A Time for War and a Time for Peace

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Evangelical attitudes on foreign policy are more complicated than the warmonger stereotype suggests.

Since the 1980s, white evangelicals have been among the most ardent supporters of the Republican Party and an aggressive foreign policy. From Ronald Reagan confronting the Soviet Union to George W. Bush and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, they have been more likely to applaud the use of force than their fellow Americans. There have been dissenters—Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo come to mind—but these are the exceptions that prove the rule.

We can speak with some certainty about evangelical views on these matters after 1980 because social scientists have been conducting increasingly sophisticated surveys of this demographic. In Swords and Plowshares: American Evangelicals on War, 1937-1973, Timothy Padgett explores how white evangelicals (hereafter simply “evangelicals”) thought about war and related matters before such surveys existed. Padgett, managing editor of Breakpoint.org, approaches his subject primarily by analyzing articles and editorials in Moody Monthly, Christianity Today, Christian Herald, Our Hope, and Southern Presbyterian Journal (renamed Presbyterian Journal in 1959). He recognizes that this list includes no specifically Baptist, Wesleyan, or Pentecostal journals, and, of course, his study is biased toward the views of the evangelical elites who write for these periodicals.

In spite of these limitations, Swords and Plowshares offers a thorough, accurate, and well-documented account of how evangelicals thought about war and other issues in the mid-20th century. The core of Padgett’s book consists of eight chronological chapters, each of which considers how evangelicals portrayed America’s enemies, described their own country, evaluated the use of military force, and related …

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