taking the words of Jesus seriously

Recently, I sat in dismay as I watched a television show that featured a prominent Christian author defending the use of torture in the war against terrorism. I was outraged that this man could try to make a case for followers of Jesus condoning such an immoral practice. I shared my feelings with a group of fellow Evangelicals and was stunned when the consensus that emerged from this group of Christians was in agreement with this author.

One of those in the group was wearing one of those WWJD bracelets that proposes that when facing any decision and in every circumstance, the question should be asked, “What would Jesus do?” He evaded the question as to whether or not Jesus would torture a terrorist.

The question is would Jesus ask, “What doth it profit if you gain information from a tortured terrorist and lose your own soul?”

I came away from that discussion with a sense that many of us Evangelicals have given up our moral compasses and wandered into an ethical wasteland where we are not only losing our souls, but also losing our testimonies as good people. Checking around, I found very little condemnation of America’s use of torture from those pundits of Christian Fundamentalism who usually can be counted on to speak out with righteous indignation whenever our government provides even the appearance of evil.

Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “Beware when you fight a dragon, lest you become a dragon, ” and I wonder if we are becoming as despicable as those evil terrorists who are our declared enemies.

Secondly, I am asking if we evangelicals are not only losing any moral authority we once had, but also are losing our opportunity to carry out what we believe is our Biblical imperative to preach the whole Gospel to the whole world. One of the distinguishing traits of we Evangelicals has been our zeal to carry the good news of Christ’s salvation to every nation–even as our Lord directed us to do. Sadly, one of the consequences of our support of our nation’s foreign policies is that the doors for missionary work are being shut. Because Christianity, throughout the Muslim world, is associated with America, anti-Americanism has heated up anger against Christians in many parts of the Islamic world.

In Iraq, Christians, who even during the evil days of the Hussein regime had the privilege of boldly worshipping and evangelizing, are now being threatened. There have been churches in Baghdad that have been burned down, and tens of thousands of Christians have been fleeing the country in fear of persecution. Undoubtedly, missionary endeavors are losing ground in Iraq. Furthermore, if democracy comes to Iraq it is not likely to bode well for Christians there. The new government probably will be Shiite and, if history is to be trusted, Christians will not fare well under Shia law.

Around the world there are radical Muslim fundamentalists who have responded to our invasion of Iraq, as well as to our general acquiescence in the face of the sufferings of Palestinian people, by declaring a Jihad against Christianity. In Indonesia, the Sudan, and the Philippines, and in other nations, Christians now live in fear of death because of their faith.

These disturbing conditions worsen when American television preachers foolishly declare Islam to be an evil religion, and when the leader of a prominent Evangelical denomination calls Mohammed a pedophile. To add injury to such insults, a worldwide news story broke that an American general stood, dressed in full uniform, in a Christian church and told the congregation that Islam is a creation of Satan.

Don’t these people realize that there are dire consequences for our missionaries in Muslim countries as a result of such rhetoric?

More than 300 missionaries who had been serving in Pakistan have lost their visas. Christianity is so identified with American power and politics that in some places missionaries are being sent home, not only because they are thought to be people who denigrate Islam, but also because of suspicion that they might even be CIA agents.

Again the question must be raised as to whether or not Christianity is becoming a casualty of the war on terrorism.

Christianity has been hurt by the failure of leading Evangelical spokespersons to decry how the war on terrorism has been conducted. It also has been hurt by the failure of the rest of we Evangelical Christians to show loving support for moderate Muslims, and by prejudices that have driven many Muslim young people into the camps of radicals.

We have a lot to answer for in the days that lie ahead, and when this war on terrorism ends–if it ever does–in an American victory, we Christians will have to ask ourselves if we were among the major losers.

About The Author


Tony Campolo is Professor of Sociology at Eastern University, and was formerly on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania. For 40 years, he founded and led the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, an organization that created and supported programs serving needy communities in the Third World as well as in “at risk” neighborhoods across North America. More recently, Dr. Campolo has provided leadership for the Red Letter Christians movement. He blogs regularly at his own website. Tony and his wife Peggy live near Philadelphia, and have two children and four grandchildren.

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