One of the most frustrating realities that I continue to bump into in my evangelical community is the way that the pro-violence war mindset of many conservative Americans has seeped into evangelical Christianity and has been assimilated with a “Christian worldview.”
Last week, when the CIA Torture Report was released, many Americans were shocked at the cruel, inhumane, and frankly, evil practices used by our troops to interrogate war criminals in the Middle-East. The list of practices used to “obtain information” from “terrorists” ranged from “rectal feeding” to “near drowning” to “chaining to walls” in a “below freezing” “dungeon” to being “dragged naked down hallways”, to name just a few brutal examples. Many Americans, upon hearing of these practices, simply shrugged off the CIA’s actions as “necessary” and “justified.” This is to be expected, on some level. But when followers of Jesus find themselves in agreement with the practices of our fallen world, there is a cause for great concern.
Many Christian leaders and friends of mine posted articles and statuses on social media claiming that while the practices used by the CIA may have been “extreme”, they were ultimately justified because they were used to “bring about justice”. They argued that the acts of torture employed by our troops were nothing more than the “judgement of God” being carried out by our government which He “established.” Most of the people who were posting such statements were also those who claim to adhere to a rigid, literalistic reading of the Bible. They are the very people who would give me a hard time for my support of marriage equality, claiming that “the scriptures are abundantly clear” on the topic of civil marriage equality. (a topic for a different post)
I have great respect for people who take a literalistic hermeneutic. But what perplexed me was the fact that the Scriptures teaching on how we are to respond to our enemies seems to be pretty clear. Jesus didn’t mince words when he spoke about how to deal with those who do harm to us:
“You have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: ‘You must not kill; and anyone does kill he must answer for it before the court.’ But I say this to you: anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court.” Matthew 5.21-22
“You have learnt how it was said: ‘Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.’ But I say to you, Offer the wicked man no resistance. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; if a man takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him.” Matthew 5.38-41
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy; But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those whose persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Matthew 5.43-46
“If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16.24-25
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly.” Luke 6.27-28
“Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judge yourselves; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned yourselves; grant pardon, and you will be pardoned.” Luke 6.27
“I have told you all this so that you may find peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but be brave: I have conquered the world.” John 16.33
“My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my men would have fought … But my kingdom is not of this kind.” John 18.36These are Jesus’ clear commands to Christians. This is what Jesus demonstrated in every aspect of his life. This teaching of nonviolence is ultimately what led Jesus to the cross. It’s what kept him there. It’s what prompted him to look down at the men who were killing him and say, “Father, Forgive them. For they don’t know what they are doing.” I would go so far as to say that there is nothing more clear in Jesus’ teaching than his command that his disciples to be a people of radical peace and grace, averse to all violence, retribution, and judgement. Yes, this even means grace and forgiveness towards terrorists. Yes, this even means grace and forgiveness towards our nations enemies.
Is this radical? Absolutely. Even our President has acknowledged in the past that “the Sermon on the Mount…is so radical..that it’s doubtful that our own Defense department could survive it’s application.” And yet, we as Christians are called to hold to the commands of Jesus as the foundation of our lives. Everything we support both personally and politically must be informed by the teachings of Christ. This is, after all, what it means to be a disciple. To adhere to the way of our Rabbi in every aspect of our lives. Our citizenship is first and foremost in the Kingdom of God. Our personal values, then, must first and foremost be formed by those of the Kingdom.
Evangelicals know this. This has been our rallying cry for decades. And yet, when it comes to the topic of war, torture, and retribution, our allegiance to the clear teaching of Scripture seems to fall by the wayside. We claim to take the Scriptures literally until we come to a part of it that doesn’t square with our political and patriotic allegiance and then we will allow room for hermeneutical gymnastics to justify our position.
Is it logical, from a human perspective, to torture our enemies? Sure. Does it feel “right” to bring pain on those who have hurt us so deeply? Absolutely. But the Scripture is clear- the wisdom of God is foolishness to the world, and the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. (1 Corinthians 3:19) Jesus clearly says that the only way to bring about peace on earth is through radical, unconditional grace and forgiveness. Not through returning evil for evil. Not through punishment. But through correction done in love. Does that sound crazy to you? It sure does to me. But I have faith that God knows better than we do. His ways are indeed higher than ours. (Isaiah 55:8) And he has demonstrated the power of his teaching through his sacrifice on the cross.
“…[God worked] through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
So today, it’s my prayer that my fellow evangelicals will heed and submit to the clear teaching of Scripture and speak up against the cruel and unrighteous actions of our nation. For the follower of Christ, torture is never justifiable. We must stand as a prophetic witness to the world and call our nation to repent of (or cease performing) our immoral torture tactics. Will we sound crazy? Absolutely. Will most people violently disagree? You bet. But it is our calling.
We must show the world that there is a better way to deal with our enemies. We must point the world to our crucified Lord, raised high on Calvary’s tree. We must begin to preach once again the “Gospel of Peace” (Ephesians 6:14), which is the very “power of God to redeem the world.” (Romans 1:16)
And I believe THAT witness could actually change the world.
For great resources on Jesus’ teaching of non-violence and enemy love, check out:
-Derek Flood’s new book Disarming Scripture
-Michael Hardin’s book The Jesus Driven Life
-Brian Zahnd’s book A Farewell to Mars
-Caleb Millers upcoming book Saving God