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.
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…
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?”
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.
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!
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.
That 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.
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?
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.
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