Jerry Falwell, Jr. and the Christian Jihad

By now, many of you have probably already seen the video of Jerry Falwell, Jr., the president of Liberty University (the largest Christian college in the world), inviting all the Liberty students to carry concealed handguns so that there will be more “good people” with guns in order to “end those Muslims” and “teach ’em a lesson if they ever show up here.” Now, if you HAVEN’T seen the video, right about now you’re probably thinking “No. Freaking. Way.” I know… Me too. Here’s the video, if you care to watch it. If not (or you’re in a place where you can’t watch a video), I’m posting the transcription below. If you don’t care about either, just skip ahead, because as noteworthy as it is, it’s not really what I’m writing about…

“Thank you Senator Demint… We are so honored to have you here this morning. Before we dismiss this morning, I wanted to mention–Last night, Becky and I were watching the Fox”News” reports on the shootings in California. And we were so touched by Mike Madden, the first responder. I don’t know… Did anybody see that last night? He was the police officer who was the first responder to the terrible murders at the community center there, and uh, he told a story about how no matter how well you’re prepared in your training to deal with something like that, that there’s just no way–when you walk in–and you see the carnage and you smell the smell of gunpowder… It’s just something you can never be prepared for. So we contacted his family, or his office–after that report–to see if he had any sons or daughters who were looking for a place to attend college. We offered to help with the scholarships. We also are trying to contact the victim who had six children, who was killed in that carnage…

And it just blows my mind when I see the President of the United States say that the answer to circumstances like that is more gun control… I mean if the people [applause] if some of those people in that community center had had what I’ve got in my back pocket right now [huge applause]. Is it… is it illegal to pull it out? I don’t know… Is that..? Anyway. I’ve always thought if more good people had concealed carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they, before they walk in and kill us, [applause] so I just want to take this opportunity to encourage all of you to get your permit–we offer a free course. And let’s… let’s… let’s teach ’em a lesson if they ever show up here [more applause]. So… Thank you, and you’re dismissed.” ~Jerry Falwell, Jr.

Falwell-2004.11.28

Maybe you remember Jerry Falwell, Sr., co-founder of the Moral Majority and vocal opponent of Tinky Winky, the gay Teletubby.

If you decided to skip ahead, that is totally fine. I didn’t really want to spend a whole lot of time pointing out yet another leader in the Church saying things that followers of Jesus SHOULD find repugnant and completely antithetical to anything that could remotely be described as “Christian.” If you are a person who hears rhetoric like Falwell’s remarks, and thinks, “Yes! Finally someone had the balls to say it,” then the chance of me writing anything here that is going to change your mind is very slim. And conversely, if you are as disgusted as I am by garbage like this, I don’t want to spend a whole blog post preaching to the choir.

What I do want to write about is this: Christianity is involved in a battle right now. But it’s not a battle like the one Jerry Falwell, Jr. is describing… One where the opposing sides arm themselves with hidden handguns to “teach ’em a lesson.” The battle I’m talking about is not a battle BETWEEN Christianity and Islam, but it is a battle that is being fought WITHIN Christianity, as well as WITHIN Islam. Within both of these faiths, there is a battle being fought, but the battle isn’t one that is fought with concealed killing devices… The battle is ideological. It’s between the idea of a God of Violence, Vengeance, and Killing our enemies before they can kill us, and the idea of a God of Peace, Mercy, and Loving our enemies… even to the point of laying down our lives for them.

And though I can’t speak about this struggle within Islam with the same level of understanding as I can speak about this struggle within Christianity, I can assure you that there are veins within Islam–just as there are veins within Christianity–that are liberal, conservative, progressive, fundamentalist, and even fanatical and deranged. But the real question at the heart of those different ideologies is how people answer this one very important question: What is God like? How we answer that question has some giant implications…

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I personally like to picture the Family Guy, Flash Gordon spoof God…

Really, all religions are basically trying to answer the question “What is God like?” Is God angry? Is he violent? Is he a he? Does he demand our very best stuff in order to keep his wrath at bay? Does God hate all the same people that I hate? Is God the kind of Being who is going to have all the “bad” people (the ones who don’t believe the same thing I believe) get tortured? Forever? Or is The Story of Who God Is infinitely better than that? For some people, even SUGGESTING that God might be in a good mood sounds something close to heresy. Even ASKING the question, “What is God Like?” implies a certain degree of theological humility… Because for many people (namely the “God said it, I believe it, That settles it” crowd), there is not even a question–it was all settled a long time ago. Still, for people who call themselves Christians, the answer to the question “What is God like?” hinges on the question “What is Jesus like?”

jesus-gun

Is he like this?

Luckily enough, we actually have an answer to this question–we have a pretty good description of this “Jesus” fellow in the Bible. And this is NOT like choosing between the conservative and liberal narrative of the news. This is NOT a case of “Well, some people think Jesus was all about social justice, loving your enemies, and letting the poor and vulnerable know that God is actually on their side. Then again, other people think Jesus was all about trying to get as many Christians into positions of power as possible, killing your enemies before they can kill you, and letting the rich and powerful know that their position was given to them because God favors them more. I guess we’ll never know…” NO! We have stories. We have scripture. The Bible actually means something. Sometimes is seems like the people who throw around Bible verses the most are the ones who take the Bible the least seriously.

You don’t get to turn Jesus into a rich and successful businessman just because you heard somewhere that the reason the guards divided up his cloak is because it was so expensive. You don’t get to disregard Jesus’ clear call to nonviolence and turn him into some sort of military-minded leader just because of one cryptic passage where Jesus tells his disciples to take a purse, sell their cloak, and buy a sword–especially when a few verses later, the story has Jesus healing the ear of one of the soldiers who was arresting him to have him killed. That same Jesus said, “No more of this!” in response to that act of violence and fear. “Taking the Bible seriously” is not disregarding the overwhelming trajectory of scripture in an attempt to legitimizing your own violent ideology. Because doing that is not only intellectually dishonest–It’s dangerous.

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When Michele Fiore was asked about Syrian refugees, here is what she said: “What, are you kidding me? I’m about to fly to Paris and shoot ’em in the head myself… I’m not OK with Syrian refugees. I’m not OK with terrorists. I’m OK with putting them down, blacking them out. Just put a piece of brass in their ocular cavity and end their miserable life. I’m good with that.”

Honestly. It is dangerous. Today Donald Trump actually called for barring all Muslims from entering the United States. AND THIS GUY IS LEADING THE PACK! I still don’t believe that there are enough ignorant, hate-filled people in this country to get this caricature elected, but even if he doesn’t, he is fanning the flames of fear and xenophobic anger to a whole bunch of people… And I’d be willing to bet that just about every one of them has guns. His candidacy is giving the illusion of legitimacy to their rage. And that kind of anger does not just disappear without consequence. Grossest of all, there are leaders within the Church who are fanning the flames of fear and anger and violence and war right along with him. People within the Church need to stand up and say something. We are better than this!

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This is NOT what “Making America Great” looks like.

This is not a “to each their own” sort of situation. This is not simply a difference of opinion–This is a difference between starkly different understandings of the Almighty. They are not the same. They are not even CLOSE to being the same. I expect leaders within the government to beat their drums of violence, but if the Church ceases to be the voice of opposition to that drum beat, we are in some serious trouble. The warped ideology of violence that took the lives of 14 people in San Bernardino is the same ideology that brought down the twin towers–Acts of terror meant to inspire a fear and hatred that would spark some sort of “holy war.” And that exact same ideology is what many Christians are embracing as a response.

55267296That is the real danger of the mixture of Christianity and nationalism–The Church SHOULD be the the moral voice of peace speaking to governmental powers, but when Pastors start “Huckabeeing” (that’s a word I made up) their way into government–or when megalomaniacs feign faith in an attempt at a power grab–the lines between Church and state get blurred. And when that happens, it becomes harder for people to be able to tell if they’re listening to a representative of Jesus, or a representative of Caesar. The separation of Church and State is at least as important for the preservation of the Church as it is for the preservation of the State.

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Whoa–Don’t bring me into this…

Many people misunderstand the word “jihad” to mean “holy war.” Jihad actually means “a striving” or “a struggle.” In Islam there is an understanding of a “greater jihad” (an inner spiritual struggle) and a “lesser jihad” (an outward struggle against enemies). And there are certainly outward enemies to Christianity right now (and that can certainly be scary), but a GREATER struggle–a greater jihad–is within our own hearts.  And right now the struggle is for the heart of Christianity. It is a struggle for our own identity. Who is this God we worship? Who is this Jesus we love? And as followers of Jesus, WHO ARE WE?

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That ain’t no cross.

So yes–There is a holy war… but it isn’t with any one religion. It is a holy war with our own moral center. It is a struggle. A jihad. For those of you who love your military metaphors, Christianity is involved in a battle… But it is not a battle with Islam. It is a battle with a fundamental distortion of who Jesus is. You know what? Distortion is not a strong enough word… It’s a desecration. It is a blasphemous parody of Jesus. We are involved in an idealogical battle between a God of violence and a God of love. It is a battle between a Jesus who bids his followers to take up their crosses, and a Jesus who bids his followers to fight against that cross with what ever weapons of war they might have handy. It is a battle between a Jesus who calls us to love our enemies while he died loving his, and a Jesus who calls his followers to carry around concealable killing devices, “just in case.”

We follow a Jesus who loved his enemies. And he told his followers to love their enemies too. And he said to do it to “be perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” It sounds like Jesus believes that God is the sort of God who loves his enemies… That actually sounds like good news. The world functions in “An eye for an eye” economy, but we are called to break that cycle of violence. When you play by the world’s rules, nothing ever changes. Either God looks like Jesus, or we’re all screwed. And Jesus is the one who said, “You’ve heard that is was said ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

I know this one is longer than most, but I wanted to leave you with the words of a man who actually lived this out. He was beaten, jailed, threatened, his house was bombed, and he ended up being shot and killed by one of the enemies he felt called to love. He too had a “Jr.” at the end of his name, but his words couldn’t be more starkly different:

To our most bitter opponents we say: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.” ~Martin Luther King Jr.

This post is one of the more important ones that I’ve written in a long time. I’d be super thankful if you’d share it. I’m also super thankful for the patrons who help support me and this blog. One of those people is named Colleen Klein. Though we’ve never met, my wife tells me she is awesome. If you believe in the mission of this blog, or if you value the stuff I write and want to help support it, you can do that RIGHT HERE.

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29 Responses to Jerry Falwell, Jr. and the Christian Jihad

  1. jhaney says:

    “The battle is ideological. It’s between the idea of a God of Violence, Vengeance, and Killing our enemies before they can kill us, and the idea of a God of Peace, Mercy, and Loving our enemies… even to the point of laying down our lives for them.:”

    Chris, do you really think that if a homicidal terrorist barges into your Christmas party and starts shooting your children, family and friends, that you should stand aside and and let it happen? You either lack the imagination to fully consider what you’re saying or you are blinded in some other way.

    • theboeskool says:

      I feel like you have enough imagination for both of us, J.

      First of all, nonviolence is not non-action. There are more than two options (1. carrying a gun and being ready to kill an attacker, and 2. “standing aside and letting it happen”), but you should already know that…

      There is very little usefulness in speaking in terrifying hypotheticals… Unless your intent is to cause even more fear. Since we’re just making things up, let’s imagine that your scenario happens, and a “homicidal terrorist barges into your Christmas party and starts shooting [my] children, family and friends.” Now let’s say that you pull out your gun to shoot the terrorist, and your first shot hits him in the body armor that he’s wearing. your second shot misses, and hits a young girl who was playing dead… but now she’s no longer playing. The terrorist trains his modified assault rifle on you, and sends three shots through your chest. As you lay there dying, you watch as he walks over and picks up your gun and puts it in his waistband.

      As he flees the scene, he can hear police sirens getting closer. He throws down the AR (as it’s out of its high powered ammo), and as the police turn the corner, he grabs a little girl and holds her in front of him. Her family looks on in horror as the terrorist remembers the handgun he pulled off your dying body, and he puts the gun to her head. Inside that little thoughtful head are equations that would have made cold fusion possible–bringing clean, safe energy to the world, and solving many of the problems that make people turn to ideologies of terror. But none of that matters anymore, as he pulls the trigger of your gun.

      See? I have imagination. It’s just not imagination that ends with me carrying around a killing device…

      • jhaney says:

        It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
        ― Theodore Roosevelt

      • theboeskool says:

        That’s a really good quote to live by if the one you want to be like is Teddy Roosevelt.

      • jhaney says:

        “That’s a really good quote to live by if the one you want to be like is Teddy Roosevelt.”

        Chris,
        Are you really, truly, impartially certain you are right in this matter?
        Consider:
        “for who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” 1 Corinthians 2: 11

      • theboeskool says:

        Listen–You can believe what you want, J. The gun-slinging man who is best known for his quote, “Speak softly and carry a big stick” is a fine person for Americans to want to emulate, but please don’t try to transfer that American ideal over to Jesus. There is ZERO amount of Biblical evidence pointing toward Jesus holding any sort of “kill them before they can kill you” philosophy. Nothing at all. I know it’s hard when people start to realize that American ideals are, in large part, antithetical to Biblical ideal, but that’s just the way it is… From what I know about Teddy Roosevelt, he would have almost certainly described Jesus as one of those “timid souls.”

      • theboeskool says:

        You know what? Never mind. That’s crap. As if Martin Luther King’s face was not “marred by dust and sweat and blood” while still non-violently loving the ones who were trying to do him harm. I’m sick of people painting a non-violent theology as “timid souls.”

        There may be some who don’t carry a gun out of a place of cowardice. Some might decide to not carry a gun out of pure scientific pragmatism–as they know that carrying only makes you and the ones you love MORE likely to die by a gun. But there are plenty of people who leave behind weapons of war out of a nonviolent bravery and a theological consistency. I’m not going to let you paint the picture that people are either 1) prepared/planning to kill, or you are 2) a timid soul doing nothing. It is just not true. Stop.

  2. jhaney, I have a simple question for you: Are you a Christian? If you are and you want to be like Christ, then consider Christ’s actions in the Garden of Gethsemane.

    • jhaney says:

      I am a Christian. Jesus healed the man’s ear after Peter cut it off with a sword. Jesus healed him because Peter was trying to stop Jesus from being arrested and crucified. This suffering and death was why Jesus came in the world, it had to happen. “… But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” Luke 22:53

      No way should this passage be interpreted as a reason for pacifism.

  3. wolfkennel says:

    A most thought provoking essay with more seriousness than humor. JHaney offers a fair question, however. I do not own a gun, but I’m not a pacifist. I want to work for a society that does not have people shooting up a Christmas party. If that were to happen, I would probably die going after the shooters, including trying to wrestle their weapons away and shooting them if possible. But I refuse to carry a concealed weapon in fear that the whole world has gone to “Hell in a handbasket”.
    I find Falwell’s words abhorrent just as I did Trump’s words abhorrent last night. At the bottom of it is a disregard for Islam and personal opportunism. It is not my religion by any means, as is also true for Judaism. But there are parts of Christian fundamentalism that are not my religion either.
    I pray to God for answers as to what I might be able to do. Don’t have answers yet, but I do know when I see hate-flaming comments from leaders that I definitely won’t vote for or send my children to their schools. Lord help us all through the Jesus seen in the New Testament !!

    • theboeskool says:

      I don’t think it’s a “fair question,” W. It’s a question designed to bring more fear. It is a scenario that is about as likely to happen as a plane crashing into your house. That doesn’t mean we start only building houses underground.

  4. jhaney says:

    I love the quote from Martin Luther King Jr. I agree with him completely. He was fighting a civil rights battle in the very best, most effective way possible.
    We are facing an evil that if unstopped will destroy us. The evil really did enter and shoot up the Christmas party, Chris. It’s not going to stop without counter action that is decisive. This evil is more like Hitler than a seat on the bus.
    People are saying crazy things about registering Muslims and not allowing them in the country and shooting them willynilly, but what they are trying to express, (I hope), is that we need to see this as a real war and we need to fight. And the President needs to grow strong and quit dividing our great nation over petty fights like gun control instead of leading.

    • Gil Gonzalez says:

      “We are facing an evil that if unstopped will destroy us.” Contextually, you’re implying Islamic extremists. 82 people died in Waco. 168 people died in the Oklahoma City bombing. 32 people died at Virginia Tech. None of the perpetrators of these evil acts were Muslim. Evil is, and always has been, around us. IMHO, intentionally praying every day for God’s wisdom on how to overcome this evil will do more than will carrying a Glock in your purse.

  5. K. says:

    With apologies to whoever the original author is, this is fitting considering the news of the day…

    First they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Jew.
    Then they came for the Mexicans, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Mexican.
    Then they came for the Muslims, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Muslim.
    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

  6. Gil Gonzalez says:

    Chris,

    Your posts are normally excellent. This one left me speechless and in awe. Far and away one of the most thought-provoking and on-point posts you’ve published. Thank you for continuing to do what you do.

  7. Barbara says:

    Being a Christian (follower of Christ) is not easy. We are called to do things that go against our very nature but that is the point. Loving your enemy is not our normal response. Neither is turning the other check, giving up your coat and your cloak, not judging and NOT BEING AFRAID. Jesus tells us that we shall know the truth and the truth shall set us free. Free from fear of death because death is not the end for us but a new beginning. None of the 12 deciples lived to old age, they were all killed for being followers of Christ. Now that’s tough when we all love our lives so much. I struggle with this daily, am I really ready to pick up that cross and follow him? Can I shoulder that burden even unto death?

  8. Larry Kunz says:

    One of your best posts yet, Chris. Luke 21:28 tells us — Christ’s disciples — that when we see a time of anguish and terror, we are to stand and lift up our heads because our redemption is drawing near.

    We’re not to react in fear like so many others (including, alas, Jerry Falwell Jr.). We’re to stand firm in our faith, believing in a God who isn’t mocked and who will deal with whatever enemies would seek to harm us.

  9. Courtney says:

    I’ve been flooding my brain with way too many posts and articles the last couple days, and this is definitely the best thing I’ve read. It really gives an insight into the war going on inside Christianity right now, and how relatable that is the the one going on inside Islam. Great perspective. This whole message feels really true to the Gospel. Well done. Thanks for putting the work in and sharing this.

  10. jhaney says:

    “I’m sick of people painting a non-violent theology as “timid souls.” ”

    Chris, I think you are courageous because you take a stand in what you believe, you take the risk and write it and post it. An even bigger sign of your courage and strength, in my opinion, is that you let strangers, like me, post opposing views so we can discuss them.
    I don’t agree with some parts of your post and I think that our disagreements have root in our different understanding of Christ. I also think that no one has a complete understanding of God, you or me. But life is all about the journey and I think God puts opposing people along the way so that we can learn the good and the bad from them. And there is always some of both in everyone.

    You know, Jesus was from the line of David and David slew Goliath. And he sits at his right hand.

    • jhaney says:

      To be clearer: Jesus sits at the right hand of God. David says, “The Lord says to my Lord: Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” Psalm 110:1

  11. Mo says:

    I guess I’m more worried about Trump and the fact that so many people seem to think he makes great sense than I am about a couple of disaffected followers of a splinter ideology shooting up my Christmas party. The US population is something over 300 million people. The electorate is split fairly evenly, so call it 150 million people inclined to give Trump at least serious consideration as our next President. Contrast that with the number of followers of Mohammed in this country who act out their hatred violently. Twenty? Fifty? I don’t know, and I don’t mean to minimize the pain and suffering of those harmed, but rationally who has the greater capacity and potential for harm overall?

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  14. Good post, and it mirrors many of my own thoughts.

    I don’t think that it’s possible to convince anyone who isn’t already convinced. The most reasonable argument about Jesus not being the kind of guy who, you know, goes around with an AK-47 to be sure no one harms him just doesn’t get to people who are convinced that a gun is the only thing protecting them from evil-doers–and that we are surrounding by a zombie-like host of evil-doers.

    However, there are some who are not yet convinced. And there are some who waver between acknowledging Christ or their guns as Lord.

    Those are the people who are willing to listen and to figure out what it means to have Jesus as Lord and to follow him as a disciple.

    I don’t try to convince the people who hold guns more dear than their children. They’re beyond my help, and as I believe in the Holy Spirit who can work on the hearts of people, I don’t attempt to do his work. I just attempt to do what I’m asked to do, which is to present a clear and rational argument for living a life that models Jesus.

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