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CULTURE DIGEST: Author highlights faith on the battlefield; religious left supported filibusters; ‘Purpose-Driven’ tops list

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–For most soldiers, the battlefield becomes as much a test of faith as a test of arms, author Stephen Mansfield concluded after spending several weeks alongside America’s defenders in Iraq to examine the role religion plays in their lives.

“Servicemen who live stateside reflect the populace as a whole in their religious lives,” Mansfield, author of “The Faith of the American Soldier,” said in an interview with National Review Online published May 27. “It is when they go into battle, face death, see their comrades killed, and have to grapple with the morality of killing the enemy that they reach for faith with new intensity.

“When I was embedded with the troops in Iraq toward the end of 2004, I did not talk to one soldier who was not seeking a stronger connection to God and His hand of protection,” he said.

Mansfield, who also wrote “The Faith of George W. Bush,” said chaplains in Iraq estimate that about 85 percent of the soldiers deployed there are in some form Christian, though the military is generally comprised of people who are more patriotic and more likely to entertain traditional values and elements of faith.

“I’m sure there are some atheists in foxholes, but not many,” Mansfield told National Review Online. “Wars press issues of faith into the lives of those who fight them. From the question of the morality of the war itself to the simple quest for protection from harm, soldiers are constantly reaching for understanding, comfort and protection from a supernatural source. For the vast majority of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, this means pursuing God like never before.”

To help meet those needs, chaplains are deployed with the military, but for several reasons are not allowed to accompany soldiers to the front lines. Mansfield said military chaplains have a very difficult role to play.

“They are paid by the state to tend the religious lives of soldiers in a society that is almost preoccupied with the separation of church and state,” he said. “Even though these chaplains are ordained members of recognized religious groups, they often have to exercise caution in how aggressively they preach the truth of their denomination or its views of other religions. Every chaplain I talked to in the field struggled with the definition of his job as a result.”

Mansfield said that during his interactions with troops both home and abroad, soldiers spoke often about believing that Bush’s faith and character were important to them.

“There were many references to the near depression in the military during the Clinton administration,” he said. “Yet, with the Bush presidency, soldiers began to feel as though they were valued and that they were an extension of the president’s moral resolve.

“Even among soldiers who were disillusioned by supply problems or wearied by their hard months in the field, the belief that the president is a moral man conducting the war for righteous reasons made all the difference in their fighting spirit,” Mansfield said. “Character really is the core of leadership.”

RELIGIOUS LEFT SUPPORTED FILIBUSTERS — Alan Wisdom, vice president of the conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy, sees a stark contrast in the way conservative people of faith were treated in the filibuster controversy versus the way liberals who spoke out were treated.

“It is odd that religious supporters of President Bush’s proposed judges have been widely chastised for mixing religion in affairs of the state, when equally outspoken religious opponents of those same judges have not been equally maligned,” Wisdom said in a May 26 release.

Among religious leaders who took offense to “Justice Sunday” speakers who asserted that Senate Democrats’ filibuster tactics showed a prejudice against “people of faith”:

— Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, told Religion & Ethics Newsweekly that he was one of many Christian leaders who were infuriated because Family Research Council President Tony Perkins implied that those who support the filibuster were not people of faith.

“Taking a segment of Christianity and melding it with conservative Republican ideology and saying, ‘We’re morally right, and everybody is anti-Christian, anti-faith’ — I just think it’s an outrage,” Edgar said. “… They’re trying to do away with the checks and balances that the filibuster provides, and the way they’re doing it is pitting one group of Christians against another.”

— Mark Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, wrote a letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist April 19, saying Frist’s participation in the April 24 Justice Sunday event and his “divisive rhetoric about people of faith is self-righteous and polarizing.”

“You honor neither yourself, this country nor people of faith by such political manipulation,” Hanson wrote. “In the strongest terms, I urge you to use your position of significant responsibility to lead this country to a healthy respect not only for dissent but for all people of faith.”

— The United Methodist Women’s Action Network, a division of the denomination’s General Board of Global Ministries, organized a campaign in defense of the filibuster, urging members to “Call, write, fax or e-mail your Senators and urge them to save the filibuster.”

‘PURPOSE-DRIVEN’ BOOKS TOP LIST — Rick Warren and his books “The Purpose-Driven Life” and “The Purpose-Driven Church” topped the list of typical pastor reading material, according to a study by The Barna Group released May 30.

Barna asked pastors to identify the three books that had been most helpful to them as a ministry leader during the past three years and found that the most influential books often fail to reach the bestseller lists. Among the 200-plus books listed, just nine were named by at least 2 percent of all pastors, Barna found, and just 10 authors were listed by at least 2 percent of pastors.

One out of every five senior pastors named The Purpose-Driven Life as one of the most helpful books they had read in the last three years. Demographically, Barna reported, the book had twice the appeal among pastors born during the Baby Boom generation as among younger pastors of the Baby Bust era.

Other books cited by at least 2 percent of pastors included “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” by Phillip Yancey, “Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire” by Jim Cymbala, “Wild at Heart” by John Eldredge, “Courageous Leadership” by Bill Hybels, “Spiritual Leadership” by Henry Blackaby, “Next Generation Leader” by Andy Stanley and “21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” by John Maxwell.

Following Warren on the list of authors were Maxwell, Blackaby, Cymbala, Hybels, Stanley and Yancey.

Three types of books emerged as most profitable for pastors. Fifty-four percent of ministers listed at least one book regarding discipleship or personal spiritual growth. Books about church growth, congregational health or ministry dynamics were listed by 23 percent of pastors, and leadership books were named by 22 percent.

“One of the most interesting outcomes is the different taste of younger pastors,” George Barna said. “Given the divergent points of view that they consider most helpful and influential, it seems likely we will continue to see new forms and strategies emerge in their churches. They lean toward books and authors that extol adventure, shared experiences, visionary leadership, supernatural guidance and relational connections.

“If their choices in reading are any indication, they seem less obsessed with church size and more interested in encounters with the living God,” he said. “They are also less prone to identify the most popular books in favor of those that are known for their passionate tone. The fact that less than half as many young pastors considered the Purpose Driven books to be influential in their ministry suggests that the new legion of young pastors may be primed to introduce new ways of thinking about Christianity and church life.”

    About the Author

  • Erin Curry