The reaction of many American Christians to the movie of the late Chris Kyle, American Sniper: The Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. History, has been one that should be a major red flag waiving on the Christian landscape in America.
While I’ve been talking about the rampant idolatry that has overcome so much of American Christianity, the fact that so many Christians are blindly worshipping at the altar of Chris Kyle should be something that has us jumping up and down yelling as if this building is on fire– because it is.
Chris Kyle is America’s new hero. The launch of the movie somewhat based upon his killings in the Middle East has propelled him front and center, in a story that nearly everyone has now aware of. In response to the movie, some Christians have dared to question Kyle, and others have outright critiqued him, and the response hasn’t been pretty. I referred to him as a “killer” and was told that folks were burning my book in response, have seen several cases online of Christians who support Kyle’s killing severing relationships with Christians who do not, and overall have seen some really nasty stuff being said toward anyone who does anything other than grovel at the story of America’s deadliest sniper.
Time and time again over the past week one thing in American Christianity has become clear: Chris Kyle is a man to whom we must bow down and worship, and failure to do this is part and parcel to heresy.
The slightest critique of Kyle is not only met with push-back, but a quick severing of Christian relationship. So much for Jesus’ words of, “By this all people will know you are mine: if you love one another.” Instead, a particular brand of Christianity in our country has replaced those words with, “By this all men will know you are mine: if you have unwavering support for American troops, and don’t ever question people who kill people.”
And this, is a problem. Not just a small problem, but a critical one. Far too many American Christians are caught up into idol worship– whether it’s Chris Kyle, America, or our guns– idol worship is perhaps the most pressing issue facing American Christianity. I call this a critical problem, because if one accepts the inspiration and authority of scripture, idolatry is one of those things that keeps one out of God’s Kingdom.
Idolatry is easy, I get it. I’ve done it. In this case however– and this is why the present Kyle worship is so concerning– many Christians are worshipping something that looks the opposite of Jesus. The fact that so many Christians are caught up in defending a story, a person, and actions that are in direct conflict to both the teachings of Christ, the example of Christ, and the faith as it was established by the early church, is an especially egregious case of idolatry.
Let’s compare for a moment Chris Kyle and Jesus, and see which one we should worship in the end:
The words of Jesus:
“You have heard that it has been said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you, do not fight with the man who wants to fight. Whoever hits you on the right side of the face, turn so he can hit the other side also… You have heard that it has been said, ‘You must love your neighbor and hate those who hate you.’ But I tell you, love those who hate you. Pray for those who do bad things to you and who make it hard for you. Then you may be the sons of your Father Who is in heaven.““Put away your sword! Those who use the sword will die by the sword.”
The example of Jesus:
The example of Jesus is one of the most beautiful in all of human history: he loved his enemies so much that he allowed himself to die at their hands before he was willing to harm them in any way.
The words and example of Jesus should be of the highest regard for the Christian. Jesus taught that if we are truly his disciples that we’ll obey what he taught (love enemies, do not use violence against them) and John goes on to say that “The one who says he belongs to Christ should live the same kind of life Christ lived.” (1 John 2:6)
Now, we all know the example of Chris Kyle– he didn’t love his enemies at all. In fact, the only reason why we are even talking about him today out of all of the other military members who have served, is because he was especially good at killing people. That’s what he’s famous for: Kyle was exceptionally good at killing his enemies. This is an example that stands in stark contrast to Jesus– it’s actually as opposite of an example as one could ever find. Let’s combine that with the words of Kyle, and see how they match up to Jesus:
““Another question people ask a lot: Did it bother you killing so many people in Iraq? I tell them, “No.” And I mean it. The first time you shoot someone, you get a little nervous. You think, can I really shoot this guy? Is it really okay? But after you kill your enemy, you see it’s okay. You say, Great. You do it again. And again. You do it so the enemy won’t kill you or your countrymen. You do it until there’s no one left for you to kill. That’s what war is.”
“I only wish I had killed more… I loved what I did. I still do. If circumstances were different – if my family didn’t need me – I’d be back in a heartbeat. I’m not lying or exaggerating to say it was fun.”
So here’s the deal: if you completely remove Christianity from the equation and pretend that Jesus never existed (or just pretend that Jesus was some sort of fraud) Kyle was a brave man who maybe even was a hero. He helped us slaughter our enemies and kept our oil prices low, and for that, the American Empire thanks him. However, for a Christian, this is not the standard we go by– we are followers of Christ!
As for the Christ follower, we must not see a man who’s actions should be celebrated or emulated– we instead see a man who disagreed with everything Jesus stood for, and lived a life that was the complete opposite of the way Jesus lived his.
So let me be clear: if you are severing relationships with fellow Christians who are questioning the actions of Chris Kyle (actions we’ve demonstrated were in opposition to Jesus) you might have an idolatry problem– because you are rejecting the command to love one another so that you can be loyal to an American hero who looks nothing like the Christ we supposedly follow.
And while I have your attention, join me on the Peacemaker Tour! You can join me Feb 6-8 for an intensive weekend of nonviolence training and learning how to turn guns into garden tools. Or, catch me Sunday, February 8th at Beth-El Mennonite Church in Colorado Springs at 5pm. Tickets for both events are here!