Most Christians are not absolute pacifists, though they see war as an evil. There are exceptions, of course, including Mennonites like Merv Bitkofer, who used to be an author on The Hump, and even more famously Quakers, who went into captivity in the World Wars rather than take up arms. But without having a theoretical grasp of Just War theory, most ordinary believers will accept the sad necessity for fighting to defend one’s own nation (and family, of course) against foreign aggression.
We can see this in relation to the Ukraine War. In the UK, a majority of Evangelicals still swallow the NATO version of the story and “support Ukraine.” In theory this means simply laudable support for peaceful refugees, and less laudable demonisation of the Russians as the “unprovoked” invaders and, now, as purveyors of “sham” referendums. But if they really believed that war is an absolute evil, Christians would be flying fewer nationalist Ukrainian flags and pushing much harder than they have for a negotiated settlement, rather than acquiescing in pouring arms into the country to enable Ukraine to destroy the enemy (in fact largely Donbas “Ukrainian” militias in an eight year civil war) on the battlefield.
Those supporting Russia, like the vast majority of Orthodox believers in Russia itself, also see the warfare as a necessary evil to defend their motherland against dismantling by the West. It is hard to imagine even those believers who fully understand the subversiveness of the Cross against the world’s addiction to violent power not having a crisis of conscience at the thought of simply letting an enemy pillage their homeland or commit genocide. After all, the anti-imperial polemic of the Book of Revelation is balanced by both Paul and Peter’s support of governments as appointed by God to bear the sword against evildoers – we are not yet in the realised eschatological Kingdom, unfortunately.
And so it was that, in World War II, the CIA enlisted Christian missionaries as spies and saboteurs, and it was that idea of resisting evil aggressors that enabled them to be recruited. As the linked article states, many of these people experienced increasing moral conflict, especially as their tasks escalated to include assassinations and other “dirty” business, and some regretted their involvement after the war.
But surely one of the strongest arguments against the missionary becoming an agent of America, or Britain, in Germany was that they were secretly working to deceive those very souls they were sent to win for the truth of Christ. Rightly or wrongly, ordinary Germans too believed their country’s propaganda and saw the war as a just cause, at least initially. If missionaries had openly taught them to betray their country and support the Allies, the Gospel would have become entirely subordinated to politics. And if the missionaries kept their subversion secret, then they were treating their flock as enemies to be deceived, and not as brethren in the truth. The moral conflict is significant enough to have prompted this study on whether missionaries should be involved with spying.
This topic came to mind recently as I was reading a useful list of the most persecuting countries published by the Barnabas Trust. The excuses for persecution are, in many cases, obvious and evil: the elevation of the State above individual conscience, or the bigotry of Islam and other dominant religions against alternatives. But I was struck by how often legal restrictions, official suspicion and general harassment are linked to the possibility that Evangelical churches are actually the agents of foreign powers. And unless the CIA has changed its spots rather than grow a few more, it could be that those countries have every reason for these suspicions.
There’s a good example of how the various reasons for opposing mission get mixed together in this Indian article on the CIA’s use of missionaries to weaken India. The piece includes a degree of Hindu resentment of Christianity itself as a missionary religion, but how would one ever be able to counter that if there is any substance to their belief that foreign intelligence agencies are using Christians for geopolitical ends?
And it’s hard to believe that those agencies would not do so, given half a chance. I recently mentioned how Terry Waite appears to have been hoodwinked by Oliver North into assisting American clandestine politics, resulting in his long incarceration. The main, Christian, informant on Uyghur oppression in Communist China is, in fact, a member of US intelligence funded organisations.
Is it any wonder that in certain countries, hymns such as Onward Christian soldiers have been taken by authorities to be seditious rather than spiritual, if they look round the world at the colour revolutions engineered by the world’s “Christian” nations?
We need not doubt that the Intelligence organs regard every method as fair – here’s a piece on how MI6 used supposedly independent UNSCOM arms inspectors to undermine Iraq from well before the second Gulf War (which, remember, only happened because of false arms intelligence and cost a million innocent lives). And if you’re willing to subvert international peace organisations in the NATO interest, why not the gullible God-botherers?
It has become clear, since the Ukraine business reminded thinking people to enquire how the Maidan Coup of 2014 occurred, that the usual modus operandi of the West (which essentially means the USA and its vassal states) has been to infiltrate targeted nations, set up Astroturf protest organisations amongst the disaffected, and engineer regime change to set up puppet governments that support US political and commercial interests.
We can see an example this very day in the “spontaneous” violent demonstrations, first in Tehran and now in London and “across the world,” against the alleged killing of a woman arrested by the morality police in Iran. I gather video evidence suggests she actually collapsed of a heart problem (maybe there’s a vaccine story there…) but even if not, have you ever been aware before of a widespread international popular movement against Fundamentalist Islam that gathers en masse to start stoning mosques and embassies spontaneously? Is it not the Islamists whose rage more commonly causes civil unrest? And is it purely coincidence that the USA immediately (without any examination of evidence) imposed new sanctions on Iran, or that Iran happens to have sold effective drones to Russia recently? If it’s coincidental, so was the invasion of Armenia and the ousting of Imran Khan.
How might Christian missions be used by the CIA in such dirty business? An American pastor might simply be a CIA agent. That was certainly the Turkish view after the failed coup of 2016, which they believed to be CIA backed to oust Erdogan, and for which they arrested Pastor Andrew Brunson. Brunson led a church in Izmir (where Christians are indeed persecuted, since I’ve met some of them), but why would that make him a likely suspect in a coup? He has now, it seems, settled in Hungary rather than go back to the US. Would he own up to a double life if he were not simply an innocent victim?
Or intelligence agencies might simply use an innocent missionary as a useful idiot to undermine a regime’s reputation in the West. A Mossad or MI6 plant in a fairly restricted country might pass false rumours of persecution in the interior to the missionary in the same way fake intelligence of Iraqi WMD was fed into the system. The missionary would then become the single-point source for the entire Christian world to believe in a situation that simply wasn’t true – and in America, the Evangelical lobby is influential enough to affect foreign policy, even to the point of justifying an invasion “to restore democracy.”
Once more, then, and of particular relevance to Christians, we have an example of how living in a propaganda world undermines everything important. Just because someone is a missionary it does not mean they are a trustworthy witness – as the history of World War II and the CIA proves. Sadly we have to be just as cautious about church sources as any other, and that’s a shame.
Let me close with another concrete instance where the waters may be muddy. One of the countries where suspicion of “foreign religion” has long been reported is Russia. Indeed, I have a friend whose own work there has faced difficulties from both the central laws and from local officialdom. Some recent high-profile cases are discussed here.
Now, a big factor in this is surely the tendency to an unhealthy nationalism in the Russian Orthodox Church, which to be frank may be little different from the jingoistic American exceptionalism of many US Evangelicals, or the “White Man’s Burden” of the British imperial era: a Bible in one hand, and a gun in the other. I caution my Russian readers about equating of the Church with any state: no one nation is special, with the possible exception of remnant Israel. And so in Russia, Christianity tends to be seen as “Orthodoxy,” and Baptists or Pentecostals as suspicious foreign heretics… much as many Evangelicals regard Orthodox churches here. Though I should remark that President Putin is on record of being in favour of greater religious tolerance.
Then again, Russian laws, I am told, tend to be drafted vaguely, so that officious bureaucrats or bullies at local level take the same delight as jobsworths anywhere in showing off their power by over-interpreting them – maybe that kind of empire-building mentality exists in Rosobrnadzor in the linked article. It certainly exists in the UK, when police closed down perfectly legal church services during the COVID nightmare. Local opposition would, I guess, be that much stronger in those parts of Russia that are predominantly Muslim.
But it is also now blindingly obvious that NATO and the West have been plotting the overthrow of Vladimir Putin, in order to dismember Russia, for decades, as I have described in a number of other posts. The propaganda campaign has been thorough. By now, as the Ukraine war has shown, most Western Christians thoroughly believe Putin to be a dictator and the Russian people Communist, or alternatively Fascist, Orcs. So one can imagine it would not be too hard for the CIA and so on to recruit missionaries willing to help in the “war for democratic values,” or to sell some false narratives to religious expat workers without even needing to recruit them. Indeed, for overseas Protestant Christians getting most of their teaching material from Western sources, that literature might be sufficient to bias them unjustly against their own culture, just as it appears that much of the internal opposition to the Russian government in general comes from young people still enamoured of Western progressive ideas.
What, then, can we do to evaluate missionary sources of information? The first thing, I suppose, is to place a rather greater level of trust in the person your church sends to work for a missionary organisation than the person the missionary organisation sends to speak to your church.
A second thing might be to heed the first-hand testimony of a missionary you know more than the glossy publicity of a large organisation whose funding needs may have been topped up by some government agency.
Thirdly, I would be more questioning of information regarding countries in which Western nations take an interest than in the others… though unfortunately that is a rapidly shrinking list as we can no longer take the compliance of smaller nations to Western interests for granted.
It’s unfortunate to consider that the pure milk of the word might turn out sometimes to be contaminated by the sewer of geopolitics – but remember, it’s a lot more of a problem for those receiving the gospel for the first time if they find out they heard it from a Washington stooge. As with everything in this age of deception, we must be “as cunning as serpents, and as innocent as doves.”
Here’s a song about truth I re-mixed just yesterday: