Friday, July 29, 2011

David E. Settje's "Faith and War"

David E. Settje is an associate professor of history at Concordia University Chicago and author of Lutherans and the Longest War: Adrift on a Sea of Doubt about the Cold and Vietnam Wars.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Faith and War: How Christians Debated the Cold and Vietnam Wars, and reported the following:
Page 99 certainly gives a sense for the type of analysis that I did regarding Christian reactions to the Cold and Vietnam Wars. Yet it is narrow in that it shows one of many source bases that I employed, so you cannot read it and gain a full sense for what the manuscript argues. This page focuses on Christianity Today’s interpretation of the Cold War. It gives a definite sense for how I place this evangelical periodical in the midst of the foreign policy dialogue from that era. Here we see a conservative support for a U.S. policy that denounced all communist nations and distrusted them at every turn. This is a relatively traditionalist and hardline Cold War attitude that many churches shared.

Page 99:
and proselytizing. Editor-at-large Carl F. H. Henry reported in February 1972 about conditions in Eastern Europe, where Communist governments had stifled religion for a number of years. Yet he found hope because “young people are said to be more open now than in past years because of the continuing vacuum left by atheistic Communism in the lives of the masses.” He was especially thankful that “Communism has failed to eradicate religion – not surprisingly so, in view of man’s created nature and the inability of material things to satisfy his spiritual needs.” Henry saw in this continued yearning for spiritual guidance proof of the Holy Spirit’s persistent influence on the world and wanted evangelicals to participate in spreading this message. This did not, however, alleviate his fear of Communist tyranny, especially against religion, and so he reminded readers that “not only does it aggressively propagandize against Christianity, but it discriminates against those who align themselves with the churches by depriving them of managerial posts and by limiting university opportunities for their children.” Christianity Today further emphasized this mixture of anticommunism with evangelical hope in an interview with Dr. B. P. Dotsenko, a top Soviet nuclear scientist who converted to Christianity and in 1973 taught at Waterloo Lutheran University in Canada. A Mennonite, Dotsenko in his interview sounded the refrain of Communist brainwashing against religion that gave way to a longing for religion when the Communist ideology failed to manifest a more perfect society. Dotsenko stated that the lessons of Christianity “sank deeply. . . . The Great Commandment spoken by Jesus somehow frightened me. If these words were true, then all the teaching of Communism was false from the roots.” Christianity Today’s persistent anticommunism during the 1970s cannot be understood unless placed in the context of its evangelical outreach. Salvation for humanity rested in spreading the Gospel, and communism’s oppression of religion hindered these efforts. Nor surprisingly, its coverage of global communism therefore contained this mix of fear about the ideology and evidence of Christ’s continued triumph over it. And in claiming Christ for their point of view, editors wanted to sway public opinion toward its foreign policy outlook.

According to Christianity Today, the Soviet Union still lay at the heart of communism’s atheist worldview. Despite reduced tension with this Communist superpower under Richard M. Nixon’s administration, the periodical blasted the USSR and called for vigilance against it. Here, too, a mixture of Christian hope mingled with outright fear tactics. Edward E. Plowman, the periodical’s news editor, demonstrated this dichotomy when he explained that “after more than fifty years of atheistic indoctrination and outright
However, the book also looks at other periodicals and denominations, so in that sense one particular page is too narrow a sampling. For example, Christianity Today had a much more conservative and anticommunist bent than the Christian Century. This mainline Christian periodical campaigned more for arms reduction and reduced hostility than for continued aggression toward all things communist. Even compared to a conservative denomination, such as the Southern Baptist Convention, this page reflects the view of Christian leaders as opposed to the laity.

In the end, I am comfortable with the way page 99 demonstrates my research. I did examine carefully a number of primary documents, and as much as possible want them to tell the story. I also tried hard to balance my analysis so that it gives a sense for the political and diplomatic points of view of the Christian entities, while placing it as much as possible in their theological context and how faith informed their responses. As long as a reader understands that my analysis of Christianity Today also includes the Christian Century, American Catholicism, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the United Church of Christ, then this snap shot does the trick!
Learn more about Faith and War at the the NYU Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue