It is time to stop pretending that Europeans and Americans share a common view of the world, or even that they occupy the same world. So wrote Robert Kagan in “Paradise and Power”, as the Second Gulf War was being launched in the face of European opposition.
Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus, he claims. They agree on little and understand each other less and less. The real interests of America and its allies are diverging sharply, and the transatlantic relationship forged during the Cold War has changed, perhaps irreversibly. Anger and mistrust on both sides are hardening into incomprehension, he warns.
If this is all true, then we as evangelical Christians need to take a good look at what has been happening recently. Underlying tensions will constantly bubble to the surface in international leadership gatherings, usually in good-natured jabs. I attended one such event in Hungary recently, with a good number of Americans present. The British chairperson opened by quoting his son’s contribution to a classroom discussion on the Iraqi war: “Please sir, do you think war may be God’s way of teaching Americans geography?”
Evangelicalism began as a transatlantic movement, during the 18th century Great Awakening in the American colonies and the simultaneous Evangelical Revival in Britain. Revivalist George Whitefield shuttled between the parallel stirrings, sailing the Atlantic a remarkable thirteen times. The recognition that God was blessing different theological streams, including both Calvinist (Whitefield) and Arminian (Wesley), gave rise to a broad evangelical consciousness that later also spread onto continental Europe and, via emigration and evangelical missions, around the world.
Those of us working within movements with American roots and strong American influence in leadership – like YWAM, Youth for Christ, Operation Mobilisation, Campus Crusade, The Greater Europe Mission – may prefer not to want to talk about the transatlantic tensions. We tend to ignore such issues in the name of unity, and focus on the important ‘spiritual’ stuff. But is that not the typical response of a dysfunctional family? Is it really honest? Does it reflect integrity?
We must face the current situation squarely in order to respond biblically to a serious global issue with which the evangelical movement is closely involved. The recent international edition of TIME magazine (June 30) with its cover story on Christian missions to the Moslem world highlights the reality that, like it or not, evangelicals are being watched very closely. And again, whether we like it or not, the most prominent name allied with the label ‘evangelical’ is that of President Bush himself. Other names like Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson are also being quoted regularly these days in moslem circles, as stating that Islam is Satanic and evil.
I have just returned from South Africa where I was asked to share thoughts on this subject, as many were feeling confused and frustrated, or even angry and resentful. Nelson Mandela had expressed the sentiments of many in that part of the world by bluntly accusing both Bush and the US of being the greatest danger to world peace today.
No, these are not issues we can afford to ignore. They will not quickly pass away.
So over the next few weeks, I plan to focus on this theme. Recently I addressed a forum in England on the subject of “Christian hope in an age of Pax Americana.” We discussed why we needed dialogue on this topic, how ‘Pax Americana’ came about, and why and how the rest of the world is responding. My bottom line is that what our world needs more than a war against terrorists is a war against the cause of terrorism. Surely the root cause is hopelessness. So who will be the face of hope?
I’d like to unpack some of these thoughts further and would be glad to hear your responses and contributions as we dialogue.
Till next week then,