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Bush: The Destroyer of Christians

It might seem ironic that Bush is personally responsible for the persecution, displacement and destruction of the one million, three hundred thousand-person Christian minority in Iraq.
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Australian mercenaries working for Americans recently gunned down two innocent women who were members of the Christian minority in Iraq. The meaning of this fiasco should not be lost on us. The fact that the Christian women were shot is part of an underreported "small" tragedy within the gigantic tragedy of the destruction of Iraq. (Full disclosure; my son was a Marine from 1999 to 2004 and was deployed several times to the Middle East.)

Bush is an evangelical Christian. And without the evangelical vote he would not have become president. So it might seem ironic that Bush is personally responsible for the persecution, displacement and destruction of the one million, three hundred thousand-person Christian minority in Iraq. (They fared much better under the secular regime of Saddam Hussein and, along with a handful of Christians in Lebanon and Syria, represented one of the last ancient non-Islamic communities left in the Middle East. According to the Times the community has been almost completely displaced and driven from Iraq following the American invasion and the civil war we unleashed.) But actually Bush's destruction of his fellow Christians is not ironic, because to Bush the Iraqi Christians (including those killed women) weren't "real Christians." According to the theology that has shaped Bush they, like their Muslim counterparts, were part of the "other."

Theology matters. And the theology of the President matters when it comes to trying to understand his behavior. Perhaps you have to have been there, done that in order to understand.

I was raised by evangelical missionary parents (Francis and Edith Schaeffer) who also happened to have quite a bit of personal interaction with the Bush family and other Republican leaders. Mom and Dad often met with presidents Ford, Reagan and Bush Sr. and stayed in the White House several times in their capacity as evangelical gurus to the powerful.

Evangelical theology is inextricably linked to the Bush presidency. And evangelicals hold to a born-again world view. To Bush-the-evangelical those murdered Christian women and all the other non-evangelical Christians in Iraq (Armenian, Syrian Catholics, Orthodox and others), are not "saved" because they aren't born-again. Rather they belong to a tradition that sees salvation as a journey undertaken within a liturgical community of faith, not a one time magical individualistic experience.

In public Bush would never call all non-evangelicals lost, nor would many media-savvy evangelical leaders, but the outlook of evangelicals is one of dividing the world into "us" and "them." And non-evangelical Christians are "them" just as much as any other "lost." How could it be otherwise when the bedrock of evangelical theology is to regard anyone who has a different theology than you -- even within the competing historic Christian traditions -- as "unsaved"?

Pat Robertson expressed the evangelical Bush-type theology a few years ago when he dismissed Eastern Orthodox Christianity as just so much "mumbo-jumbo." To the born-again only a Billy Graham-type of one-time salvation experience counts. People who merely continue practicing the ancient traditions of the Church, people just like those Armenian women the mercenaries carelessly shot down, aren't like "us." That belief explains why evangelicals are busy trying to evangelize Greek and Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholics and "liberal" Christians with the same vigor they apply to proselytizing Hindus or Muslims. And that explains why there has not been a massive evangelical outcry against Bush's destruction of the Iraqi Christian community.

According to Bush's theology he has in fact not destroyed fellow Christians. To Bush and other evangelicals the word "Christian" refers only to evangelicals. In the common parlance within the evangelical subculture, "becoming a Christian" is just another way to say that someone has become an evangelical.

The "us" and "them" mentality is instilled in every born-again believer. To evangelicals there are actually two human races; the "sheep" and the "goats" in other words us and them. And the "them" includes all non-evangelical Christians.

Evangelicals may have given up most traditional formal sacraments in favor of a personalized faith but they have developed their own "sacraments." One bedrock sacrament is the aggressive evangelism of the "lost," including all non-evangelical Christians.

The fact that Bush has managed to complete the work of radical Islam, and smash one of the last bastions of Christianity in the Middle East, is just fine with evangelicals: the destroyed people weren't real Christians, just more of those mumbo-jumbo types. It isn't as if we hired those Australians to shoot our fellow believers at some Billy Graham crusade! The murdered women were on their way to see their priest and they wouldn't have needed all that "priest stuff" if they only had accepted Jesus into their hearts and become real Christians like us.

Frank Schaeffer's memoir, "CRAZY FOR GOD -- How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back," will be in bookstores on October 26 and was reviewed by Jane Smiley in The Nation (Oct 15, 2007).