The Impossibility of Being President and Following Jesus

Content Director’s Note: This post is a part of our Election Month at Patheos feature. Patheos was designed to present the world’s most compelling conversations on life’s most important questions. Please join the Facebook following for our new News and Politics Channel — and check back throughout the month for more commentary on Election 2012. Please use hashtag #PatheosElection on Twitter.This article responds to the question: Does a Candidate’s Faith Matter?

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It’s impossible to be the president of the United States and to follow Jesus.* This is a radical claim in this heated election season, without a doubt, but is why I couldn’t care less what religion a candidate claims to adhere to.

I’m going to demonstrate why the personal faith of our candidates doesn’t matter. I do this at the risk of offending some fellow Christians who don’t hold my same viewpoints on the following issues. This certainly is not my intention as I always try to approach divisive issues with passion balanced by charity. I hope what I say is full of both love and zeal.

Growing up, I was taught that America is God’s second chosen nation. We are a country that provides liberty for all who believe in the holy institution of democracy. When we fight wars, its always so that oppressed peoples can be liberated, just like Jesus would want them to be. War leads to peace, which yields freedom for all.

This nation emerged in history at the appropriate time to modernize the barbaric and to be an example of Christ to the nations, at least this is the impression I had as a child and young adult. Interestingly, when issues like the genocide of Native Americans came up, it was mourned and quickly left in the past. The same was true of slavery. These things took place in our early history because people simply didn’t know better. Nevertheless, the logic was that this nation was founded on Christian principles by devout godly men – sincere followers of Jesus. I now see this glossy story as a legitimizing myth. It is impossible to found, maintain, defend, and expand a nation while following Jesus’ teachings. Here’s why.

Early Christians, in the few hundred years following the New Testament period but before the Constantinian Shift** (which eventually led to the marriage between the cross and the sword), refused to be connected to any profession connected governmental leadership. For instance, consider these words from Hippolytus around 218 CE (one of many examples of this conviction):

The professions and trades of those who are going to be accepted into the community must be examined. The nature and type of each must be established…brothel, sculptors of idols, charioteer, athlete, gladiator…give it up or be rejected. A military constable must be forbidden to kill, neither may he swear; if he is not willing to follow these instructions, he must be rejected. A proconsul or magistrate who wears the purple and governs by the sword shall give it up or be rejected. Anyone taking or already baptized who wants to become a soldier shall be sent away, for he has despised God (as quoted in: Jesus for President).

The early church, convinced as it was that Jesus commanded his followers never to resort to violence, understood that certain jobs were inconsistent with being fully devoted disciples of Christ. Of course, working as soldiers or magistrates were not the only ways to have one’s commitment to the faith called into question. Any profession that promoted actions and attitudes inconsistent with holiness were deemed opposed to following Christ. This wasn’t some sort of fundamentalist legalism, but rather quite obvious ways to not be in line with the way of the Kingdom (similar to how we might view blatantly sinful jobs such as: willful prostitution, pornographic film producers, or drug dealers).***

Having a career that placed oneself in a position to use violence (directly or indirectly) always makes it impossible to fully follow Jesus. Violence is opposed to the way of Jesus. In fact, state sanctioned violence crucified the incarnation of God. And according to the Scriptures, God raised Jesus from the dead and exposed the governmental powers of their evil. Colossians 2.15 says:

And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Jesus’ resurrection disarmed the powers (both visible and invisible) of their ultimate weapon – death via capital punishment. The greatest violence of the state couldn’t hold down the true Son of God!

Of course, the question of executing criminals may not be as big of a deal for a modern day leader. The President, under the right policies could oppose the death penalty. And if that were the only access to violence that our President had, then perhaps he (or she) could in fact faithfully follow Jesus. But we know that the President of the United States functions as our Commander-in-Chief (head of the military). He is at the top of the military hierarchy. When drones strikes occur under the President’s watch as innocents are unjustly killed, those actions are a direct extension of his authority. When Osama Bin Laden was shot in the head by a Navy SEALs team, the blood was on the hands of the President (as well as the soldiers and all who were involved).

Jesus taught: “But I say to you: don’t use violence to resist evil!” (Matt. 5.39, KNT). In the same breath he added: “love your enemies and pray for those who harass you” (Matt. 5.44, CEB). The New Testament is clear: you cannot follow Jesus and carry the sword of vengeance. Some will argue that God allows the government to use the sword to “punish evildoers.” This is true, not to the extent evangelicals often think; but yes, the governments of the world are here to maintain order.

Yet, even in the passage that is often appealed to, Romans 13, we clearly see that the church and the state are never thought of as blending roles. In other words, a “church person” would never simultaneously be a governmental leader (at least, not for long) as Paul saw things. You can’t wear two hats, a religious one and a secular governmental one, and follow Jesus. Jesus invites us to count all things as rubbish besides knowing him.

So, in this heated election season, I’m convinced that any discussions about which candidate is more “Christian” is mere folly. On the surface, Obama clearly wins this discussion (even if some conservatives would consider his faith as outside the bounds of orthodoxy). I personally don’t doubt the sincerity of Obama’s Christian faith, but when it comes to following Jesus, he fails on all issues pertaining to his role as Commander-in-Chief (head of the military). Perhaps here we need to make a clear (grace-filled) distinction between being a Christian and following Jesus in all areas of discipleship.

Faithfully following Jesus in all obvious areas of discipleship and being President is impossible in our current system. For this reason, I don’t think we need to worry about which faith a candidate subscribes to. If you vote, which I’m still uncertain about, cast a ballot for the person who will do a better job for the most vulnerable in our world. See a vote as the lesser of two evils and nothing more. Don’t waste time worrying about if the candidate is Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Mormon, or unaffiliated. Remember, it’s impossible to follow Jesus in this one basic matter of discipleship (nonviolent love) and to be the President of the United States.

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Footnotes

*To be clear, I am not saying that it is impossible for someone to serve in a violent profession and to be a Christian. I know many Christians who are in the Army, Navy, police force, and in government office. I think they are wrong on how they read the Bible on this issue, but I would never call them non-Christians. In this article I try to make a distinction between being a “Christian” and being a follower of the way of discipleship in Jesus Christ. Someone is neglecting an element of discipleship if they resort to violence. That is my point. It is not a judgmental point, but one that comes from a posture of grace and love.

**I realize that this shift, although drastic, was gaining momentum in some sectors of the church prior to Constantine. However, those endorsing violent professions were considered outside of the mainstream of the fold.

***I don’t wish to make the connection between soliders and drug dealers or porno film makers. I simply used this as a drastic example to make my point clear. I know many soldiers that have excellent character and I would never paint them as bad people. We just read the New Testament and the history of the early church differently.

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  • http://calebwoodbridge.blogspot.com Caleb Woodbridge

    I disagree – I think this line of argument results in a dualistic disengagement and withdrawal from faithful Christian political engagement. We are called to redeem every area of life, to be salt and light, and I don’t see anything in scripture to suggest being a ruler is an inherently unChristian occupation.

    If so, why didn’t John the Baptist or Jesus or Peter or anyone else in the New Testament call on the Roman soldiers they encountered, including those who believed such as Cornelius, to leave their occupations? What about the example of Daniel, who served in the government of the Babylonian Empire?

    There’s a third way to be found between political withdrawal and political compromise, where Christians are involved in public life while still faithful to the cause of the Gospel and without buying into the power-games of the world. It’s a hard place to be, and I don’t think any of the presidential candidates have got it right. But we should pray for genuinely godly, uncompromised Christian politicians and officials, not leave the world to go to hell in a handcart.

    • Dan Jr

      Caleb,
      There is a distinct contrast between how you view Power/Kingdom/violence and the way Anabaptist’s see those same things. Your narrative of scripture is different and I think that’s why you miss the point Kurt is making here.

    • http://profiles.google.com/arthurandevasido Arthur Sido

      Caleb, I hear the Roman soldier argument all the time. Do we know what was said to those men outside of what is recorded in Scripture? We sometimes operate as if we think that the only interaction between people is what we read in the Bible and yet for those following Christ there certainly would be many follow-up questions. You are making an argument from silence in that regard.

      We are indeed called to be salt and light but the way we are to be salt and light is by proclaiming Christ, by loving one another, loving our neighbor and even loving our enemy. I am not sure how a President who is Christian can faithfully carry out his oath of office while at the same time loving his enemies when his office often requires him to kill.

      • Kristen in Dallas

        Nothing requires anyone to kill. We can make arguments all day about whether we’d agree with that decision, or even if we’d re-elect. but killing or ordering another to kill, or funding killing is not one of the president’s constitutional duties.

    • Wright

      Discounting patristic teaching by use of an argument from silence is hardly convincing.

    • Who Said That?

      Who said anything about disengagement with politics? Do you think that casting a ballot once every four years is the only way to be political?

  • David

    The last line of the post is certainly true, but it should have stopped at “Remember, it’s impossible to follow Jesus fully.”
    The President (and Christian presidents in the past) is just like every other human being trying to follow Jesus, he gets some stuff wrong. That doesn’t mean he isn’t following Jesus. I think he is an imperfect human trying to do things the best he knows how to make the world a better place. On that note I think Bush was as well.
    When I read this post I get the impression of “You’re not a true Christian if you don’t believe the same things I believe.” I’m sure that’s not how it was intended.

    • Judson Bartels

      Well said!

  • Charlie

    I don’t think that’s an accurate hypothesis. Actually, I think you’ve made being a Christian out to be more exclusive than Jesus would. “You can’t be a Christian if you’re a politician.” That sounds pretty harsh.

    And hopefully you would want someone in the office of the Presidency that will align with the will of God. More than that, why not have someone who is a follower of Jesus?

    I would say that we need Christians in ALL professions and positions. Otherwise, who would advocate for the things of God in a public manner? Politics and faith do NOT have to be on opposite ends of the spectrum. There are many places where they should indeed overlap and engage with each other. For example, if I am a politician, it is my duty to find ways to take care of those who can’t help themselves. (Note: this does NOT mean I oppress or impose on others burdens that hurt more than it helps). As long as you can be guided by the Spirit and the bible in what you do, it is possible.
    I think your singular rationale for violence being a hinderance for doing both is misplaced. You boxed in violence with Jesus’ death by saying “death via capital punishment.” Didn’t his sacrifice cover ALL death? You can make a pretty good case for Jesus being a non-violent activist, but it’s pretty difficult to see God the Father as a nonviolent entity. Jesus uses imagery in the bible of God coming back with vengeance and killing those who rebel and oppose him (even sometimes referring to the Israelites for being unfaithful).
    In Luke 20, Jesus says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar, and to God what is God’s.” He turned a trap question of “either Rome or God” into a response of “both Rome and God.” It is possible to be both a citizen and a disciple. Both may require different things of you, but it is not impossible to be both, or to serve in a dual capacity.
    Our primary goal is to be followers in the world. Our secondary goal should be to advocate for the things of God. If your passion lies in the public forum, why would we ever want to limit the capacity for God to work in and through someone gifted in that area?

  • Frank

    Indeed we should vote for the person who will do the most to the most vulnerable, unborn children. Seems Romeny is the only choice if we care for compassion and justice.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      Although… Other republican presidents have not abolished abortion. Doubt Romney could. The clearest way to reduce abortions is reducing poverty (at least without changing a law)… This is shown by several studies. Cutting programs for the most vulnerable, which some conservatives advocate for, actually could lead to greater abortion rates. Just a thought :-)
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      • Frank

        Obama has done nothing while 6000+ unborn children are killed. 97% for convenience. Yes we should care for the poor and make sure that they want to keep their children but we have to stop the killing immediately. That’s the priority.

        Imagine the 6000+ souls looking back at us wondering why we did nothing to help them this week while we work on improving our economy and providing needed services to the poor.

      • http://twitter.com/BrentDedeaux Tim B. Dedeaux

        While you’re right about social programs, it’s also true the Obama has restored federal funding for abortion in several areas that Bush (for all his faults) removed.

        I don’t think there is any political will to outlaw abortion, even if that is the best way to reduce the total number of abortions (I’m not sure it is – Western Europe has legal abortion, but the lowest abortion rate in the world). But I also don’t think our tax dollars should pay for such a thing.

        That said, I didn’t vote for either man. Both are militaristic. Obama ‘s killing civilians via drone strike in Pakistan (we’re not even at war with Pakistan). There’s too much continuity between him and Bush, and between his foreign policy and Romney’s, for me to support either.

        I don’t think there’s enough difference between the two to really have a clear “lesser of two evils”

  • Pat

    Following on what Hippolytus wrote, should we also conclude that athletes can’t be followers of Jesus as well? Also, do we just stop at the office of President or would we also apply this to all politicians–senators, governors, mayors, council people, etc.?

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      Athletes in Rome were different than modern athletes. Often erotic and violent…
      As far as other roles I’d ask— do the have access to the sword? If so, unless they could get away with undermining the whole system by reviving all things violent, I’d say that a similar line of logic applies as well to other roles.
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      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Stephen-Johnson/702093692 Stephen Johnson

        Wait, athletes today are not connected to erotic and violent behavior? I must be missing something.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=534672904 Steven Hunter

    Interesting post, but choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil — something un-Christlike. Just for inquiry sake, and aside from voting, is the advocacy of this post one of pacifism towards government? If that is the case, then how could the apostle Paul legitimately use his Roman citizenship when in Philippi and in appealing to Caesar? Joseph, Daniel, and Nehemiah were all devout Jews serving in pagan governments, and they upheld their integrity and devotion to God — hence their narratives. Is it not possible to be engaged in politics as a Christian and to subsidize one’s faith with their stances (i.e., Ron Paul saying our foreign policy should be based on the golden rule to the boos of Republicans)?

    • http://twitter.com/BrentDedeaux Tim B. Dedeaux

      I know I’m late to this discussion, but I think that voting third-party can be a good protest. Though I’m not 100% on-board with her domestic policies, Jill Stein was a very pro-peace, anti-kill list, anti-militarism, anti-adventurism candidate, and she earned my vote by standing up for the Pakistani and other civilians being killed by drone strikes (which Obama started and Romney promised to continue).

      The funny thing is, I’m not even a pacifist. But I find myself falling in line with pacifists most of the time. I think it’s because this is an amazingly violent time in America (not violent crime, but official American actions of violence), a time of “permanent war for permanent ‘peace’” as Gore Vidal put it.

  • RobS

    On one side though, I might prefer someone with the desire to follow Jesus closely to be that leader that has control over the decision to use violence. Someone who could use discernment as to what might be God’s direction (as in the days of King David, who’s probably a good example of a God follower), but someone who can also discern & control/reduce just flippant military efforts. Someone who can wisely implement Romans 12:18 and desires to follow Christ would be better than purging Christians from public service and letting others take their place, no?

    • Brad Anderson

      David used his authority to have a loyal soldier killed in order to cover up the pregnancy that resulted from David coercively sleeping with his wife. I don’t call that discernment. His reign was marked by violence, and he was specifically forbidden from building the temple because of the violence associated with him and his reign. I don’t think he’s the best example for you there…

  • http://twitter.com/g1antfan Mike Barlotta

    I agree with the point that we should not make a candidate’s religion a major point for how we cast our vote. The character, track record, and policies of a candidate should be much more important factors.

    However I disagree with your central point that a President by virtue of being the Commander in Chief cannot be a faithful follower of Jesus because the premise you rely on is faulty – faithfully following Jesus can’t be done if a person holds a job/position where they may need to resort to “violence”.

    The Bible does not prohibit self-defense, defending the weak and those who are oppressed, or rightly disciplining those who commit wrong. Therefore I would think a Christian in the role of President/CinC could most readily apply proper measures and responses with the military than a non-Christian.

    If we push your premise then I also have to assume that this extends to all jobs and positions that may require someone to use violence including police officers, soldiers, judges, and all politicians (at least in Congress and Governors).

    Does your premise also extend into those who portray violence as OK like actors and directors of movies? Or athletes and all sports where violent physical contact is part of the game?

    I agree with the comments made that would call for Christians to fill all
    kinds of jobs and roles so that the world could see Jesus in kinds of
    different scenarios.

  • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

    Kurt, I think you know that I share your convictions on violence, but you may be taking the ultimate statement a little far. For example, you and I both believe that serving in the military under any circumstances is counter to the witness of Christ. But I could not make the statement that “no one who is a soldier can be a faithful Christian.” For even though I believe they are wrong, not only to engage in a violent profession, but to surrender to others the right to determine whether their actions are moral or not, the fact still remains that I know devout followers of Jesus who are, or have been, soldiers.

    So while the principle on which you base your argument is wholly correct, I’m not sure that the statement itself, which can basically be shortened to either “a Christian can’t be President” or “a President can’t be Christian,” is hyperbole I can’t endorse. Make sense?

    I still agree with your ultimate point…voting on the basis of the candidate’s real or purported faith is really beside the point. Completely true.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      Dan, to be clear I never said that a “Christian” could not be a soldier or president. I said that being president is inconsistent with the life of discipleship. This is because part of being a disciple is forsaking the sword. Good folks disagree with me on this, of course, as you know. I in no way judge them as not “Christian.” I would simply point out that according to Jesus (and the early church) they are missing the mark on what it means to be fully devoted to the upside down way of following Christ. I certainly fall short of following Christ on a regular basis. The difference here is that following Jesus and knowingly disobeying is wrong. So, if we concede that violence is wrong, then it would be impossible for such a person to act as the president of United States. This is not a statement of judgment, but simply following the logic to its basic conclusion. This is the same conclusion that the early church arrived at every time when confronted with this issue. Certainly, this is why I concede that Pres. Obama is in fact a Christian, although when he acts as commander-in-chief his life is inconsistent with one of the calls of discipleship.

      • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

        This is an important clarification, Kurt. Thanks for making it. I think you know that I agree.

        • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

          Thanks Dan. Your thoughts and affirmation mean much to me. Thanks for not letting this thought you had slip by.

        • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

          Dan, I just added a footnote because of this discussion and one other discussion I am having with another pacifist friend :-)

      • http://www.facebook.com/jason.ekk Jason Ekk

        I agree with what Dan said… Im glad you made the clarification cause I know it’s semantics but I disagreed with how you phrased stuff.

  • jeremiah

    Those that disagree with the main thrust of this article and site OT references, David, Daniel, Nehemiah ect. fail to recognize the distinction of the Kingdom of God in the Old Covenant and the Kingdom of God in the New Covenant. This contrast is huge and negates much of the arguements used from the OT.

    If Christ is Lord, He must be Lord of all of our lives. The Kingdom life must permeate ,like yeast, into all arenas of our lives. Romans 13 does not exist in a vacum it follows the end of ch 12 which speaks about the believers love and then contrast into ch13 with the state’s proper role of the sword. This observation must be taken into account.

    With so much of the article that I agreed with, it was bothersome to read of how Col 3:15 was being interpreted as governmental powers/authorities as well as the obvious demonic powers/authorities.

    Great provoking article Kurt. Thanks!

  • KCHU

    Kurt,

    I am an Anabaptist and I agree with your conclusions here. However, to claim that there was some sort of immaculate early church that was completely unified in opinion is just not faithful to what we know about the early church. You say:

    “Early Christians, in the few hundred years following the New Testament period but before the Constantinian Shift (which eventually led to the marriage between the cross and the sword), refused to be connected to any profession connected governmental leadership.”

    Anti-government/pacifist sentiments like this may find agreement with certain specific early voices, but are by no means a consensus opinion. I don’t disagree with you that Constantine changed things drastically, but I don’t think it’s helpful to overplay this and say there was a homogenous early church opinion on such things. John Howard Yoder made this mistake as well. It seems that blanket statements like this are harmful to our credibility since it is so easy to poke holes in them.

  • Mike Lorah

    My favorite part is when you basically associated soldiers, government officials, and law enforcement with prostitues, porn producers, and drug dealers. Bravo!

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      That certainly wasn’t my intention. I was simply trying to make clear how the early church understood these matters. I was not trying to say that a soldier is as evil as a drug dealer.
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      • TH

        Why not? For the sake of discussion, how is selling drugs worse than killing people?

  • JM

    It’s “COULDN’T care less” Kurt! Geez!

    Irregardless, this is a good article. ;)

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      ahahhha! Thanks! editing now :-)

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  • http://www.facebook.com/rickmcopy Rick Middleton

    I don’t know of a nicer way to say this, but couldn’t you make the case that things are “different” for leaders? The leaders of Israel — people like David, whom God dearly loved — were asked to commit genocide against other people groups, to cite a common example. Kings seemed to have exorbitant wealth, a palace full of concubines, angry wives, rebellious kids; and yet for some reason we read their words of wisdom thousands of years later. Modern presidents and prime ministers are asked to do unseemly things because being a world leader is an unseemly business. I would hate to think that all of them give up the right to call themselves Christians just because they’ve had to pull some secret strings and squeeze people for the greater good.

    • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

      Leaders have certainly made that case for themselves throughout history, @facebook-1054080463:disqus, but I don’t think you can realistically look at 1 Sam. 8:10-18 and say that God approves of it.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      I would invite you to read my series “nonviolence 101.” That will give you a fuller picture of my understanding of violence and the Scriptures. On the issue that you raise, I don’t believe that someone can follow Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence while being a president. The New Testament makes no exceptions for leaders and actually assumes that Christians will not be in those sort of leadership positions. I do not however think that they forfeit their Christian faith, but they have in fact been unfaithful in this specific area of discipleship, which is why I make the claim that it’s impossible to fully follow Jesus and be the president. The distinction between being a Christian and being a faithful committed disciple is important here. You can be a Christian and not follow some of Jesus’s teachings.
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      • Judson Bartels

        Kurt, setting the issue aside, I am convinced it is impossible for the president, you, me, the Apostles or any human to fully follow as a disciple. It is our brokenness that requires the grace of God.

        I am fully convinced that while we are to do our best in obedience, that we are all falling short. Therefore, it is a hypocritical stance to say that one person is more or less of a follower. We, as men, look at the outward appearance, God looks at the heart. To fully follow as a disciple is to achieve perfection. Paul couldn’t do it. Peter fell awfully short. Peter was very violent, even. Jesus replaced the severed ear, and still had him preach at Pentecost!

        Doesn’t God call all of us to different roles within the body? Someone has to be the head, someone the lips and someone gets to be the bowels… If I am the nose, I cannot fathom how the bowel does his job, but I am glad it is there.

        I suspect that many of our foregone conclusions will be met with correction as we enter eternity. And not just politically, but in science, morality, discipleship and many other areas. But thanks to God that we are washed in the blood, and that we are seen as whiter than snow, and that all of our shortcomings are covered if we have Jesus as Lord!

        • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

          We all do fall short. But knowing that something is sin, like violence, and doing it anyway is different than falling short.
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  • http://www.facebook.com/kelticpete Pete Zimmerman

    I can be salt and light, I just can’t kill people. I knew that at a personal level the minute I got filled with the holy spirit, and am suprised more people do not automatically know that. I will admit that I still thought violence was theoretically possible, but in every single situation of violence in real life, the spirit has always called me to turn to the other cheek (not that I have). Why didn’t they ask them to leave their occupations? because there is other shit going on besides just being in the military. you are so binary in how things work when they world is layers and nuance. And people in the military don’t go around doing violence every minute. if you dogmatically make nonviolence a big deal, you seperate out a single facet of the gospel from the rest. but that does not change that it is a real, permanent, fixed facet of what the true jesus follower does.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kelticpete Pete Zimmerman

    oh, you can be a politican and be a christian. I think the author would agree. but you would not last more than a day or a week or a month before you were a) recalled b) killed c) run out of town d) sued e) somehow taken out of power. you can TRY to be a politican as a christian, but CAESAR/WORLD DOMINATION SYSTEM will stop you.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      I agree here. A president, if they had a conversion to nonviolence, could be a president. But the policies they would have to enact would get them impeached, assassinated, etc.
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  • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

    Many people have argued that my logic doesn’t work because of the separation of church and state. But my point isn’t to neglect the separation of church and state. I affirm it! My point is to say that there is no biblical justification for the separation of the person. A person is not operating for the state in some situations and for God and others. The Scriptures call us to be wholly devoted to God not have divided interests. We cannot serve two masters.

    • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

      And that, as you know well, is one of the principal arguments many make when they justify the actions of a soldier which, if performed by an individual acting on his own, they acknowledge would be immoral. The argument is that the soldier acting under the sword-carrying authority of the state, is not culpable for the killing, maiming, etc. that he effects.

      This is, as I have before suggested, one of the most unaddressed points in the interaction between Christians and the state. The idea that acting under orders from a military commander, absolves one of the morality of his/her actions is, I believe, completely unsupportable by Scripture or reason.

    • http://twitter.com/therebelgod Derek Flood

      Kurt, what about working within the system to improve it as much as we are able, bit by bit?

      It seems to me that the position you are taking is all or nothing. But my experience is that God meets us where we are at, and lovingly draws us closer step by step. Even though we are not perfect. Even though we all have contradictions in us.

      So why couldn’t reform happen like that gradually in our society too? Why couldn’t a person get involved in this imperfect world and do some small but real good within whatever system we have?

      I appreciate the commitment to an ideal, but I don’t think it is realistic, and my concern is that it can lead to the classic Anabaptist mistake of withdrawal from societal involvement. I think a better model is working towards social reform while not kidding ourselves into thinking we have arrived (which is also represented by the Anabaptist restorative justice movement).

      • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

        A fair question, Derek. But let me ask an analogous question from a different perspective. Assuming that you believe abortion to be immoral (not in the usual pro-life vs pro-choice camps, just the aborting of pregnancies), do you study OB-GYN medicine and go to work for Planned Parenthood or NARAL in order to change their focus?

        What Kurt has said is that, of all the various ways a Christian can engage with government, assuming the role of commander-in-chief of the armed forces is incompatible with a Jesus-follower. I think he’s right.

        • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

          Dan, I agree with you completely. My point in this post is not that we shouldn’t work within the system if we feel called to. My point is that we ought not, as followers of Jesus, work in positions that give us direct access to the sword. If we are not doing/ ordering violence, then we can serve in those roles (with discernment).
          KURT WILLEMS
          http://KurtWillems.com
          http://twitter.com/kurtwillems
          http://facebook.com/kurtwillems

  • http://twitter.com/ddflowers David D. Flowers

    “The Caesars too would have believed on Christ, if either the Caesars had not been necessary for the world, or if Christians could have been Caesars.” Tertullian (c. 197 AD, W), 3.35

  • Michael

    I don’t know, I think Pres. Obama might say something different. Maybe the distinction that needs to be drawn is the difference between an understanding which results in a life of faith and sacrifice in light of the gospel, and and understanding which marks people who disagree with you as someone you have to be gracious with, because they are wrong.

  • Julia Flood

    I’m totally with you on the gist of your
    article, but would like to push you a littler further if I may. Three
    things:

    1. The president has blood on his
    hands, but so do we if we pay as little as a dime in taxes. Just by
    virtue of residing in this country, driving to work, shopping in
    stores, or using our smart phone – we’re all culpable. This is
    not to diminish your point, on the contrary.

    2. Because the choice we have in a
    presidential election is between two evils, it is I absolutely
    crucial to participate in voting. I relate to the desire to abstain
    from choosing any kind of evil, but if you live in a swing state,
    your choice to keep your conscience intact might lead to a victory of
    the greater of the two evils. Additionally, it’s not only the
    president you are electing. As you are probably aware, in California
    this year we have the death penalty on the ballot! Which brings me to

    3. I see following Jesus as a
    trajectory. Having left behind the black and white, fundamentalist
    views of my youth, the question is no longer between good and bad,
    but to lessen suffering whenever possible. If we can provide health
    care to people who can’t afford it, that matters. If we can
    implement restorative justice programs into our corrupt prison
    system, that matters. If someone uses IV drugs and doesn’t share
    needles, that matters. Heck, if you are a “willful prostitute” and
    insist on safer sex, that matters.

    While you are correct that America as a
    nation is not “Christian”, a lot of things have improved since
    ancient Rome, and at least we have some laws that restrain tyranny,
    take care of some of the needs of the poor, and prevent people from
    being burnt at the stake. These improvements happened one pitiful,
    worldly step at a time.

  • KateSnyder

    Great post! You are speaking biblical truth, something I knew instantly after the Lord Jesus saved me almost forty years ago. I highly recommend, “Electing Not to Vote: Christian Reflections on Reasons for Not Voting,” available on Amazon.

  • L.W. Dickel

    Here’s a good description of the Judeo-Christian religion.

    “The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can (for me) change this.For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are also no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything ‘chosen’ about them.”-Albert EinsteinReligion is mind rot. And a bunch of deluded Stone Age bullshit. It is candy for the weak minded.And stupid as fucking hell!!

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      LW, I’m sorry if someone in the faith ever harmed you or offended you. Much of what passes for Christianity offends me as well. Although you do not believe in the power of prayer, I will pray that God will guide you into whatever good you may have to offer humanity and the world. May peace be yours friend.

      Kurt Willems

  • Samuel G

    I’ll start out by saying that I gravitate toward just war theory, which in my reading just about always (but not quite always) prescribes non-violence.

    What I do not understand about Christian non-violence is the response to a situation in which you could protect one person from another by use of force. Although I tend to think that at a certain level self-defense may be justified for a Christian, I can see how someone might read Scripture in such a way as to find self-defense prohibited. I do not understand, though, where we can derive from Scripture the principle that “if you see a grown adult attacking a child, you may insert yourself between them to receive the initial blows but you may not use force to restrain the assailant from imposing more violence on the child.” I am not just trying to be argumentative here, but really want to grasp how such an idea can exist in the Christian mind, when we worship a God who is concerned with protecting the weak from oppressors.

    • Samuel G

      Sorry, I just found your Nonviolence 101 articles and see that you would possibly be ok with pulling the attacker off of a victim. A few of my non-violent friends have said in the past that they would not do anything apart from put themselves in front of the victim, with one friend explaining that (in the usual case of the victim being his wife) his wife was a Christian and death would not be a tragedy for her, but the attacker presumably has not yet given his life to Christ and should be spared lethal force. This may be a fairly extreme view among non-violent Christians; I don’t know.
      Focusing on just a few of the problems I see with my friends’ view (I see many), however, leads me to ask about cases in which you don’t know if the victim is a Christian, why it is not acceptable to use graduated levels of force depending on the situation (using as little force as is effective), and whether having a cut-off point of protective force (“I will restrain the attacker but not hit him”) is a coherent approach.
      I will direct this last question to you, Kurt, as you seem to accept the potential use of some force to restrain an assailant with a cut-off before striking him. Where do we find in Christian teaching the principle that forcible restraint is allowable but striking is not? If by striking the assailant non-lethally we could save the life of the victim, wouldn’t this be the inherently correct action?

  • rumitoid

    I am compelled to comment even though I have not thoroughly reviewed the other posts here. Must be brief for work beckons.
    The American Revolution violated Romans 13. There is no amendment anywhere in scripture that allows for rebellion against the “governing authorities.” No place are exceptions made to use evil against evil. The Jews were literally being taxed out of existence by Rome and Jesus did not say, “No taxation with representation.” The severe injustice of Rome in many areas did not cause a stir in Jesus nor prompt a word of criticism. What did prompt harsh criticism were the so-called respected elders of religion, forgetting the One Rule: love of neighbor. You will know a tree by its fruit: slavery, genocide, sweat shops, a huge pronographic industry, and so on and on and just to mention a bare few.
    Patriotism is a sin. This conclusion is avoidable. We are not to love the state and have zeal for its interests; we are to love our neighbors. What borders separate us from our neighbors? What flags keep us from this love? The love is for souls and to that we must be wholly dedicated in our love of Christ.

  • Jerry lynch

    I am compelled to comment even though I have not thoroughly reviewed the other posts here. Must be brief for work beckons.
    The
    American Revolution violated Romans 13. There is no amendment anywhere
    in scripture that allows for rebellion against the “governing
    authorities.” No place are exceptions made to use evil against evil. The
    Jews were literally being taxed out of existence by Rome and Jesus did
    not say, “No taxation with representation.” The severe injustice of Rome
    in many areas did not cause a stir in Jesus nor prompt a word of
    criticism. What did prompt harsh criticism were the so-called respected
    elders of religion, forgetting the One Rule: love of neighbor. You will
    know a tree by its fruit: slavery, genocide, sweat shops, a huge
    pornographic industry, and so on and on and just to mention a bare few.
    Patriotism
    is a sin. This conclusion is avoidable. We are not to love the state
    and have zeal for its interests; we are to love our neighbors. What
    borders separate us from our neighbors? What flags keep us from this
    love? The love is for souls and to that we must be wholly dedicated in
    our love of Christ. The distinct lack of patriotism by Jesus for the nation of Israel (but not for its people) was a large part of his unpopularity with the upper echelon of the nation, the leaders and the well-respected.

  • Joshua

    Quick question Kurt…are you married? (I don’t mean to sound offensive. I’m just honestly curious.)

    I am asking this because I was a 100% pacifist when I was single, but as soon as I got married my entire worldview was radically changed. I realized that part of my responsibility as a husband and a father is to protect my wife and children no matter what the cost. Until today, if someone were to beat me or kill me I would not fight back. At most, I may try to stop the person from attacking me, but I would not inflict serious pain or death on the person under any circumstance. I would rather die than kill another person. However, if a person is beating, abusing, raping, torturing, or killing my wife and/or children then it would be absolutely diabolical of me not to defend and protect them either by taking the person off of them, inflicting pain on the person, or, under a last resort, killing the person. I believe this demonstration of love in defending my family is holy and beautiful before the eyes of God. I believe that if I simply stood there and watched my wife be raped and my children be mutilated then I would be an utterly depraved husband and father.

    Honestly, I still wrestle with this reality because, thankfully, I have never been forced into such horrid circumstances. What do you think Kurt? What do married Anabaptists think about this issue? If husbands are unwilling to defend their wives then what do Anabaptist wives and children think of their husbands? Do they feel safe knowing that if they were raped their husband would do nothing or very little to stop the rapist?

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      Joshua,

      Yes, I am happily married for more than five years. And actually, I became a pacifist after being married for a couple of years. Certainly it is a hard decision to come to but ultimately I have to ask question: do I put the kingdom of God first or do I put a pseudo-belief in physical protection as my source of ultimate security? For me, the the answer eventually became that I was denying what scripture plainly taught. This was not without lots of wrestling and introspection and counsel from others. All of that to say that I respect the reasons for which you are pulling away from pacifism but would caution you that experience never trumps the teachings of Jesus. I would’ve want to ask myself: Where are those beliefs coming from… real world issues where common sense is the ultimate priority or Biblical theology?
      I would also add that it is helpful to see nonviolence and just war as a spectrum. We shouldnt just be asking if we are pacifist or just war folks, but we should ask ourselves where we land on the spectrum. For some that will mean that they are “absolutely” just war folks. For others it will mean that they are “absolutely” pacifists. Many are somewhere in between. I am one who lands on nonviolent resistance and I do so after examining all the options and believing that the Bible teaches such.
      With that said, I do talk about what I would do if a spouse or child were being harmed in another blog post. But before I say that, let me just say that such a question should not be the starting point for determining our convictions. Good theology always starts in the Bible and specifically with Jesus. From there we extend our questions to things like the unlikely scenarios of rape and defending the innocent et cetera.
      I highly recommend reading the totality of my series “nonviolence 101.” But for now, to address your immediate situation and question, here is the post in that series that deals with your question. I should add that this article only makes sense within the larger context of the rest of the series. But at least it might be a good starting point :-) http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/2011/02/17/nonviolence-101-2-what-ifs-another-hitler-or-someone-attacks-your-spousechild-part-8/

  • http://helapingsten.wordpress.com/ Micael Grenholm

    Not only are both presidential candidates willing to wage war, neither of them are that progressive in stopping climate change: http://holyspiritactivism.wordpress.com/2012/10/30/romney-sandy-and-haiti/

  • Robert F

    But in the Patristic period, some church regions allowed Christians to continue being soldiers. In addition, there are a variety of reasons offered in early church documents for disallowing certain professions and work; for instance, Christians could not take the oaths and make the sacrifices to the emperor that were required of magistrates and soldiers in many cases. Also, for many subject peoples, becoming a soldier or official was not even an option, because these professions were not open to non-Romans. And among those Christian leaders who did profess unequivocal nonviolence, some assured the authorities that Christians could serve the empire better by praying for the success of its policies and wars. I don’t think its is correct to paint a picture of the early church that shows it as a monolithically pacifist body. I think that is just historically incorrect.


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