recently, the president of the largest evangelical christian university in the nation called on his students to carry concealed weapons on campus – presumably, to protect themselves from a terrorist attack. like his late father before him, jerry falwell, jr. made national headlines by making comments in the name of christ that are absurd as they are contrary to the teachings of the very jesus he claims to represent.
in the midst of those headlines, a number of my friends and co-conspirators for goodness in our world added their own thoughts to the fray. brian mclaren penned an open letter to jerry falwell, jr., students and faculty of liberty university on huffington post, rightly declaring,
Your message faithfully represents a longstanding (and ugly) stream of American culture and politics. This tradition goes back to those who argued against the equal human rights and dignity of the Native Peoples and African-American slaves, often abusing the Bible to justify white supremacy under its various guises.
shane claiborne spoke up saying,
It’s hard to imagine Jesus enrolling for the concealed weapons class at Liberty University. And it is even harder imagining Jesus approving of the words of Mr. Falwell as he openly threatens Muslims.
but not all my friends agree with one another.
another friend of mine – with whom i’ve danced well into the wee hours of one fantastic evening at Level Ground – brandon ambrosino, wrote a piece that was provocatively titled, Whom would Jesus shoot – and why?
i encourage you to read it.
upon reading his post, i was unclear about exactly where brandon landed; so i took to Twitter to clarify…which didn’t really get us very far. in fact, at the end of the conversation, i found i’d been blocked from his twitter account. it appears to disorient people that i cannot imagine a scenario in which the ‘prince of peace’ loads a gun and shoots a human being – for any reason.
though i’ve been engaging in facilitating conversations around reconciliation between opposing perspectives for five years and running, i still sometimes find it to be a challenge.
but there’s something telling about the passion with which not just brandon or jerry or liberty university – but our entire country – responds to these types of conversations.
it seems that the psyche of our nation is so inherently tied to guns that even members of my own faith and family have a terribly difficult time seeing this simple truth :: you cannot use jesus to justify violence.
think about that. ‘you cannot use jesus to justify violence.’
it’s true. there’s not an actual debate to be had.
the jesus we see in the gospels is declared to be the prince of peace – and rejects the notion that the power of empire is more alluring than the authority of the kingdom of God. jesus teaches counter-intuitive principles, overturning previous laws of ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ (essentially :: get even) for a better way – the way of love.
jesus teaches his disciples to turn the other cheek; to love their enemies; to bless those who oppress and persecute; and to live subversively by becoming servants of the Other rather than a slave to the standards of an oppressive empire based on the accepted notion that those with the most power win.
following the teachings of jesus messes with our minds.
so when a self-proclaimed christ follower declares that his students and teachers should carry weapons of death into their bible classes to ‘kill muslims’ – or anyone else – those with any amount of intellectual honesty are obligated to say that this declaration does not come from the teachings of the jesus of the bible.
unfortunately, one can make the argument from the teachings of the early church – specifically, after it gets in bed with the roman empire at and after the time of constantine. as a result of the adoption of nicene christianity as the official religion of the roman empire in the 4th century, religious responsibility became synonymous with political power.
this is not a mere theological musing – it’s a historical fact.
out of this tradition, the notion of a ‘just’ war came into the conversation – three hundred years removed from the life, teachings and example of jesus, after certain leaders of the ‘christian’ church made an alliance with the empire of rome to create a so-called christian empire – rationalizing killing in the name of the God incarnated in the person of jesus christ.
‘justified’ or ‘redemptive’ violence is a MYTH – and a bastardization of the good news and the way of jesus.
‘bastardized’ means to adulterate, corrupt, contaminate, weaken, dilute, taint, pollute, debase and distort. it also means to be declared as illegitimate (no wonder the term ‘bastard’ is considered so offensive!).
but that’s precisely what this teaching is.
the idea that one human being could kill another based on the teachings of jesus is quite frankly illegitimate. it’s simply not so. all of the arguments which make sense to our 21st century american evangelical (and otherwise) minds about possession and protection and INsecurity of what ‘belongs’ to us are a far cry from the security, simplicity and peace present in the person of jesus.
we can choose to be american before we are christian – and craft these arguments from the american declaration of independence and the constitution and the amendments thereof – but we cannot claim to follow jesus’ teachings and advocate for the killing of another human being – including ourselves – in any circumstance.
when we are not at our best, we like to make excuses. we have the capacity to rationalize inappropriate behavior, to the point of being able to satisfy and justify the violence we do to our own conscience and other human beings – even all of creation (consider the violence we commit to other living beings we deem ‘unworthy’).
even the christian church has been creating all kinds of excuses for not following christ for a long, long time.
one can argue that killing another is acceptable in some circumstances; but i’ll be damned if folks – even friends – get away with saying this line of thinking comes from the teachings of the jesus without being challenged.
not on my watch. it just isn’t true.
what do you think?