Tuesday, November 22, 2011
RADICAL LOVE IN COLLISION WITH PATRIOTIC SENTIMENT
Over the last few days I have been thinking a lot about how following Jesus affects our actual lives. Specifically, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it really means to love our enemies, and turn the other cheek, and overcome evil with good. If I take the words of Jesus seriously, they have strong implications for me when it comes to war, and violence, and torture.
Last week an article was published that revealed a disappointing trend for church-going Christians to support the torture of our enemies. This lead me to respond here on this blog and a dialog was started in the comments section that continues to challenge my ideas of sincere discipleship to Christ and how it collides with my ingrained sense of patriotic pride.
You see, I am a good Republican Christian. Or, at least, I was raised as one in my Southern Baptist church back in Texas. These radical ideas of actually following Jesus and putting his words and teachings into practice are only just now beginning to churn within my heart and mind. I hear myself saying things I never thought I would say, and part of me bristles with the sound of my own voice and the inflection of these anti-military, pro-peace concepts.
Beyond my own internal struggles with these radical ideas of peace and love for enemies, I have an additional challenge to wrestle with. My father-in-law spent most of his life in the military and civil service. Several of my dearest friends are either in the military now or have served overseas in the Gulf War. I do not speak of these things lightly or without full realization that my words here may have emotional consequences. Let me apologize in advance to those friends of mine who are confused by what I’m suggesting here. My intention is not to offend or to insult you or anyone else in the military. But, when I honestly ask these questions and investigate these issues, I am troubled by what I see and hear and learn.
Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm." – John 18:36
What does it mean to be part of the Kingdom of God? What is the true cost of following Jesus? Am I willing to follow Him even if it means giving up my identity as a good American citizen? What do I do when the Gospel and the Constitution collide?
Where do my allegiances lie?
How do you obey Jesus in the command to love your enemy and still take up a weapon and kill him with it?
How do you obey Jesus in the command to turn the other cheek and drop bombs on his children?
How do you obey Jesus in the command to pray for those who persecute you and forgive those who hate you and fire rockets into their cities?
For anyone serious about following Jesus you have to start, as you might have guessed, with Jesus. What did Jesus teach? How did Jesus model our practice of faith?
How did those first Christians walk out the things that Jesus taught them? We can look at how they walked and lived and practiced following Jesus for a clue as to how we (you and I) should follow also Jesus.
Those early Christians (for over 300 years) were put to the sword, thrown to the lions, had property confiscated, were imprisoned, burned alive, etc. and not one single Christian (not one in all of our recorded history, whether pagan or Christian in origin) - not one of them took up a sword in self-defense. Not one of them killed to protect their property. Not one of them killed to save themselves from being imprisoned or tortured or burned or eaten alive.
Is this compatible with the American Dream? Does this behavior have any correlation with the founders of American independence? Hardly. Although we’re always told that our founding fathers were focused on creating a nation where religious freedom was paramount, it seems incongruous for a follower of Jesus to fight for his right to love his enemies peacefully.
How did we get to this point? After about 300 years of enduring oppression and persecution, Emperor Constantine not only lifted the boot from the necks of Christians, he put their leaders on the payroll of the Empire, handed them ornate marble temples to worship in and elevated their pastors to high positions within the political arena.
What’s more, Constantine was allowed to re-define for the entire Church what it meant to be a Christian. Before this, a follower of Jesus was defined as someone who put the words and teachings of Jesus into practice every day of their life. After Constantine’s influence, the definition of "Christian" was changed to: "Someone who believes a set of doctrines". This definition still dominates our imaginations today, in fact. And I believe it’s why Christians today can claim to be “followers of Jesus” without actually, you know, “following” Him.
The effect on the Christian community of Constantine’s day was devastating. Within just one generation we have those same peaceful, formerly-oppressed Christians taking up the sword to go and put to death and oppress and persecute another group of people who disagree with their religion. The oppressed become the oppressors. Those under the sword now take up the sword and fight for the very Empire that once put them to death.
This same paradigm shift is what allows Christians in America to support torture, and to cheer military victory, and to participate in the killing with little or no reservations about how any of this might be anti-Christian behavior.
I have to ask, can you honestly picture Jesus allowing or endorsing or supporting torture? Really? Can you honestly picture Jesus blessing his disciples to go out and kill people? Seriously?
I can't. I'm sorry.
As Lew Rockwell, author of “Christianity and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State” asks:
“Can a Christian smash someone against a wall in the name of the Lord Jesus? Can a Christian heartily lock someone in a dark box for hours at a time? Can a Christian deprive someone of sleep to the glory of God? Can a Christian give thanks to God while he hangs someone from the ceiling?
Sure he can, but not without violating the whole tenor of the New Testament.
Christians are told to put off anger, wrath, and malice (Colossians 3:8), to not render evil for evil (1 Thessalonians 5:15), to not give offense (1 Corinthians 10:30), to abstain from all appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22), to not be a brawler (Titus 3:2), and to abhor that which is evil (Romans 12:9). I think this rules out waterboarding.”
I must agree.
If we are serving a king and a kingdom from this world, then let us take up arms against our oppressors and kill every last one of them. However, if our king and our kingdom is not of this world, then let us not fight. Instead let us obey our King and love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us and do good to those who hate us.
Let us live a life where practicing our faith and actually following Jesus with our everyday life defines our Christianity, no matter what.