Jesus said: “Take up your SWORD and follow me?” (Army Chaplain Propaganda)


Do you remember that wonderful verse in the Gospel of 2nd Hesitations? You know the one in chapter 9 verse 23 — “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their SWORD daily and follow me.”[1] Here is a way to literally apply that verse…

U.S. Army Chaplains serve both God and country by bringing their unique gifts with which they are endowed by God, to the Soldiers of our nation in the broad, challenging, diverse, and ever changing environment of the Army. While the benefits and pay of an Army Chaplain are often much better than what a minister normally receives, the requirements and stakes are much higher! Army Chaplains are our nation’s Soldiers who minister to our nation’s sons and daughters, and their families. Like any Soldier, they must endure the hardships, separations, and deprivations of those whom they serve. Like any Minister, they must provide dynamic and genuine ministry with a shepherd’s heart.  Our nation’s sons and daughters need qualified, committed, and called men and women to serve as spiritual leaders to them in the fulfillment of their duty. Will you consider the call? The need has never been greater, the experience never so rich.  Qualified and sent by their religious bodies, trained by the U.S. Army, and led by the God that they serve, Army Chaplains are expected to exercise dynamic and influential spiritual leadership, without violating their faith or conscience. Army Chaplains are the ‘soul and conscience’ of our nation’s Army.  Whether leading worship, patrolling the motor pool, or visiting the hospital, Army Chaplains are always at the frontline of the Soldiers’ life. Additionally, Army Chaplains serve on a Commander’s special staff in order to ensure that their spiritual gifts and leadership are integrated in the daily exercise of command decisions.  The Army has a place for you if you have a place in your heart for Soldiers. We have both full-time and part-time positions. Many of these positions are right in your own backyard. We even have a place for you if you’re a ministerial student.  Explore the site. Talk with an Army Chaplain. Your nation needs you. Consider the Call!

There is a word that comes to mind after reading this advertisement for the recruitment of the Army chaplain: Constantine.  Now, before I go on, I want to make something clear.  I am not judging those who feel that this is a route that they can take to serve God.  Soldiers need Jesus and his grace just like all of us. I suppose that if there were a way to be a full-blown advocate of nonviolence and therefore, anti-war; that I could imagine being a pastor for the Army.  In a very real sense, the Army could be one of the greatest missionary endeavors ever undertaken as one attempts to expose the propaganda of the US Empire, releasing good people from the bondage of violence and acting contrary to the way of Jesus.

And think of the wonderful perks of such a job…  “benefits and pay of an Army Chaplain are often better than a minister normally receives;” you get to be considered as one of “our nation’s Soldiers;” you get to “endure the hardships, separations, and deprivations of those” who are in the Army; and best of all, you get to be “trained by the U.S. Army”!!!!!  Oh, did I mention the opportunity to serve two masters!  As the first line of the advertisement proclaims: “U.S. Army Chaplains serve both God and country…”  Okay, now I have offended some, and for this I am sorry.  So, what’s my deal?

My deal is: I am convinced that the church of Jesus Christ, a movement of nonviolence in the shadow of the second greatest empire in history (Rome), was intentionally subversive towards power for the first three hundred years of the her existence.  I am convinced that us Americans have bought into the lie of common sense rather than the foolishness of the Gospel of peace.  I am convinced that the idea of peace through the sword led to Rome’s eventual demise as it will every nation.  I am convinced that no nation is “Christian.”  I am convinced that a better way forward for the people of God in the Empire is possible.  May we be the people who show our culture that the only Empire worthy of giving our lives to is the upside-down kingdom of God!  May we choose to pick up Rome’s instrument of execution reserved for insurrectionists – the cross.  Remember: “Your nation needs you!”[2]


[1] For actual passage see Luke 9.23!

[2] Again, allow me to state how much I respect people who disagree with me on issues of violence and peace.  I know many “just war” folks who follow the other teachings of Jesus much better than I do…

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  • Conrad

    lol alright since you so aptly named your blog with the emphasis on SWORD, can you explain to me luke 22:36 then?

      • Phil Cabbage

        All of the objections against Kurt’s point of view can be conveniently found in the book, “Blood Guilt: Christian Responses to America’s War on Terror” (2011, New Covenant Press). See

        • I have a question for you a robber breaks into your home and threatens to kill everyone in your family, do you honestly think the Bible supports you just rolling over for this robber (Oh yeah you can rob me rape my children and wife no problem I just sit here and watch because this is what Jesus wants me to do)? Israel defended itself, and many times God would aid in taking other Nations out, I think you are seriously misinformed. Funny I’ve never read any scripture that tells me to roll over and submit to the enemy. What about fighting against Hitler should we as Americans taken the pacifists route oh its not our problem. Come on man exercise a little common sense.

          • Todd,

            I address your question directly in my Nonviolence 101 series. Here’s the series:
            You really need to read all the posts in this series to understand the nonviolence/pacifism perspective from Scripture… and how this applies to the ‘real world.’ Your concerns do deserve to be addressed. You will notice that toward the end of the series I address the question about a person attacking the family and Hitler.
            For now, I’d simply say that I used to think just like you. I respect your concerns. I hope that you can return the favor and respect the concerns of those who think Jesus and the early church actually taught and lived out nonviolence.
            Have a great week and may the love of God be yours in abundance.

  • Kurt, thanks, those were good thoughts on military chaplaincies in the U.S. armed forces, and I agree that there is no ‘Christian nation’.

  • Kevin

    @Conrad – continue reading that passage of Luke through vv53. The disciples are prepared w/ the swords but they are rebuked by Jesus and the one who is injured is healed.

  • Chris Bowers

    I just wanted to say a few things in defense of Military chaplains. First of all, as a military chaplain, you are primarily a counselor. You are going to meet men who have murdered and worse in the name of their Country and are seeking spiritual comfort. Chaplains don’t serve as a religious endorsement for war. They are there to help people who have lost friends, family, limbs and mind in the war. For a servant of God, there is no better place to be. It’s fine to minister from a nice church in the suburbs, but it’s a different and noble call to serve people who are loosing grip with morality, God, spirituality, and their own humanity.

    The military teaches men how to kill, but it doesn’t teach them how to live in peace. As a military chaplain, that’s your job. Your job is suicide watch. Your job is confessor. Your job is psychologist. Your job is counselor.

    I don’t think there are Chaplains that go out there saying “God wants you to kill these heathens!” I think what these men need is forgiveness and reconciliation both with themselves, God and their fellow man.

    • Chris… I am not in full disagreement with you. But please remeber what I say here: “Now, before I go on, I want to make something clear. I am not judging those who feel that this is a route that they can take to serve God. Soldiers need Jesus and his grace just like all of us. I suppose that if there were a way to be a full-blown advocate of nonviolence and therefore, anti-war; that I could imagine being a pastor for the Army. In a very real sense, the Army could be one of the greatest missionary endeavors ever undertaken as one attempts to expose the propaganda of the US Empire, releasing good people from the bondage of violence and acting contrary to the way of Jesus.”

      finally, what happens to the Chaplain that starts encouraging soldiers to follow Jesus and disobey orders to kill? I assure you this would be a problem…

      • Chris Bowers

        >finally, what happens to the Chaplain that starts encouraging >soldiers to follow Jesus and disobey orders to kill? I assure you >this would be a problem…

        Jesus didn’t disapprove of self defense, nor of police or authorities.

        He was not a strict pacifist, and encouraged people to “sell their coat and buy a sword” to defend themselves from attacks of mobs (who were bent on attacking his followers). What Jesus disapproved of was achieving his aims by mounting a military force.

        Luke 22
        36. And He said to them, “But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one.
        37. “For I tell you that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, `AND HE WAS NUMBERED WITH TRANSGRESSORS’; for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment.”
        38. They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” And He said to them, “It is enough.”

        From a Christian perspective, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are pretty unjustifiable. Simply because we can’t get what we want doesn’t mean we should conquer other nations.

        However, this war is different, and really the soldiers out there are doing “policing” and not aiming to murder or destroy anyone. Their situation is similar to the Roman Soldiers who occupied Israel in Jesus’ time. These soldiers were just trying to keep order and peace, they weren’t out to commit ethnic cleansing or conquest. Israel was simply a colony of Rome. Jesus, being a Jew, had every reason to hate these occupiers, but he didn’t. He preached to them and respected them, and they in turn respected him.

        The goal in Iraq and Afghanistan is to create a peaceful democratic state. When you try to do that, people are going to shoot at you, and you’re going to shoot back. Jesus could have mounted an insurrection against Rome, (as many Jews wanted to and tried to) but he didn’t. He didn’t even blame the Romans for mistaking him for an insurrectionist(a Jewish terrorist actually) and killing him.

        If the order came down “We’re going to bomb this entire village, men women and children, but they’re all Al-Quaeda so it’s okay”, then yes, a Chaplain would be bound by his moral code to tell soldiers to disobey that order. This happened in Vietnam all the time and many military Chaplains opposed it (some even quit out of protest). You can read about that here: if your’e interested:

        >I suppose that if there were a way to be a full-blown advocate >of nonviolence and therefore, anti-war; that I could imagine >being a pastor for the Army.

        Chaplains are expected to take up arms, and I would argue, should not in any case. Nonviolence is precisely what the military in Iraq and Afghanistan is learning to use. Violence simply doesn’t work! Hearts and minds is how to achieve true victory, and that’s becoming more and more evident with each passing day (worked for Jesus, didn’t it).

        However, you are expecting too much to drop someone in the middle of a combat zone where their life is in danger from flying bullets and tell them to be nonviolent . Even Jesus’ disciples cut the ear off a priest in an effort to defend Jesus. If you’re in gangland, or the demilitarized zone, or falluja, not defending yourself with force is both foolish and irresponsible. Your family friends and company have a right to see you alive again, and failing to use force could result in more deaths in your unit.

        War is terrible, and the overall policy should be winning through nonviolence. But war is by its nature violent, and sometimes that violence cannot be avoided. When attacked, you have a right to life.

        >the Army could be one of the greatest missionary endeavors >ever undertaken as one attempts to expose the propaganda of >the US Empire

        I agree. if Chaplains are the mouthpiece of military propaganda they are doing a terrible disservice to Christ’s mission.

        • Chris, I have to FULLY DISAGREE with your perspective of Jesus. He NEVER gives permission to violence and always teaches against it. Your exegesis is flawed of the above passage my friend… but, that is not a surprise because many folks have made the same mistake in how they interpret it. It certainly used to be a hurdle for me as I was journeying toward nonviolence. So, I am going to paste the text to a post I did last year on Luke 22 as my rebuttal here:

          For the few months leading up to a class I took on the book of Luke, I listened the audio of Luke multiple times on my ipod as I drove to various places. It is interesting to me how much fresh insight you can gain when you hear the Scriptures as opposed to reading them. When I listen, I try to imagine that I am in one of the churches that Paul had planted or supported through his Apostolic ministry, and that I am hearing the text for the first time in one of our small house-church gatherings. I know that this is done with much naivety, for I know next to nothing about what it would be like to be a first century male living under the rule of the emperors. Nevertheless, I do all I can to hear the text with fresh ears.

          As I did this with Luke’s gospel, I was struck by the odd dichotomy of verses about peace with verses about swords and violence. Why would Jesus say so much about peace and instruct his disciples to carry swords? Is Jesus a walking contradiction or is there more to the story? This semester, I learned that there is indeed more to the story.

          The insight has to do with Luke 22.35-38:

          35 Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” 
”Nothing,” they answered. 36 He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. 37 It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” 38 The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” 
”That is enough,” he replied.

          On the surface, the above passage seems to be a contradiction to most of what Jesus has taught thus far in the gospel. However, this is when we need to take into account the language that is used here. Jesus tells his disciples after having enjoyed the Passover/ Last Supper together, that they will be facing a dark road ahead. In the past, Jesus had instructed them to not worry about taking anything with them such as: a purse, bag, or sandals because God would supply all that they need; however, this time around things will be different. Surely God will still be with them, but they need to be prepared for impending difficulty for the kingdom. Jesus will be handed over to be crucified, and animosity will surely come to the disciples now and in the near future (so much that Peter will deny Jesus on three separate occasions). In prior missionary endeavors, the disciples could expect hospitality, but now they will be met with animosity. Jesus tells them that they need to take a purse and bag with one addition; they will need to get a sword. Jesus will be handed over as the Scriptures foretold, and great frustration is awaiting them in the hours and days to come (even in Acts). The sword serves as a metaphor for the coming strife that they will face. But instead of understanding the metaphor, the disciples are so dense to what is about to happen that they take the idea literally! They actually grab two swords! But they Jesus answers them back again with, “That is enough” or as Joel B Green puts it, “Enough of this!” The way of the kingdom is difficult, and violence will not be returned with violence from Jesus followers. They must be ready to endure the coming persecution.

          There are a few good arguments to defend this position. The first is that Jesus in all the gospels is known for his metaphorical and parabolic language. He seems to constantly use metaphors in his teaching, most of which would have made sense to the listener in the first century, but may have lost their impact in some ways to the modern reader. Second, it seems that violence goes against the theme of Jesus’ life and ministry. He never uses any form of violence towards another human being. He actually refuses to be violent in any way when violence is done to him. Third, when one of his disciples uses a sword and cuts off the ear of the priest’s servant, Jesus responds by healing the wound rather than condoning such behavior (Luke 22.49-51). Fourth, Luke has already used the sword as a metaphor for animosity (see 12.51-53). Finally, most scholars, nonviolent or not, interpret the passage as I have expounded above, not as an opportunity for the disciples to be prepared to use self-defense.

  • John Felps

    This was a well thought out piece, Kurt. You did an excellent job getting a delicate point across while being both complimentary and respectful of the job of chaplain. That kind of wisdom is what will help us all progress in His word, regardless where we come from. I used to think Matt 10:34 and especially Luke 22:36 called us to be prepared to fight. I now understand Matt 10:34 to be a euphemism and the passage in Luke is particularly interesting, as my present understanding is that it was a message specifically to his disciples (at that time), in effect, engineering his own death, by giving credence to the charges of insurrection.

  • RT

    I am glad to see your Blog is back !

    And our disagreements will continue……………….. 🙂


  • Dale A. Brueggemann

    What is the Christian’s relation to the states role as Romans 13 defines it. Should we take a Tertullian stance and not involve ourselves with the business of the state as individual Christians? Should mean no participating in elections as a voter, no participating in the police force as an officer, no participating in governmental health programs as a giver or receiver, and no participating in the the military as a soldier?

  • Josh Mueller

    Kurt, I agree with your stance on the incompatibility of the gospel with a philosophy that promotes the need for violence.

    But would serving as a military chaplain necessarily mean serving two masters? Would it automatically condone and propagate the miltary’s agenda?

    Or could it possibly be both healing and subversive to serve in the most unlikely environment for the proclamation of the gospel of peace?

    • Josh, I agree with you in that to an extent. the two masters comment was just pointing out the irony of the propaganda 🙂

      Now, is it possible to do this job faithfully…. yes! I said it here:
      “Now, before I go on, I want to make something clear. I am not judging those who feel that this is a route that they can take to serve God. Soldiers need Jesus and his grace just like all of us. I suppose that if there were a way to be a full-blown advocate of nonviolence and therefore, anti-war; that I could imagine being a pastor for the Army. In a very real sense, the Army could be one of the greatest missionary endeavors ever undertaken as one attempts to expose the propaganda of the US Empire, releasing good people from the bondage of violence and acting contrary to the way of Jesus.”

      • Josh Mueller

        I know you said you could imagine faithful service within these parameters. It still sounded like a rather far fetched possibility than what chaplains are doing on a regular basis. But since they are neither taking up weapons themselves nor “blessing” the killing as such, why making it look like they are doing that by choosing this provocative title for the post?

        • Josh… My titles are usually provocative and have a hint of intentional satire… trying to make a point, sometimes you have to use drastic language…

  • Kurt, I have to disagree.

    Rome is not the second greatest empire. It all depends on if you want to use wealth, military might, geographic presence, or some combination to define greatness. I’m pretty sure the British Empire during the colonial age would take the number 2 slot.

    Other than that, right on 🙂

  • Mark Shannon


    Being an Army Chaplain is just one difficulty of many, I would think, for those who are full-blown advocates of non-violence. I’m more interested in hearing your ideas on the proactive ways such an advocate would address issues such as law enforcement, self defense and civil service.

    • Mark, for this… scroll to the right to the “nonviolence” tab. You will find many of my thoughts there. Not as black and white as i would like…

  • James

    I don’t really see “serving your country” as being any different then employment in any other field. Some people might see Military service as a “higher calling” then say, being a garbage man, but ultimately it is employment for millions of Americans.

    If I work for Boeing or Lockheed am I just as complicit in the violence taking place in Iraq? What if I am an IT guy who happens to work for Remington or Smith&Wesson?

    • James… obviously I was using a bit of satire with the two masters comment. come on brotha! with the scenarios you bring up, all i can say is that the system is connected to the whole… but, sometimes escaping the system can seem impossible. Every person should ask the holy spirit to lead in the gray areas. there is no ‘once size fits all’ answer to that.

      however, i do believe that the question of violence is as clear as it gets in the bible…

      • James

        I agree with you on the whole violence issue…I also feel that the military can be somewhat “predatory” on recruiting impressionable young men (and women) who do not fully understand the impact of war and violence on the human psyche – not that anyone at any age can be unaffected. The suicide rate among young war veterans speaks to that truth, in my opinion.

  • Jeremy John

    lol I love the new website. great name for a kingdom of god blog!

    • Jeremy! Thanks brotha!!!!!!

  • Barry Anglin

    This is an interesting discussion which appears to have broadened out in some ways into a larger question of what role the Christian should generally play as citizen of a nation-state. It’s easy to see the difficulty inherent in living within a society whose values, in so many respects, are antithetical to the teachings and character of Jesus as he is portrayed in the New Testament.

    Kurt is right. There are a lot of gray areas and there are clearly some aspects of our liberal democracy that are totally at odds with what Jesus taught. Many radical Christians that I interact with on FB seem to be looking for some alternative lifestyle to escape all the cognitive dissonance. Rather than opt out, however, I think the Christian’s best course of action should be to participate in society to whatever extent possible without compromising core Christian principles. Subversion from within.

    As for the specific question of the role of chaplain, I have no doubt that some approach the job in the noble way which has been suggested by Chris and others here. But there is simply no getting around the fact that, regardless of the approach or personal motivation, they are enabling and perpetuating the violence of war as part of the military system.

    • Barry… I agree with you wholeheartedly…

  • Marine Patriot

    This is an advertisement for Army Chaplains. I would hope that anyone considering this field of work would be an adult of sound mind and body. This should be a person who could objectively look at the occupation and determine whether or not it is the right path for them and, possibly, their family.

    I believe the term propaganda should be reserved for the real dangers in society. Examples would include: children in our public schools who are subjected to the teachings of homosexuality as normal behavior and the Islamic religion as a non-violent religion.

    God bless the men who truly serve as chaplains without attempting to sub-verse the inner-workings of our non-empirical military.

  • Richard

    I believe that most Americans uncritically accept that allegiance to country is higher that allegiance to God. Have you ever seen a church which displays both the American flag and the Christian flag put the Christian flag in the superior position? The Christian flag has no meaning for me personally, but I went to a lot of Vacation Bible Schools growing up where we pledged our allegiance to the American flag, the Bible, and the Christian flag, in that order.

    • Richard, i know exactly what you are talking about… that was my childhood!

  • JM

    Kurt, I know you’re a big C.S. Lewis fan. What do you think of his take on Patriotism as being inherently virtuous (as he states numerous times in “Mere Christianity”)?

    • I have not read much Lewis lately so I would be unfamiliar with the bulk of his argument. But on the surface, I would say I disagree with him. Patriotism and the kingdom of God are opposites. Not once in the New Testament is the idea of having nationalistic zeal ever represented (except by the zealots and we know where that got ’em). That does not mean we live angry and hate nations, but that they are in their proper place. they are fallen powers. Virtue would be to seek the state’s good by choosing “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. ” We are to be at peace with our neighbors, to practice civil obedience (accept when it compromises the subversive nature of the Gospel), pay our taxes, and pray for the peace of all nations. I can live a life that benefits the welfare of America without choosing to be a ‘patriot.’

      Great question 🙂

  • Kurt,
    This is a great piece. As a seminarian who has several friends who are in training for the military chaplaincy, this issue hits very close to home for me. I lean very close to the pacifistic position, though I don’t fully buy the whole argument that modern pacifists make, primarily because of the Romans 13 thing. I guess I would say that the covenanted people of God, the church, are called to be a non-violent witness to a violent world, yet acknowledging that this same violence needs to be restrained by sometimes violent means (military, police).

    It’s not ideal, but it reflects a condescension of God to our frailty and fallen nature, similar to God’s allowing for divorce in the Mosaic code because of the hardness of our hearts, not because God desired divorce. I would look at the necessity of military/police force as being analogous.

    • John, thanks for your kind comments. i would encourage you to read Richard B Hays in Moral Vision of the New Testament and Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus. I think that we have misread Romans 13 and that military and police are always assumed to be in a separate category from the church.

  • Tommy


    1. How do you reconcile your statement “He never uses any form of violence towards another human being…” with the premeditated act of making a whip of cords and then using it to drive the moneychangers from the temple? Was this not violent? Were these not human beings?

    2. Your exigesis of the passage on the two swords seems a forcing of a black and white peg into a more colorful hole to my current understanding.

    May God increase both our understandings daily.

    • Kurt

      Tommy… this is not just my exegesis, but that of NUMEROUS scholars. And the action in the Temple is not Jesus actually hitting anyone… there is not indication of this at all. Cracking a whip to get people’s attention is much different than using violence on a person. Jesus is intentionally making a dramatic scene. In biblical studies we call this an “enacted parable” which is often carried out in the Old Testament prophetic tradition. Jesus is enacting the coming judgment that would befall Jerusalem when his prophecy that “not one stone would be left unturned” would come true in 70AD.

      Blessings Bro!

  • Yshekster

    Love it Kurt! As always!

  • Tex

    The Red Army liberated my mother and her family from a Nazi camp in Poland in late 1944. I thank God for the godless Red Army and their willingness to resist Nazism. War is a terrible thing, but the alternative to fighting evil is worse. How can you love your neighbor if you are not willing to use force to defend them?