I’ve been wondering who would first say this. The jig is up, it’s been said and it’s now time to discuss it. Lee Camp, a prof at Lipscomb University in Nashville and the creator of Tokens, a wonderful Garrison Keillor-like show in Nashville, has a courageous new book. It’s called Who Is My Enemy?: Questions American Christians Must Face about Islam–and Themselves, and it stakes some major claims, claims that we need to discuss. Claims that might make us uncomfortable.
Too many American Christians conceptualize Muslims as our enemies so we need to develop what Camp calls “double vision” — the ability to see Islam and Muslims through their own eyes and to see Americans and Christianity through their eyes. Only in this way do we become true listeners. In fact, Christians have participated in wars and bombing and killing of thousands and thousands of Arabs and Muslims as a response to 9/11. The response, in other words, outstrips the original diabolical deed.
Is the Muslim theory of war and the Just War Theory of many Christians virtually the same theory?
Jesus and the earliest Christians, up to about the time of Constantine, were against Christian participate in war. This is a matter of historical record. This does not mean they were all consistent pacifists, but they were against Christians participating in war.
Not one early Christian writing can be found, Camp observes, in which killing in war is permitted; every time it comes up killing in war is prohibited by Christian leaders. Camp merely sketches the evidence: Athenagoras, Tertullian (“The Lord … unbelted every soldier.”), Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Cyprian, Dionysius of Alexandria, and Arnobius. The 4th Century changed everything. War became one way Christians participated in a now “Christian” nation. Soldiering and Christian-ing were not odd with one another.
Camp, a true Hauerwas/Yoder kind of theologian, contends (as I do) that Jesus’ vision was political — a third way politics. Lee Camp, in Istanbul, had some official discussions of these issues with Muslim leaders, where he saw they thought Jesus was apolitical while Muhammad was. He disagrees.
Over against that Muslim perception, Camp contends that Jesus’ vision was a genuine politics but it was anti-violence and therefore anti-war. Therefore, he concludes that political conservatives today are genuine liberals in their restriction of kingdom of God to the spiritual and especially when they accede to the State what ought to be given only to Jesus. They have shifted authority from Jesus to the state. That’s the Western liberal democratic tradition.Another claim: Muslim narrative of Muhammad is one from an original and brief non-violence to (after Medina) a justifiable use of violence, both as protection and at times seemingly for expansionist designs. And this leads to a major claim: The Muhammad Story and the Jesus Story, Camp argues, are two different stories when it comes to violence and war.
But here is Camp’s big claim, the one about which I was wondering when it would be said: the Christian just war tradition (JWT) and the Muhammad/Muslim stories are two kinds of the same story: just war. Leading him to this: “the Christian mainstream looks more like the Muhammad story than the Jesus story” (46). If you accept that Jesus had a nonviolent story, you will have to oppose the JWT. If you think the JWT is Christian, then you have to see that the Muhammad Story and the JWT are variants of the same story.
Well, what about the OT you ask? Camp digs in his heels with some observations about the OT and war:
1. The OT texts about war do need interpretation; it is unfair to pull texts from contexts (say Jesus on peace, Quran on violence; or OT on war and Quran on peace, etc). You may say, of course, that this point gets us nowhere.
3. The OT war texts are about a “geographically located theocratic ‘state’ in the nation of Israel” (50).
4. From the OT to the NT there is clearly a developing politics because the people of God becomes universal and not just a geographically located nation-state. Furthermore, Jesus teaches peace.
5. Which leads to this: the messianic kingdom and the Messiah are about peace/shalom and justice and love, and they develop and move beyond the OT war texts. Leading Lee Camp to this powerful statement and claim: “for contemporary Christians to argue that the OT legitimates war-making is to argue that Jesus was not the Messiah. The interpretive move to make the OT the authority for war-making, from this [his] early-church perspective, is to reject the lordship of Jesus” (53). It’s all in italics in the book so you can’t miss his emphasis.
Editor’s Note: Patheos is hosting a Book Club on Camp’s book.