve built up — but that’s a whole can of worms in and of itself.

  21. I may never swab up the poop deck,
    Sail over the seven seas,
    Shoot out the cannons ,
    I may never find a hidden treasure
    But I’m in the Lords command Arrgh!

    (Pirate verse)
    I’m in the Lord’s Army (aarg)
    I’m in the Lord’s Army (aarg)
    I may never have a black patch on my eye (cover eye)
    and a parrot by my side (“squawk”)
    with a peg leg walk on by (peg leg walk)
    I may never bury treasure far and wide (digging)
    but I’m in the Lord’s Army (aarg)

    You just can’t make this stuff up.

  22. I wonder how many men who served in WWII and later became preachers ever used their experiences as sermon illustrations in later years

    I’m told that the “Prayer Captain” and “Assistant Prayer Captain” nomenclature at BJU came out of WW2. It’s a weird phrase when you think about it. . . .

    But oh yeah, you’re so right. Muscular Christianity and all that.

  23. the alternate versions of “the Lord’s army” are almost as glorious as “wide & deep”, “mmm & wide”, & the other alternate versions of “deep & wide”.

  24. Tony Miller of BJU fame never got to fight for his county as he changed his major to Bible or preacher boys or whatever to avoid the draft. I sat in that mans office more than once as he scolded me about some fundy hangup (long hair, “hawking” girls, “worldly” music, not ratting out my buddies, etc.etc etc.) I really have no respect for this guy…some people may even call him a draft dodger.

  25. @trex as I said before “it was a comparison of single-mindedness not the ability to slash and destroy the ‘enemy’”

    Like most analogies it isn’t meant to be taken the furthest possible extreme.

  26. When I wrote SECRET RADIO, I created Evangelist Al Mee, the former marine who had been through three wars and had had limbs or at least digits blown off in each one of them. I described him trying to get a hymnal open to lead the singing, but ultimately struck that passage as being too disrespectful of men and women legitimately wounded in action. Still, parodying the war-mongering evangelists that Fundamentalism produced in the 70’s was popular with the readers, and I got a lot of mileage out of Evangelist Al Mee. On the podcast, I have Preacher Agent Man, the super-secret manly preacher who preachers behind the Rapture 5000 pulpit, which can shoot down low flying aircraft and is bullet proof. It rises up out of the floor before each service, to the tune of the classic THUNDERBIRDS theme.

  27. Hey, that’s not fair! We have moved far away from that kind of stuff, but my current series is called “Mortal Combat” about the mortification of sin. It’s all scriptural stuff, none of the legalistic junk. The Christian life is a fight against sin although fundies have made it a fight against everyone else who are not like them.

  28. On other web sites, I have read the comments of people who call themselves Christians who enthusiastically defend the huge nuclear weapons inventory we have because they maintain that the Book of Revelations says that we need them. To them, it’s an essential element of their faith and any step back from this nuclear abyss is unbiblical.

    I wish that they would view photos of the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Maybe they would change their minds?

  29. I always liked the image of a brave knight battling for God – I knew it was a spiritual metaphor – and it certainly is a reference used in the Bible. However, for people so aware of the danger of harming a weaker brother or damaging one’s testimony through the appearance of evil, why do fundamentalists not choose to avoid this image? I can’t go to the movies because someone might think I was watching an evil show, but I can shout militaristic slogans, despite the fact that there are people out there who lump ALL fundamentalists together – Muslim AND Christian. When we use a Christian soldier theme for VBS, why aren’t we worried about our neighbors wrongly perceiving us as planning on spreading our Gospel with the sword (as historically unhappily the Catholic church especially did do)?

    Again, I find the image appealing and biblical (“put on the armor of God”), but it has a LOT of negative cultural and historical connotations, so why do our churches promote this image so often? We can’t wear jeans lest people think we’re not holy; we can’t play guitars lest people think we’re rock musicians; we can’t hold a microphone lest people think we’re being sensual; we can’t wear a beard lest people think we’re hippies. (Yes, some of the rules are pretty outdated.) So why don’t we add that we can’t wear camoflage to church events lest some people think we’re planning on overthrowing the government? Isn’t a matter of testimony?

  30. The Christian life is a fight against sin

    Almost.

    Christ defeated sin at the cross. We’re just picking up the pieces of the battle until the Victor returns. This is Reformed Theology 101.

  31. I left a fundy church a couple of years ago that has a “gun club” which gets together one Saturday a month for practice. There are two or three men in it who ALWAYS carry during church functions. Yes, they carry loaded guns into church every service “just in case.” And the orders (from the pastor) was to shoot to kill if necessary.

  32. I’ll be honest with you, Susan that really doesn’t bother me as long as the people who are carrying are licensed and trained to do so and aren’t breaking the state or local laws by carrying concealed in a church.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I’m also a card-carrying NRA member…albeit probably the only one who’s never owned a firearm.

  33. When I was in a fundy college I was first told that it was harder than boot camp and then told I was in sin when I actually joined the military because it was unfeminine and I’d be wearing pants.
    They must’ve been a little too cocky because boot camp was definitely more intense, though for some reason I have better memories of those two months than I do of the fundy college.

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