Falwell denied that many evangelicals opposed Iraq war

Reverend Jerry Falwell erroneously denied that many evangelicals opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Appearing opposite Sojourners editor-in-chief Reverend Jim Wallis on the February 11 edition of FOX News' Hannity & Colmes, Falwell called Wallis's claim that “evangelicals around the world were against the war in Iraq” “baloney” and remarked: “You could fit your [antiwar evangelical] crowd in a phone booth.” After Wallis told Falwell that “there are evangelical Christians who don't share your pro-war views,” Falwell replied, “I know -- you and William Sloane Coffin." Coffin is a longtime peace activist and former Yale University chaplain.

In fact, many evangelical leaders openly opposed the Iraq war, and a March 2003 poll by the Pew Research Center indicated that although most American evangelicals supported removing Saddam Hussein from power, less than half “favored the use of force if our major allies did not want to join us.”

Prominent evangelicals to oppose the war in Iraq include the presiding bishop for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Reverend Mark S. Hanson, author and assistant professor of theology at the Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary D. Stephen Long, and -- as Wallis accurately pointed out on the program -- evangelicals from “Fuller Seminary [and] Wheaton College.” Approximately 40 faculty members from the Fuller Theological Seminary -- “the largest evangelical seminary in the country” -- “signed a September 2002 letter opposing Bush's statements about a unilateral pre-emptive war in Iraq,” the Pasadena Star-News reported on October 8, 2004. The faculty of Wheaton College -- who annually reaffirm “a summary of biblical doctrine that is consonant with evangelical Christianity” -- “passed a resolution opposing war in Iraq,” according to the Student Peace Action Network.

According to a Pew Research Center poll taken March 13 through March 16, 2003, while 77 percent of white evangelicals “favored the U.S. taking military action to end Saddam Hussein's rule ... less than a majority -- 48% -- favored the use of force if our major allies did not want to join us.”

The Washington Post reported on January 25, 2003, that, although five prominent evangelical ministers -- led by Reverend Richard Land -- signed a letter to Bush supporting the war, “most evangelicals leaders” were “ambivalent about the prospect of war with Iraq” while many were ambivalent about openly taking a position on the conflict:

Since Land's letter ... few prominent evangelicals have spoken out for the war -- or against it.

Such reticence suggests that most evangelical leaders, who strongly supported the Persian Gulf War a decade ago, are ambivalent about the prospect of war with Iraq, according to several evangelical theologians and scholars.

They said some evangelical leaders question whether Saddam Hussein's regime poses the immediate threat to American security the Bush administration claims. And they said other leaders are fearful for the safety of hundreds of thousands of Christians in Iraq and thousands of missionaries working in Muslim-led countries around the world.

Other observers say the silence of evangelicals does not necessarily mean that they do not hold strong positions on the president's policy. According to this view, evangelical leaders who favor military action are afraid that public statements to that effect will further inflame anti-American sentiment throughout the Muslim world -- while those against a war worry that they will be labeled as “liberals” because their arguments closely follow Protestant and Catholic leaders who oppose a U.S. attack.