“We’ve got to protect our borders.” A man named Hank approached me after a talk about Jesus’ way of peace that I gave at a church in the United States, and this is how he started a conversation.
“Tell me more,” I invited.
“We’re called by God to protect our own,” he said. Okay, I thought to myself; this is going to be interesting.
“You’re a Christian, yes?” I asked him. I wanted to confirm where he was coming from.
“Absolutely!” Hank confirmed. “Born and bred.” “Wonderful,” I said. “Can you tell me more about where you
got that idea? The idea that our first calling as Christians is to protect ourselves?”
And off he went on a five-minute, wandering rant. In it he covered these ten points:
- We (the United States—he wasn’t sure about Canada) are a Christian nation.
- As a Christian nation, we need to defend the freedom and liberty God has given us.
- Since God established this nation, it would be wrong to let it depart from the basics of the Bible.
- The Bible says that the government bears the sword to execute God’s judgement.
- In the Old Testament, God called Israel to go to war many times to defend their land.
- In the New Testament, Jesus said he came to bring a sword.
- In the book of Revelation, Jesus comes back with a sword and he is covered in blood, ready to kick ass.
- The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says it is our right and responsibility as good citizens to bear arms.
- Yes, Jesus might have said we should “turn the other cheek.” But we’ve only got two cheeks, so eventually we should hit back. (I thought that one was clever.)
- Therefore, good Christians should not be sissies and shrink from their responsibility to bear arms, protect our own, and defeat our enemies.
When Hank finished his rant, I could see he was convinced that he had just said some very convincing, very Christian things.
I could see he was convinced that he had just said some very convincing, very Christian things.
I began my response by saying, “Thank you, Hank, for sharing those thoughts. But it seems to me like you would make a better Muslim than a Christian.”
Now I had his attention.
We had time, so one by one I began to respond to his arguments. My response went something like this:
- There is no such thing as a “Christian nation,” only Christian people—people of all nations who are part of the transnational, multiethnic kingdom of Christ.
- The only kingdom that God has given us to defend is the kingdom of Christ, and we defend and advance this kingdom by confronting lies with truth and hate with love.
- Christ-followers don’t just follow “the basics of the Bible;” we follow Jesus. Besides, the United States was born out of rebellion against their rightful ruler in England at that time, even if he wasn’t a very good one. It involved the manipulative and often violent acquisition of land filled with indigenous people—the Native Americans who were, well, here first. There is nothing particularly Christian about that beginning.
- Yes, Romans 13 says Christians should support, pay taxes, and pray for the government who bears the sword—right after Romans 12, where it says that Christians themselves should not directly participate in the sword-bearing itself. The means and the ends of the state (Romans 13) are different from the means and ends of the church (Romans 12).
- America is not Israel, and Jesus brought the new covenant and his new kingdom, which makes the old covenant obsolete (Hebrews 8:13).
- The “sword” Jesus brought is not held by his followers. The message of Jesus might bring the sword, but the context to this teaching tells us that Jesus means persecution of Christians, not violence done by Christians. In fact, one disciple, Peter, made the same mistake and thought that Jesus meant he should carry a literal sword and not be afraid to use it. Jesus had to rebuke him for his error.1
- The “sword” that Jesus bears in the book of Revelation is coming out of his mouth—it is clearly his message. (Have you ever seen someone try to win a literal sword fight while holding a sword in the mouth? I haven’t either. Because that would be stupid.) And Jesus is said to be covered in blood before the battle even begins. This is his own blood shed for his enemies, not the blood of his enemies shed at his hand.
- Christ-followers are ultimately citizens of a different kingdom and a different kind of kingdom. We are ambassadors to our earthly nation on behalf of Christ’s country, where nonviolence is the norm. There is no Second Amendment in the Jesus Nation. The only way we “bear arms” is by wearing T-shirts.
- How many times did Jesus say we should forgive? Seventy times seven. That’s a lot of cheek.
- The Bible says good Christians should not shrink back from laying down their lives while loving their enemies. It is always Christlike to die for a cause, just never to kill for a cause.
Christ-followers don’t just follow “the basics of the Bible;” we follow Jesus.
I then explained to Hank that his misunderstandings of the way of Christ were more rooted in the example of Muhammad than Jesus. If we can believe the traditions of Muhammad’s life (the hadiths), Muhammad fought dozens of battles to establish and then defend an earthly, religiopolitical kingdom called a caliphate. The caliphate is a physical kingdom where the law of the land (sharia law) and the religion of the land (Islam) are fused together as a single way of life. In the caliphate, there is no separation between religion and politics, between church and state. When it comes to understanding “the kingdom of God,” Muhammad and Jesus offer very different visions. I expect my Muslim friends to align with Muhammad. I expect people who call themselves Christians to align with Christ.
Recall that every kingdom shapes, and is shaped by, its loyalty, laws, and lifestyle. The kingdom of Christ is a way of living loyal to Jesus, but what kind of law governs the actions of its citizens?
In Christ’s kingdom, the law of the land can be boiled down to one value that fulfills all laws: love. Love is our sharia, an Arabic word meaning “way” or “path.”
Love trumps law as the guiding principle of Jesus. Law is case-specific, whereas love is universally applicable. Law is shaped by culture, whereas love shapes cultures by shaping hearts. In fact, when love leads our hearts, rules become redundant.
This kind of teaching didn’t go over very well with some of the religious elite in Jesus’ day. And today, little has changed. Religious people, including and especially the most dedicated, like rules. Expected and even mandated patterns of behavior are easy because they are clear. “Just tell us what to do and we’ll do it” is the cry of many religious people who value clarity over caring.
On one occasion, Jesus was approached by a religious leader with a most important question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” the leader asked.
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:36-40).
Love God with all you’ve got, and love your neighbor as yourself. That’s the whole kit and caboodle, according to Jesus. On the surface his answer is incredibly simple. But if we look beneath the surface, we’ll see that it is also incredibly profound.
Bruxy Cavey is the senior pastor at The Meeting House, a church for people who aren’t into church. The Meeting House is a multisite Anabaptist congregation in Ontario, Canada where thousands of people connect to God and each other through Sunday services, online interaction, and a widespread house church network. Bruxy is also author of the bestselling book, The End of Religion. For fun, Bruxy loves to dance and deejay. He and his wife, Nina, have three daughters and live in Hamilton, Ontario, along with their Saint Bernard, George. This excerpt is reprinted from (Re)union: The Good News of Jesus for Seekers, Saints, and Sinners (Herald Press, 2017). All rights reserved. Used with permission.
- This is one of three possible explanations on sword passages in the New Testament. The other two are (1) Jesus wanted his followers to become violent; and (2) the sword his followers should use is a metaphor for the message of the gospel. It is certainly used this way in the writings of the early church leaders (see, e.g., Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12). The third explanation, as outlined in the text, is that while the “sword” may be literal, it is used against his followers and not by them. I followed this third explanation for the specific passage Hank had in mind, but the second is also applicable for other passages. What we can rule out with a high degree of confidence is the first option. We simply have no written record of any church leader during the first three centuries of the movement (before Constantine) interpreting Jesus as encouraging violence under any circumstances.