The United States has continually tied religion to nationalism in an effort to bolster the patriotic support of its citizens. This was especially true in the Cold War era. Throughout the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, it was widely recognized that the Soviets sought to remove religion from society. The term “godless communist” became commonplace in America. In a speech about communism in 1950, Senator Joseph McCarthy said, “Today we are engaged in a final, all-out battle between communistic atheism and Christianity.” Not only were communists the enemies of America, they were the enemies of God.
In comic books, pamphlets, political speeches, and television shows, a concerted effort was made to characterize the Soviet Union as anti-God while America was a Christian nation. It is noteworthy that “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954 and “In God We Trust” was officially adopted as the national motto ten years later (both at the height of the Cold War).
For many Christians (and Americans in general), the conflict with the Soviet Union was not a struggle for ideological or political power. It was a religious crusade. President Ronald Reagan described the Soviet Union as the “Evil Empire.” Americans rallied around the idea that we were engaged in a conflict ordained by God to rid the world of evil.
When the USSR crumbled American Christians remained suspicious of Russia. We thought that perhaps the Russians were still plotting world domination. It became evident, though, that the Russia of the late 80s was too weak to pose a significant threat to world peace. So we needed a new enemy.
In the nineties the unrest of the Middle East seemed like a distant threat to the American way of life, but with the attacks of September 11th those distant threats became devastatingly immanent. The United States suddenly had a new enemy. In 2002 George W. Bush introduced us to the “Axis of Evil” (a term reminiscent of Reagan’s Evil Empire) which categorized much of the Muslim world as the enemy of the United States, and therefore the enemy of God. Many American Christians were anxious to engage in a new Holy War. We quickly replaced the war on godless communism with the more present danger of radical Muslims.
Evangelical Christians supported military action in Middle East more than any other group of Americans. Just as with the conflict with the Soviet Union, American Christians saw the Middle East wars not as political conflicts, but as religious crusades. We were ordained by God to rid the world of evil. As long as we view Muslims (or Russians) as the enemy of God, we can justify any action taken against them.
So what about Russia? Now that our righteous ire has shifted to Islam, what are we to think about Russia? I believe this is a question that has many American Christians conflicted. Many Evangelical Christians appreciate Russia’s opposition to Hillary Clinton and support of Donald Trump. Many also agree with Russia’s position on LGBT rights. These issues have made conservative Evangelical Christians hesitant to criticize Russia’s aggression toward other nations and interference in the democratic system of the United States.
Applying Jesus principles to international politics is incredibly difficult. Christians have tried to do this for nearly 2000 years. These attempts have very often had devastating results. It seems to me that the lesson we should learn is that God is never on the side of worldly governments. Perhaps we can be on God’s side, but we can never claim God for our political or nationalistic cause. We should also keep in mind, as is stated in Ephesians 6:12, that our struggle is not against flesh and blood. When we identify Russians, or Muslims, or gay people, or whatever group is most hated at the moment, as the enemy of God, we are violating the character of Christ and working against God’s purposes.
We should continue to view all political systems (including our own) with suspicion. We should also view our own attitudes with suspicion. Are our opinions of Russia (or Islam) based on an honest and informed perspectives or are they skewed by our political history or our desire to categorize someone as the enemy.