Mark 13 in a Different Imperial Context

A chapter in: Mark, Gospel of Action: Personal and Community Responses, edited by John Vincent, London:SPCK. 12 pp.

Nearly two years after U.S. President George W. Bush declared the second war with Iraq officially over, British and American soldiers remain mired in an increasing violent and controversial occupation of that country. As of this writing, there have been almost six times as many American deaths in Iraq as there were during the 2003 invasion, while the Iraq body count website ( estimates that as many as 11,200 civilians have been killed in Iraq to date. None of the original “Coalition” rationales used to justify the invasion have been vindicated, and the Abu Ghraib prisoner torture scandal has undermined the waning public confidence in U.S./British policy. It seems a good time, therefore, to revisit the role of the churches in the public conversation around Gulf War II, what the gospel might have to say about the whole sordid affair, and how citizens might not get “fooled again” in the future.

I was a visiting professor at Memphis Theological Seminary in the spring of 2003, and learned quickly that most folks in the “Bible belt” South didn’t like to hear U.S. policy criticized or a war effort questioned. In the days leading up to the invasion, as politicians fanned the flames of war fever, most local churches resorted to eleventh-hour ethical mumbling while scrambling to figure out a position that wouldn’t be too controversial. But once hostilities began and the spiritual platitudes wilted, the majority of church leaders kept their heads down and concentrated on pastoral tasks: offering solace to a traumatized and confused citizenry; praying for those “in harm’s way”; and eventually, burying the dead.

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