“The Strategic Implications of American Millennialism”


After reading this post at The Way of Improvement Leads Home, a friend sent me Major Brian L. Stuckert‘s 2008 study of the impact of dispensationalism on American foreign policy.  The paper was written as part of Stuckert’s education at the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

The paper is over seventy pages long and does a nice job of explaining dispensationalism to a military audience.  Stuckert’s “conclusions and recommendations” for the U.S. Army are worth considering:

“The enemy is a spiritual enemy. It’s called the principality of darkness. We, ladies and gentlemen, are in a spiritual battle, not a physical battle. Oh, we’ve got soldiers fighting on the battlefields, we’ve got sailors, marines, airmen, coast guardsmen out there fighting against a physical enemy. But the battle this nation is in is a spiritual battle, it’s a battle for our soul. And the enemy is a guy called Satan – Satan wants to destroy this nation. He wants to destroy us as a nation and he wants to destroy us as a Christian army.” – U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, Lieutenant General Boykin, 2003

A 2003 survey found that more than two-thirds of evangelical leaders view Islam as a religion of violence bent on world domination.181 Following the events of September 11, 2001, many Christian opinion leaders began to speak of President Bush’s election and policies as “divinely inspired.” This attitude can present challenges to rational decision making processes. While some political commentators have theorized that the administration’s unwillingness to admit errors is the result of arrogance or political calculation, it is more likely that the administration believes they are doing the will of God and will be vindicated in the end. In other words, intelligence or analysis that seems to support invasions or other administration policies are interpreted as an affirmation of God’s will, while information is to the contrary is viewed with suspicion – perhaps an effort by Satan to deceive or mislead.

As President Carter explained to former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, what people believe as a matter of religion, they will do as a matter of public policy.185 There is a tendency on the part of Americans to view foreign policy and international affairs as a “clash of moral opposites.” This tendency may make it difficult for U.S. policy makers and strategists to perceive and act upon subtleties that may lie outside our conceptions of moral absolutes. Military leaders have the difficult task translating this religiously tinged policy into successful strategy and operations. War is primarily about politics. While geography and technology play a role, in order to be successful military leaders must be able to see the political goals as clearly as possible. Because of the influence of pre-millennialism, it can be difficult for military leaders to see themselves and their government accurately and state policy goals objectively.

Because religion in America directly impacts policy, military leaders and planners must learn to recognize the tenets and implications of American millennial thought. Millennialism has always been a feature of the American culture and has shaped not only the objectives of U.S. government policy, but also the way in which we interpret the words and actions of other actors on the international stage. Millennial ideas contribute to a common American understanding of international relations that guide our thinking regardless of individual religious or political affiliation. Millennialism has great explanatory value, significant policy implications, and creates potential vulnerabilities that adversaries may exploit. By gaining insight into and embracing intellectual honesty where our own prejudices and proclivities are concerned, we can greatly improve the quality and clarity of our decision-making.

Pessimism and paranoia are two possible results of pre-millennial influence. In the Capstone Concept for Joint Operations, the Joint Staff describes the near-term future as one characterized by “a pervasive sense of global insecurity.”188 There are actually many reasons to trend toward optimism. The U.S. military has no rival and our power is truly global in nature. U.S. military spending always exceeds that of the next several major nations combined. The U.S. military regularly enjoys a position of leadership on the international stage and effectively uses military power to intervene in the affairs of other states. Decision makers should guard against unwarranted pessimism. We should consider whether a contemplated decision or policy is either overly optimistic or pessimistic. Dispensational pre-millennialism typically causes a predisposition toward pessimism in world affairs and a general worsening of international relations. A pre millennial reading of Bible prophecy paints a dismal picture of a world disintegrating toward a cataclysmic end where we are forced to confront the wrath and judgment of God. Assumptions and plans based on this worldview will be less than ideal. 

In the same manner that we so assiduously study the culture and thinking of others,
potential adversaries may study us, to include the ramifications of millennial thought, and gain significant advantages. Millennial thought and its policy implications may create strategic transparency that affords adversaries an advantage in decision-making. In other words, by studying the tenets and predictions of dispensational pre millennialism, one could, to some extent, predict U.S. government actions and reactions. This would certainly prove more useful in areas that figure prominently in dispensational pre-millennialist eschatology, such as Israel. An extension of this strategic transparency might include an ability to provoke or manipulate American policy and subsequent action. With or without the efforts of adversaries, American millennialism may increase the fragility of or even disrupt coalitions. Finally, adversaries could easily transform an understanding American pre-millennialism into a highly effective set of information operations themes and messages or psychological operations efforts to achieve a variety of results with American leadership or the population at large. By recognizing these potential vulnerabilities, American strategists can take action now to mitigate the effects.

Based on what we know about the effect millennialism has on our thinking, we may incorporate additional considerations into policy formulation and evaluation to assist ourselves in the identification of defects, diminished objectivity or unwarranted biases. As a result of millenarian influences on our culture, most Americans think as absolutists. A proclivity for clear differentiations between good, evil, right, and wrong do not always serve us well in foreign relations or security policy. Policy makers must strive to honestly confront their own cognitive filters and the prejudices associated with various international organizations and actors vis-à-vis pre-millennialism. We must come to more fully understand the background of our thinking about the U.N., the E.U., the World Trade Organization, Russia, China and Israel. We must ask similar questions about natural events such as earthquakes or disease. An ability to consider these potential influences upon our thinking may greatly enhance objectivity.

The inevitability of millennial peace through redemptive violence and an exceptional role for America have been and continue to be powerful themes running throughout the security and foreign policies of the U.S.191 Official U.S. government policy expresses these themes in a number of ways from the National seal that reads Novus Ordo Seclorum – the New Order for the Ages – or the nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile known as the Peacekeeper. Whether Americans seek to subdue the continent to realize their Manifest Destiny, conquer the Soviet Evil Empire or rid the world of Saddam Hussein, millennialism imparts an unusual degree of certainty and fortitude in the face of difficult situations. Judis points out that, for the same reasons, millennialism is usually “at odds with the empirical method that goes into appraising reality, based on a determination of means and ends.”192 As demonstrated by American history, millennialism has predisposed us toward stark absolutes, overly simplified dichotomies and a preference for revolutionary or cataclysmic change as opposed to gradual processes. In other words, American strategists tend to rely too much on broad generalizations, often incorrectly cast in terms of ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ and seek the fastest resolution to any conflict rather than the most thoughtful or patient one.

Read Stuckert’s entire monograph here.

Nimrod Hughes and the Apocalypse of 1812

NimrodNimrod Hughes believed that one-third of the world’s population would be destroyed on June 4, 1812.  Read all about it at Past is Present, the blog of the American Antiquarian Society:

Hughes’s prophetic pamphlet was titled A solemn warning to all the dwellers upon earth, given forth in obedience to the express command of the Lord God, as communicated by Him, in several extraordinary visions and miraculous revelations, confirmed by sundry plain but wonderful signs, unto Nimrod Hughes, of the county of Washington, in Virginia, upon whom the awful duty of making this publication, has been laid and enforced; by many admonitions and severe chastisements of the Lord, for the space of ten months and nine days of unjust and close confinement in the prison of Abingdon, wherein he was shewn, that the certain destruction of one third of mankind, as foretold in the Scriptures, must take place on the fourth day of June, in the year of our Lord 1812. In it, Hughes claimed to have received apocalyptic visions from God during a recent imprisonment. A Solemn Warning was a bestseller, and many editions were published from mid-1811 into 1812, including at least six in English and two in German. On October 25, 1811, the Carlisle Gazette noted that “[Nimrod Hughes’s] prophecies are eagerly sought after from every corner, and the printers are hardly able to keep pace with the uncommon demand.” The popularity of this pamphlet eventually spawned a massive assault against Nimrod Hughes and his prophetic pretensions in the press.

Read the entire piece here.

The best thing I have read on Nimrod Hughes and people like him is Susan Juster’s Doomsayers: Anglo-American Prophecy in the Age of Revolution.

Michael Limberg on Day 3 at the AHA

Thanks to Michael Limberg for his posts this weekend.  Here is his latest.  It’s a good one–JF

Today (Sunday) has been an 8-plus hour blur of back-to-back panels and conversations.  I’m exhausted and my mind is spinning.  I have a lot of notes to review- I was writing down ideas and books and people to contact in the margins of my notebook all day long.  My forays into the warren of the book exhibit have also resulted in a staggering list of books I should read (just in case it wasn’t long enough already).
I started the day by finding myself sitting next to Mark Noll and John Wigger at breakfast.  I had to desperately hope the coffee kicked in quickly enough to have a good conversation with them and the other Conference on Faith andHistory breakfast attendees!  Typically I have at least two cups of coffee in the morning before trying to interact with adults (which is good for everyone involved). Lesson learned: go to Starbucks first even if there will be coffee at the breakfast.  I enjoyed meeting a few new scholars and reconnecting with a couple of others despite my caffeine-deprived state. 
From there I went down the hall to the roundtable on Kate Bowler’s recent book Blessed:A History of the American Prosperity Gospel.  We had to liberate a few extra chairs from an empty room down the hall to fit all the attendees, and it was a lively crowd.  Jay Green and Randall Stephens contributed their comments.  Brantley Gasaway read the comments from John Turner, who had to leave for a family emergency.  Many of their comments centered on Bowler’s decision to focus beyond the typical story of televangelists and scandals to examine the Prosperity Gospel’s historical roots and its lived experiences for many believers.  Bowler’s evenhanded presentation prompted John Turner to claim that “This is surely the least-snarky history of the prosperity gospel ever written by an outsider.”  Bowler’s approach prompted a discussion among all the attendees of “methodological agnosticism” and the ways historians can and should critique or push their subjects.  Bowler conducted parts of her research through observation of Prosperity Gospel revivals and church services; she advises other observers to avoid sitting in a back corner for this, as she was hit in the head several times by enthusiastically-swung flags. She described how her work had been influenced by ethnography as well as by the admonition to “take religion seriously”.  Blessed is now on my (long) list of books to read.
I also attended a panel titled “Contesting the Meaning of ‘International’Governance: Minorities and the League of Nations” because of the connections of a couple of the papers with my dissertation.  There are a number of young scholars in both the United States and Europe producing new work on the League of Nations, humanitarian aid, and international movements during World War I and the 1920s and 1930s, so I enjoyed meeting a couple of people who attended and presented.  I now have some ideas that might lead to some new intellectual crises and major changes to my dissertation, but that’s the risk and the benefit of attending a conference. 
Finally, I went to a panel co-sponsored by the AHA and the American Society for Church History on American Evangelicals Looking Abroad.  I arrived a couple of minutes late and ended up having to sit on the floor along one of the walls due to the crowd.  This was another of the panels organized to honor Grant Wacker, so all of the presenters were his former students from Duke and the University of North Carolina. 
Matthew Sutton’s paper, “The Global Apocalypses of Billy Graham,” showed how Graham’s premillennial vision of an immanent apocalypse remained part of his ministry from the 1950s to the present.  Apocalyptic rhetoric added a sense of urgency to Graham’s ministry and evangelical revivalism more broadly.  Connecting to foreign policy, Sutton noted that many evangelicals have tended to be very interested and cognizant of world crises and current politics because of their drive to understand these events in light of the end times.
David King’s paper, “Seeking to Save the World: American Evangelicals and Population Control” pointed out that, before the 1980s, American evangelicals largely supported the use and distribution of birth control in the developing world.  At one point, evangelical leaders even endorsed Planned Parenthood for its ability to promote family values in planned, happy families.  Global evangelical ministries such as World Vision began actively working with USAID to run family planning programs.  By the 1970s and 1980s, however, pushback from Christians in the global South at the 1973 Lausanne Conference and other forums (as well as the burgeoning culture wars) had begun to make American evangelicals back off from their support for population control.
Brantley Gasaway argued that progressive evangelicals have sought to influence foreign policy by showing that American Christians could support Palestinians and reject Christian Zionism.  Progressive evangelicals such as Jim Wallace and Ron Sider applied their calls for social justice and an end to inequality to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.  They crafted theological arguments to counter dispensationalism and waged a public relations campaign to reach the religious public and policymakers alike. 
Finally, Sarah Ruble used Christianity Today’s coverage of Iraqi Christians to explore how American evangelicals identified with a global Christianity and construct critiques of U.S. foreign policy.  She noted that the magazine’s correspondents and editors tended to evaluate the efficacy of U.S. foreign policy by how it affected the rights and freedoms of global Christians.  During the Iraq War, articles celebrated the new freedoms Iraqi Christians (particularly Iraqi evangelical Protestants) enjoyed.  The same articles also tempered their support for the US war effort by pointing out the new risks and fears Iraqi Christians faced as a result of the invasion.
This panel showed me that just as foreign relations scholars are increasingly following Andrew Preston and William Inboden in thinking about religion in foreign policy, religious scholars are increasingly thinking of how foreign policy fits in the study of religion.  This panel would fit well at a conference of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, and I hope these scholars would consider doing that and furthering this dialogue.  I and many who offered comments today were struck by how all the papers in this session, as well as Kate Bowler’s book, grappled with how American expressions of Christianity might be truly “exceptional” and how it is global.  That’s a question I’m struggling with as well as I write my dissertation, so I hope to hear and take part in more of those discussions in the future. 
Now I’m safely back home, still with a full stomach after indulging my not-so-secret addiction to falafel at the Middle Eastern food truck across the street from the hotel.  I also discovered an intersection with Starbucks locations on two of its four corners, which might just prove Billy Graham’s point that that apocalypse is nigh. But at least I had no trouble caffeinating up for the train ride.  My time at the AHA has been short but full.  Thanks to John Fea for giving the chance to share some of it!

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #39

Want to get some context for this post? Click here.

When I first started this project on the American Bible Society I realized that if I was going to complete it by May 1, 2015 I would need to rethink how I use my time.  This means doing some work on the weekends and, once the school year begins, carving out considerable time for research and writing in the early mornings.  In order to make it through the year I will need to be disciplined with my time, be more consistent with an exercise plan, and perhaps drink more coffee than usual.  

Part of this effort will also require times of strategic rest.  I did work on the ABS project on Friday night, Saturday, and early Sunday morning, but I also spent part of my weekend hanging out with my daughters (who were recuperating from long weeks at volleyball camp and basketball camp) watching re-runs of Castle and NCIS.  We had some nice family dinners on our back deck (thank you Joy).  And I took a nap or two and went to church.  I don’t have this time-management thing down to a science just yet, but I am committed to making it work, even if it is only for the next ten months.

I continue to work on getting chapters one and two into shape.  This weekend I added to my section in chapter two on the millennial visions of Elias Boudinot and John Jay, the first two ABS presidents.  I also strengthened the chapters (and the footnotes) by adding material from Daniel Walker Howe’e What Hath God Wrought, David Paul Nord’s Faith in Reading, Peter Wosh’s Spreading the Word, and Paul Gutjahr’s An American Bible.

This week I am in Princeton teaching a seminar on colonial American history.  I am hoping to get in a few hours of work on the ABS each day.  Stay tuned.

On Writing a History of the American Bible Society: Update #25

Theodore Frelinghuysen, ABS President 1846-62

Want to get some context for this post? Click here.

Week two in the ABS archives is in the books.  I have pushed myself through the anti-Catholic years of the Bible Society Record and I am now ready to start next week with the Civil War in view.  I am a little behind schedule, but the 1840s and early 1850s were so rich in material that I am not too worried about it.  The book will be better for taking the time to dig into the material from these decades.

And we also have Tom Van Dyke, one of the greatest game show contestants in the history of American television, on board with the project!  (See some of his comments on previous ABS History Update posts).  My weekend is made.

This weekend I continue to write chapter one, exploring the intersection of Federalism, millennialism, Christian nationalism, evangelicalism, and the Second Great Awakening.  Jonathan Den Hartog–I need your book on patriotism and piety in the early republic!  Can you convince University of Virginia Press to speed up the publication date?

Stay tuned and enjoy the weekend.  Thanks again for reading, tweeting, and posting.

The Author’s Corner with Zach Hutchins

Zach Hutchins is Assistant Professor of English at Colorado State University.  This interview is based on his new book, Inventing Eden: Primitivism, Millennialism, and the Making of New England (Oxford University Press, 2014)

JF: What led you to write Inventing Eden?
ZH: I suspect that throughout world history few—if any—words have been read more frequently than those comprising the first verses and chapters of the Bible. Certainly the Genesis story of Adam, Eve, and Eden was ubiquitous in Anglo-American culture during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when it was cited as a source of authority in debates over medicine, farming, corporal punishment, linguistics, slavery, gender, monarchy, religion, and a dozen other topics. I could hardly imagine a more significant or comprehensive lens through which to investigate early American literary history. As a graduate student I saw the influence of Eden in every primary source I read; conscious that scholarly interest in early American religion had declined during the late 1990s and early 2000s, I concluded that the time was ripe for a reconsideration of the role that this foundational narrative played in shaping colonial and then national history and culture.
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Inventing Eden?
ZH: Inventing Edenargues that the colonists-cum-citizens of early modern New England shaped their land, bodies, educational institutions, language, churches, and government after the perfect example of Adam and Eve’s biblical paradise. The edenic aspirations of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century colonists influenced the Antinomian Controversy, the transatlantic Great Awakening, the American Revolution, the modern environmental movement, and a belief in Franklinian self-made men; the pursuit of paradise molded both great events and the everyday lives of average men and women.
JF: Why do we need to read Inventing Eden?
ZH:  Because a belief in the historical Eden affected so many aspects of American history, this is a book that surveys an enormous array of sources on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Chapters transition from the paradisiacal ideals of European thinkers such as Christopher Columbus, Francis Bacon, and John Milton to the ecclesiastical visions of John Winthrop, Anne Bradstreet, and Jonathan Edwards and the revolutionary principles of John Otis, Thomas Jefferson, and Phillis Wheatley. Inventing Eden thus intervenes in a wide range of scholarly debates: whether the Declaration of Independence is a theistic, Christian document; the timing of a Puritan shift from primitivism to millennialism; the relative merits of transatlantic and hemispheric models of study; and the utility of American exceptionalism, among others. It also tells stories—about public nudity on New England streets, Arctic exploration, and Freemason influences on the republic’s founding—that will interest a broader audience.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
ZH: As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a Mormon), I grew up in a family deeply invested in religious history. In the early twentieth century, my aunt Bertha Fales wrote a detailed manuscript history of Norfolk, Massachusetts, and my mother is an amateur genealogist who peppered me with stories of Anne Hutchinson (an eleventh-generation great aunt) and Hutchinson’s Quaker niece, Patience Scott, an eleven-year-old who traveled one hundred miles to condemn the Massachusetts General Court. She also sent me out every summer to hoe a rocky garden that seemed, to my young eyes, the size of several football fields. When I visited Plymouth Plantation and Old Sturbridge Village each year, I identified with the staff members plying their hoes in colonial garb; they seemed like deceased relatives come to life. I don’t know that I ever decided to become an American historian. Rather, I fell naturally into a longstanding family tradition reinforced by the Mormon conviction that recording history is a sacred pursuit.
JF: What is your next project?

ZH: I am currently working on two major projects. The first, an edited collection of essays on the Stamp Act, is currently out for review; I hope to see it published next year, in commemoration of the Act’s 250th anniversary. My second monograph, which I am currently drafting, is a prehistory of the North American slave narrative that examines the genre’s origins in eighteenth-century newspapers.

JF: Thanks, Zach.