Thursday, November 5, 2009

We done hatin' yet?

But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
These words of Jesus challenge us even in the easiest times, but they are especially tough when we have a real enemy who hates us and is trying to kill us. Yet, this is the very time that we need to cling to these words of Jesus instead of forgetting them or pushing them aside.

Do you remember where you were on 9/11? I do. I was getting an electric motor rebuilt at a shop in town. In the office they were watching coverage of that bizarre plane crash into one of the World Trade Center towers. All of us were wondering how such an accident could happen. As we watched, the second plane crashed. That was when it hit us, this was no accident. Immediately we realized that some terrible enemy had done this, and instinctively we knew they were Muslim.

For there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

Our government reacted swiftly and decisively in Afghanistan to pursue the attackers. They forced them into caves and hunted them down. A second war was started in Iraq just on the suspicion that some of them might be there. Was this just and right? We may never really know, but our government did what governments do at such times -they attacked our enemies.

But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer
The scriptures tell us that God has established the authority of government and placed a sword in the hand of the ruler. This is what governments do. It doesn't need to be dressed up as compassion or Crusade -it is the brute force of a sword. We should not expect anything else from our government other than that which God has established. Our government has done it's job, pouring 800 billion dollars and the lives of almost 5,000 service members into the pursuit of our enemies.

What was the reaction of the Church to this? I can tell you the reaction of my own Southern Baptist convention:

"Military action against the Iraqi government would be a defensive action. ... The human cost of not taking [then-Iraqi dictator Saddam] Hussein out and removing his government as a producer, proliferator and proponent of the use of weapons of mass destruction means we can either pay now or we can pay a lot more later," said Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention's ethics agency, in a Sept. 2002 article published by the denomination's news service.
Land also rounded up signatures from fellow conservatives on an open letter stating that the Iraq invasion would be a "just war" based on traditional Christian theological criteria. In the midst of all this warmongering, I wonder if Land paused to consider that the Church had a role other than cheerleader of the sword.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
Could it be that G0d has not placed a sword in the hand of the Church, as he has the government? Are we perhaps armed rather with an Olive Branch? Going into a war against our enemies allows us to place our faith in technology -tanks, jet fighters, body armor. Going to our enemies in peace, armed with good will requires faith in God. Which glorifies him?

On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Our orders seem pretty clear here. How well have we followed them? Sadly, our government has not only done their job better than we've done ours -the government has done our job better than we've done it. USAID has poured almost 7 billion dollars into aid to Iraq. The aid and effort of Churches is so vague that no reliable numbers even exist. The SBC boasted of plans to send 25,000 evangelists to Iraq, but a desperate plea for 150 was never met.

Yet an even larger question looms: Can we effectively spread the Gospel in Iraq? I'm always amused when Christians describe how Islam was spread by the sword. Have you paused to consider how the Church has spread the Gospel in the last few centuries?

The Spanish "Christianized" the New World by sending missionaries behind their armies. Broken and enslaved indigenous people were taught about the White Man's god. They gave that god their reluctant allegiance, and even today the Churches of Latin America are plagued with syncretic worship that includes pagan beliefs like those of the Maya. The British brought Christianity to China at the point of a gun, along with opium. It has taken over 100 years for the name of Jesus to be looked on with anything other than disgust by most Chinese. Now missionaries follow American guns to Iraq and Afghanistan. Maybe it's a good thing that only a few of them are there.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that.
These days it's easy to hate and distrust Arabs. Just today, a Muslim officer in the US Army killed 12 soldiers in an attack at Ft. Hood, Texas. The shooter's name was Major Malik Nadal Hasan. It's an Arab name. Mohamed Atta led the 9/11 attacks along with other men with Arab names like Marwan al-Shehhi, Said Bahaji, Mounir el Motassadeq, and Ziad Jarrah. Since Yassir Arafat brought Islamist terror to the forefront thirty years ago, Arab names have been associated with violence and fear against the US. It seems like just when Americans might be ready to quit hating and mistrusting Arabs, another name like that comes along with some story of terror and death.

I have friends with Arab names . All of them are very nice, warm, hospitable people who have no concept of harming anyone. Yet, events like those of this afternoon bring suspicion on them nonetheless. It is broken human nature, and it's unrealistic of us to pretend otherwise.

The question is, are we as the Church willing to move out from behind the gun? Are we willing to love those whom we would rather fear and distrust?


  1. Fantastic piece Chris. This is a tough issue to take on and I think you have a good perspective on it.

    I do think that Just War Theory (as first purported by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas), is an important function of the church to advise government on- though in today's post-modern age academia may be the more appropriate venue for such discourses.

    In any case, well written: certainly much here for me to think about.

  2. Very thoughtful and well written.