The BBC interview was about George W. Bush’s nomination of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court, but it wasn’t long before Malcolm Yarnell III was discussing American Christianity before a large European audience.
An assistant professor of systematic theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and director of the seminary’s Center for Theological Research, Yarnell was a guest of the BBC-Northern Ireland program “Sunday Sequence” Oct. 9.
Noting that polls seem to indicate that Bush is losing support among American evangelicals, Host William Crawley asked Yarnell to explain American evangelicals’ reaction to the nomination of Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“There is a great deal of confusion right now among conservative evangelicals,” Yarnell said. “Harriet Miers does not seem to have a clear judicial record from which to judge how she might conduct herself on the bench.”
Yarnell said that Miers is evidently a “conservative evangelical herself,” but that there are accounts of her stands as a member of the Dallas City Council that cause evangelicals to be “a bit confused” about her positions on certain issues.
The other guest on the broadcast was Connie Lawn, an American freelance journalist who focuses on reporting from the White House. She said that conservatives were “getting too excited” over the Miers nomination. Lawn opined that Miers gives every indication of being “against abortion [and] would vote against Roe vs. Wade if she had a chance.”
“This is a strategy nomination by President Bush,” Lawn said. “It is a choice that will be relatively easy to get through the Senate.”
“I have to say this for President Bush. I think pretty consistently he has been saying he would appoint a strict constructionist,” Yarnell said. “He seems to have been following his word. … Our hope is that Harriet Miers, if she is confirmed to the court, will not turn out to be another David Souter … who turned out to be one of the most liberal justices on the court.”
Crawley then turned the discussion toward recent reports that Bush had told Palestinian officials in 2003 that “the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were sanctioned directly by God.”
Yarnell said he did not know whether or not President Bush made those remarks.
“If he said that, it would not surprise me, but it would not alarm me, either,” Yarnell said. Allowing for the possibility that Bush might have made the remarks, Yarnell placed them into the context of Christianity’s worldview.
“Evangelical Christians freely speak of their entire life being directed by God,” Yarnell said. “But that is coupled with the evangelical belief, in America, in the separation of church and state and a vigorous understanding of religious liberty. George Bush is not a theocrat. I do not believe he is on any type of religious crusade.”
Lawn concurred with Yarnell on this, and questioned why White House Spokesman Scott McClellan felt a need to issue a denial that President Bush had made the remarks.
“[President Bush] has used the term ‘mission,’ then he has used the term ‘crusade,’ but rolled back on the term ‘crusade’ because it is not a good word,” Lawn said. “I think [McClellan] would have been a lot more believable if he had just said, ‘Well, that’s the way President Bush talks and believes, and it is quite possible.’”
Yarnell then explained that there is a military connotation to the word ‘crusade’ among Europeans and Middle Eastern nations that is not there when Americans use the word.
“Among evangelical Americans … there are the ideas of evangelical crusades or revivals that are not militant in any way,” Yarnell said, referring to Campus Crusade for Christ and Billy Graham’s evangelistic crusades. “[Crusades] just means evangelists asking people to trust Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior and go to heaven. It is not about forcing other people.”
Reflecting on the interview, Yarnell said Americans should not be surprised that the media in other countries follow developments in America so closely.
“The world is very interested in what is going on in the United States,” he said. “Our economic, political, and military hegemony makes us many friends and enemies throughout the world. The British take a special interest in our culture because of the long history we share.
Yarnell was pleased that as he talked about the definition of the word “crusade” he was able to give a concise statement of the gospel, even in such a short, telephonic interview.
“It is absolutely imperative that we take every conceivable opportunity to present the gospel in whatever venue we find ourselves. Christ left us on this planet in order to make disciples by going, teaching and baptizing,” Yarnell said.The radio interview can be accessed at www.bbc.co.uk/sundaysequence