QT. Please tell us something about your own background: where you were born, brought up, etc. And where you were educated; your brief bio speaks of degrees in history and theology – where did you study, and what fields did you concentrate in?
LV. I am a semi-native Floridian. I was brought up on the east coast of central Florida, lived in the navy town of Pensacola for twenty-four years, and now reside in central Florida. My theological degrees are from small Independent Baptist schools that would now probably prefer that I didn’t name them. I also have degrees in history, economics, and accounting from the University of West Florida, including a master’s degree in accounting. However, most of my education stems from years of reading, writing, and studying.
QT. Are you still teaching, or is your writing and publishing a full-time occupation now?
LV. I no longer teach and only wish that my writing and publishing were now a full-time occupation. I write about 100 articles a year now. I could conceivably double my output if I didn’t have to work to supplement my writing and publishing.
QT. Have you always been identified with the conservative Baptist tradition, or was there an evolution/conversion somewhere along the way?
LV. I was raised a Roman Catholic. After a brief period as an evangelical and then a Southern Baptist, I became an Independent Baptist and have been so for my entire adult life.
QT. Ditto for your involvement with libertarian thought and support for Ron Paul. Were you ever a Republican? (Or Democrat?)
LV. I thank God I was never a Democrat. I am ashamed to say that I was once a Republican, albeit a libertarian-leaning one. It was sometime in 1993 or 1994 that I made the acquaintance of Lew Rockwell, the founder and then president and now chairman of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, after stumbling across a Mises Institute publication called The Free Market. It was through articles in The Free Market that I was introduced to Murray Rothbard. This led me to the Rothbard-Rockwell Report and the realization that I was more of a libertarian than a conservative. I have been a diehard libertarian ever since. It was probably about ten years ago that I met Ron Paul, although I had been familiar with his great work on behalf of liberty for several years before then. Dr. Paul is one of the few members of Congress that I have ever had any respect for.
QT. Your positions on dismantling the empire and war machine are pretty clear. But what kinds of reforms/repentance would you recommend to Christian churches to free themselves of this “Christian warmongering” spirit? “Sackcloth and ashes” would be appropriate, but are there other changes called for as well?
LV. Christians need to need to demilitarize their church. To help them do so, I wrote: “How to Demilitarize Your Church.” Here is the condensed version.
First, they need to recognize the need to demilitarize their church by educating themselves as to the problems with the military — its unnecessary size, its bloated budget, its inefficiency, its merchants-of-death contractors, its murderous mercenaries, its weapons of mass destruction, its unconstitutional mission, its inability to protect its own headquarters, its foreign interventions, its foreign occupations, its overseas bases and troop deployments — and just how much the military has pervaded all of society.
Second, stop the practices of military appreciation days, recognizing current members of the military or veterans, making unspecific and unspecified prayers for “the troops in harms way,” putting “God Bless Our Troops” or “Pray for Our Troops” or “Thank a Veteran” slogans on church signs, bulletins, and websites, calling soldiers returning from overseas heroes, and the blasphemous nonsense about the troops dying for our freedoms like Christ died for our sins.
Third, Christians need to immunize their churches from the military by warning young people about the evils of “serving” in the military, never ceasing to point out although God in the Old Testament commanded the nation of Israel to fight against heathen nations, the president of the United States is not God, America is not the nation of Israel, the U.S. military is not the Lord’s army, the Christian’s sword is the word of God, and the only warfare the New Testament encourages the Christian to wage is against the world, the flesh, and the devil.
QT. One of your pieces, “What Happened to the Southern Baptists?” points to the radical shift in their denominational statements and behavior. But it doesn’t tell us much about how and why that drastic change came about. Can you outline your own sense of what made that shift possible? And have you seen any softening of that warmongering spirit since the departure of Bush & Cheney?
LV. I believe it all has to do with the newfound admiration of Americans for the military that began after the debacle in Vietnam. On this, I would highly recommend two books: Anne Loveland American Evangelicals and the U.S. Military 1942-1993 (LSU Press, 1996) and Andrew Bacevich, The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War (Oxford, 2005). As Bacevich says: “In the aftermath of Vietnam, evangelicals came to see the military as an enclave of virtue, a place of refuge where the sacred remnant of patriotic Americans gathered and preserved American principles from extinction.”
I have not seen any softening of the warmongering spirit in evangelical churches. Although some Christians may now openly criticize the Iraq War and even call for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, it is all too little, too late. Adoration of the military has never abated and actually seems to have increased no matter what details come to light about atrocities committed by
U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. But of course, both wars were entirely criminal from the beginning.
QT. In your view, have the deaths of Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy, and Bill Bright, plus the retirement of James Dobson had any measurable effect toward softening the “Christian warmonger” bloc, or are there new leaders, and others less visible to outsiders, who have taken their places?
LV. Not at all. There are always new warmongers to take their place. I think the influence of these Christians “leaders” is overstated. I’m sorry to say that many evangelicals are just incorrigible warmongers and military idolaters. Just look at how Christians in the Bible Belt are voting for Newt Gingrich (Catholic), Mitt Romney (Mormon), and Rick Santorum (Catholic) instead of Ron Paul (Protestant). The main problems they have with Paul are his views on war and foreign policy.
QT. How important do you consider the “Christian Zionist” movement spearheaded by such as John Hagee to the “Christian Warmonger” ideology and influence? And do you see its impact waxing or waning? Are there specific ways you can suggest to challenge this “crusade”?
LV. As a dispensationalist and a premillennialist, I have certain sympathies with the “Christian Zionist” movement. However, I think the warmonger spin and the constant defense of the government of Israel are completely off base. I think the movement is often blamed for having too much influence. I believe that Christian devotion to the military and American exceptionalism are a greater influence. Challenges to this “crusade” must be rooted in biblical arguments.
QT. You call out many prominent conservative evangelical figures in your book, from Charles Colson to Bill Bright and, of course, Jerry Falwell. Did any of these members of the “Christian Axis of Evil” ever respond to your critiques, either directly or indirectly?
LV. Not at all. Neither directly nor indirectly. And when their followers did respond to my critiques, it was usually just name-calling (communist, liberal, pacifist, traitor), accusations (“you hate America” or “you want our troops to die”), or profanity.
QT. There are many calls today for a pre-emptive U.S. attack on Iran. If such an attack occurs, how important a role do you think the “Christian warmongers” will play in instigating and defending it? Do you have any thoughts about how these voices can be countered in advance, beyond your blog?
LV. Because all the talk about Iran usually includes Israel, Christian warmongers who think that God needs America’s assistance to protect Israel would love to see a preemptive strike on Iran by the United States, Israel, or both in unison. They don’t have enough influence to instigate it but would be the biggest defenders of such a thing. These voices can be countered with the truth of what an immoral and disastrous thing a preemptive strike would be as presented at least every week at websites like Antiwar.com and LewRockwell.com and in the sane writings of conservatives like Paul Craig Roberts and Pat Buchanan.
QT. I read in the book your comment that, in addition to many replies to your blog posts calling you all kinds of terrible names such as “traitor” and, of all things, “Quaker,” you had also heard from many soldiers. Overall, are the active-duty GIs who have written to you more sympathetic to your views than the civilians or veterans you have heard from — or less so? (Certainly, the soldier who gave me your book liked what he had read.) If more so, on what points are they most in agreement?
LV. Most of the active-duty military who have written me are sympathetic to my views. Many of them say they are getting out of the military as soon as they are able. A few have told me that they were seeking to become a conscientious objector. Soldiers seem to be most in agreement that they are not defending our freedoms and have no business fighting foreign wars.
The veterans who write me are generally very sympathetic, and especially Vietnam Vets. The few veterans who write in disagreement normally just blast me with profanity and threats. But the worst abuse I get is from civilians. I know they are civilians because the military people, whether friend or foe, always identify themselves. Thankfully, the abuse has let up considerably since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have turned out to be such debacles.
QT. Among your sources, you cite favorably Jonathan Dymond and General Smedley Butler. Dymond was a Quaker, and Butler came from a long line of Pennsylvania Quakers on both sides; his post-military activism shows (to me, at least) a resurgence of his heritage in large measure. Are there any other Quaker sources you have drawn on? Or conversely, are their Quaker writers/figures who you have discovered pushing the ‘Christian warmonger” line? (One might point to Richard Nixon for the latter, yet his “Quakerism” was the next thing to a military secret, and it’s hard to find any signs of its influence. But are there others?
LV. Aside from Dymond and Butler, I don’t recall any other Quaker sources that I have drawn on. I have always drawn on a wide variety of sources, including Catholic, Orthodox, Church of Christ, Mennonite, Presbyterian, and Baptist. Nixon was a disgrace to all Quakers for his continued fighting of the Vietnam War that he inherited from Johnson, and especially his horrendous bombing campaigns. Like the Iraq and Afghan Wars, Vietnam was criminal from the beginning. I have been called a Quaker in derision because of my anti-war views. I feel, though, that I am in good company. Thomas Jefferson, who espoused a foreign policy of peace and nonintervention, referred to his principles as “our Quaker system.”