War Causing Split Among Evangelicals

By Julie Sullivan
Religion News Service
Saturday, March 24, 2007

Suzanne Brownlow shivered on the Oregon highway overpass as a cutting wind whipped her sign: "Honk to End the War."

"I feel like at least we are doing something," said Brownlow, waving with her husband, Dave, and two youngest children just outside Portland.

The weekly demonstration is part of a journey that has taken the evangelical Christian woman from protesting abortion clinics to protesting the war in Iraq, where her son is serving in the Army.

No polling data show conclusively that opinion has shifted among conservative evangelicals. But some national evangelical leaders say debate about -- and, in some cases, opposition to -- the war is breaking out among Christian conservatives whose support was key to President Bush's election victories. Frustration with Republicans' failure to overturn abortion rights is said to have fueled skepticism among some evangelicals. Others decry the war's human toll and financial cost and are concerned about any use of torture.

"This war has challenged their confidence in the party," said Tony Campolo, an evangelical Baptist minister and author who lectures across the country on social issues. "Add to that that they feel the Republicans have betrayed them on the abortion issue, and you are beginning to see signs of a rebellion."

The National Association of Evangelicals, which says it represents 45,000 churches, recently endorsed an anti-torture statement that says the United States has crossed "boundaries of what is legally and morally permissible" in its treatment of detainees and war prisoners in the fight against terror.

The Brownlows voted for Bush in 2000 because of his conservative views. But a month before the 2003 invasion, the Damascus, Ore., couple began campaigning against his Iraq policies. Dave Brownlow ran for Congress three times, twice on an antiwar ticket for the Constitution Party. Since November, the couple have lobbied lawmakers to bring the troops home.

Last month, they founded Believers Against the War to influence other evangelical Christians.

On a recent Saturday, a motorcyclist, sleek in black leather, spotted the Brownlows' banners, raised his gloved fist and flipped an obscene gesture. The Brownlows smiled, because many others were honking their support. Then a woman driver slowed and screamed, "Get over it."

Suzanne Brownlow's serenity broke. "How can I get over it?" she said. "My son is in Iraq."

Many mainline Christian churches and several dozen prominent evangelicals opposed the war from the beginning. Others were ambivalent.

But since 2003, polls have shown that conservative Christians were more likely than other Americans to favor military action. The National Association of Evangelicals, the same group that condemned torture, even linked the efforts of evangelical "prayer warriors" to the killing of Saddam Hussein's sons.

Daniel R. Lockwood, president of Multnomah Bible College and Biblical Seminary in Portland, Ore., said he has seen a "sea change" among his students, who are looking beyond conservative issues such as abortion and homosexuality to the environment, children with HIV/AIDS and the poor.

"More and more, students are very interested in social justice and issues often associated with the middle and the left," Lockwood said, "and the war is a piece of that."

Suzanne and Dave Brownlow met at a church singles group in Houston 26 years ago. They were born-again Christians, and they vowed that their marriage, like their faith, would be politically active. He picketed Planned Parenthood clinics; she organized for the Concerned Women for America.

They had four children -- Jared, now 20; Desi, 19; Jace, 15; and Sierra, 12 -- and moved to Oregon in 1990 for Dave's job. They home-schooled their children, were foster parents to three medically fragile youths for Heal the Children and housed eight foreign-exchange students.

They campaigned on behalf of Republican candidates. But by 2002, troubled by the lack of progress on the abortion front and the legality of the president's conduct of the war, they joined the Constitution Party. Soon after the invasion, Dave Brownlow began writing articles opposing the war.

Meanwhile, Jared Brownlow -- long fascinated by military histories, war movies and photos of his grandfather as a World War II tail gunner -- joined the Army. The Brownlows said their eldest son has not objected to their antiwar efforts. He's serving in the Army near Baghdad.

Although many churchgoers are active against the war, the Brownlows said they still feel self-conscious sharing their views with their Christian friends. People have told them that freedom isn't free or that they must support the troops.

"We really don't fit anywhere," Suzanne Brownlow said. "All our friends are pro-war and think we are heretics for talking against the president."

Julie Sullivan writes for the Oregonian in Portland.

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