Ted’s Talk


Modern Crusader

In his own words, Ted Cruz is a “Christian first, an American second”.  And, as America’s “most Christian” presidential hopeful, he won the Iowa Caucus this week and gave “God the glory” for his victory. With 56% of Iowa’s voters as self-described protestant Christians, Cruz relied on a surge of evangelical voters to give him a narrow victory over the evangelical come lately, Donald Trump. In January, Cruz created a National Prayer Team “To establish a direct line of communication between our campaign and the thousands of Americans who are lifting us up before the Lord.” And, while Cruz sounds more like a Southern Baptist preacher than a presidential candidate when praising the redemptive power of Jesus Christ and promising to defend religious liberty, it’s his violent rhetoric toward Muslims that is causing many thoughtful Christians to question his knowledge of, and relationship with Jesus of Nazareth.

In a December speech in Iowa, mobilizing his evangelical followers, Cruz said America “Will utterly destroy ISIS. We will carpet bomb (ISIS) into oblivion. I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out.”  So much for loving your enemies.

Cruz is no different from the rest of the Republican hopefuls, who with one breath praise God and with another define how they as Commander in Chief will hunt down and kill America’s enemies. Gentle Ben Carson, referencing ISIS, said American must “Eradicate them now”. In the fifth Republican debate, Donald Trump publicly admitted that his policy would be to kill non-combatant women and children. Was I watching a Republican presidential debate or a Nuremberg Rally? And, as much as I’d like to think that American evangelicals would be appalled at such hate speech from fellow Christians, most whole-heartedly agree. Of the 1.4 million people on active military duty in the United States, 77% profess Christianity. In a 2002 poll, 69% of conservative Christians supported direct military force against Baghdad, a full 10 percentage points higher than the U.S. population as a whole.  In fact, this study by the Washington Post shows that U.S. Christians are more supportive of CIA torture than non-religious Americans. How is this possible given the life and teachings of Jesus?  Why, in the face of such direct commands to love our enemy can Christians adopt a theology of redemptive violence, calling on God to divinely sanction our manifest destiny?  Killing your national enemy isn’t Christian, it’s making Jesus dance a jig for your imperial hubris. When God conveniently hates the same people your nation hates, be sure you are worshipping an idol.

There are a myriad of social and sexual issues that Christians can agree or disagree on, and still be Christian. But Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek, to love one’s enemy is the sin qua non of discipleship. Scripture reminds us that to shed human blood is an offense against God Himself, making it qualitatively different from other sins. Therefore, peacemaking isn’t a pious appendage to the Gospel for the liberal few, it is rather “the very form of the church, insofar as the church is the form of the one who is our peace”. As Miroslav Volf reminds us, “If you take the ‘love your enemy’ out of the Christian faith, you’ve ‘un-Christianed’ the Christian faith.” Or to put it bluntly, if war is right then Jesus was a liar.

Historically speaking, the church in America must confess that what we call public Christianity is actually “A fusion between something from Christ, and a whole lot from the Roman Empire”. In fact, it’s not Christianity at all, it’s civic religion. Prior to 400 C.E., Christians unilaterally refused service in the military, stemming from the belief that Jesus was Lord and Caesar was not.  In fact, their belief in nonviolence was so robust and universal that Emperor Diocletian forbade Christians to serve in the Roman Legions. And yet, just 100 years later with the unification of church and state under Constantine, no one could serve in the Roman imperial army without first professing faith in Jesus Christ. What a dramatic conversion! The church, which used to “give the empire fits, now fits so well within the empire”. What was at stake then, and continues to be at stake now is our ultimate allegiance. For many evangelical Americans, national loyalty almost always trumps their allegiance to Jesus.

Therefore, no matter how ‘Pro-Life’ our politicians claim to be, the church can no longer stay silent amidst wars and rumors of wars, as our nation spends billions of dollars every year on creative ways to destroy our enemy’s women and children.  What then, would it take for the Body of Christ in America to live a consistent ethic of human life that valued not only the fetus, but the fully formed and broken human person as well?

From Augustine to Tolstoy, generations of believers have wrestled with the problem of evil, and the temptation of redemptive violence.  But now, with feet firmly entrenched in the chemical and nuclear age where human beings have the capacity to destroy the earth 15 times over, we need room in our Biblical worldview to reconsider Jesus’ theology of nonviolent resistance.

For starters, we must dispense with the labels and negative identify formation that comes with ‘pacifism’. Nonviolent resistance is more than passive or willing suffering, Jesus never asked his followers to stand idly by in the face of evil. The spiritual poverty embraced in the false, uneducated dichotomy of ‘kill or be killed’ fails to account for the myriad of active ways Christians can respond when confronted with evil.  This break from Darwinian determinism is an evolutionary progression away from the trademark ‘pacifist’ to a more appropriate moniker ‘nonviolent resistance’.[3]  Modeled by Christ himself, nonviolence is not passivity or quietism, but an active application of truth and love in the face of a violent world.  The nonviolent resister promises never to kill, or to be complicit in killing. Instead she offers the world an alternative paradigm. One that loves the enemy while confronting his evil. Simply put:

“Nonviolence is a way to fight against injustice and war without using violence. It is the force of love and truth that seeks change for human life, that resists injustice, that refuses cooperation with violence and systems of death. It is noncooperation with violence. It says that the means are the ends, that the way to peace is peace itself.”[4]

Nonviolence isn’t meekness in the face of evil, it is the courageous and oftentimes creative task of disarmament. To be nonviolent means to deal with an aggressor as God through Christ dealt with me. In God’s willingness to take on suffering, to right wrongs and overturn evil, He himself refused to let rebellious mankind be identified as His enemy. From this perspective, the cross is the ultimate paradox. It is the embodiment of suffering power, not weakness.  Creative nonviolence acknowledges that loving one’s enemy is far from easy, but incredibly liberating. “When am I more a slave to my adversary than when I allow him to define our relationship as my being his enemy?”[5] In Christ, one’s enemy becomes a privileged object of love since God himself worked out the reconciliation of the world at the cost of his own suffering.[6]  As Father John Dear reminds us,

“As our adversaries begin to recognize our humanity, the sacrifices made, the risks taken, and the violence hidden in their practice of injustice or evil, their eyes may be opened and their own participation in the injustice becomes apparent to them. In that instant of recognition and subsequent shame, the violence and injustice can stop—forever.”

Beating swords into plowshares is liberating action on behalf of the suffering and oppressed. It is freedom from our enslavement to violence.

In a world where smart bombs are smarter than our presidential candidates, it is time for Christians to shed the vestiges of our Constantinian past and rediscover Jesus. Nonviolence is the foundational ethic of Christ, who in disarming Peter, disarmed us all.

As American politicians hijack Christianity to provide divine sanction for our manifest destiny, may we remember how God in Christ dealt with His enemies. Look afresh on the crucified God and ask yourself: ‘What kind of God does the crucifixion reveal’? Can this God, whose full revelation to the world is manifested as a defenseless man on a cross be a tyrant who returns evil with evil? “When the crucified Jesus is called “the image of the invisible God,” the meaning is that THIS is God, and God is like THIS. Are we called to imitate this crucified God or Mars?

Radical Christian faith means committing your life to the crucified God, whose death wasn’t so much about delegitimizing violence as completely overcoming it. Jesus gives us tangible ways of dealing with evil, injustice, and violence without resorting to evil, injustice, or violence. The stumbling block for American evangelicals and our Christian politicians isn’t just that our God in His divine defenselessness would choose to die for His enemies rather than destroy them, but rather that we as His people must go and do likewise.

[1] Isaiah 2: 4.

[2] Dear, Father John. Our God is NonViolent.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., pg. 7.

[5] Yoder, John Howard. Nonviolence: A Brief History.

[6] Yoder, John Howard. What Would You Do?.

[7] Ibid., pag. 1.



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