Tuesday, May 05, 2009


Over the last few days I have been thinking a lot about how following Jesus affects our actual lives. Specifically, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it really means to love our enemies, and turn the other cheek, and overcome evil with good. If I take the words of Jesus seriously, they have strong implications for me when it comes to war, and violence, and torture.

Last week an article was published that revealed a disappointing trend for church-going Christians to support the torture of our enemies. This lead me to respond here on this blog and a dialog was started in the comments section that continues to challenge my ideas of sincere discipleship to Christ and how it collides with my ingrained sense of patriotic pride.

You see, I am a good Republican Christian. Or, at least, I was raised as one in my Southern Baptist church back in Texas. These radical ideas of actually following Jesus and putting his words and teachings into practice are only just now beginning to churn within my heart and mind. I hear myself saying things I never thought I would say, and part of me bristles with the sound of my own voice and the inflection of these anti-military, pro-peace concepts.

Beyond my own internal struggles with these radical ideas of peace and love for enemies, I have an additional challenge to wrestle with. My father-in-law spent most of his life in the military and civil service. Several of my dearest friends are either in the military now or have served overseas in the Gulf War. I do not speak of these things lightly or without full realization that my words here may have emotional consequences. Let me apologize in advance to those friends of mine who are confused by what I’m suggesting here. My intention is not to offend or to insult you or anyone else in the military. But, when I honestly ask these questions and investigate these issues, I am troubled by what I see and hear and learn.

Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm." – John 18:36

What does it mean to be part of the Kingdom of God? What is the true cost of following Jesus?

Am I willing to follow Him even if it means giving up my identity as a good American citizen?

What do I do when the Gospel and the Constitution collide? Where do my allegiances lie?

How do you obey Jesus in the command to love your enemy and still take up a weapon and kill him with it?

How do you obey Jesus in the command to turn the other cheek and drop bombs on his children?

How do you obey Jesus in the command to pray for those who persecute you and forgive those who hate you and fire rockets into their cities?

For anyone serious about following Jesus you have to start, as you might have guessed, with Jesus. What did Jesus teach? How did Jesus model our practice of faith? How did those first Christians walk out the things that Jesus taught them? We can look at how they walked and lived and practiced following Jesus for a clue as to how we (you and I) should also follow Jesus.

Those early Christians (for over 300 years) were put to the sword, thrown to the lions, had property confiscated, were imprisoned, burned alive, etc. and not one single Christian (not one in all of our recorded history, whether pagan or Christian in origin) - not one of them took up a sword in self-defense. Not one of them killed to protect their property. Not one of them killed to save themselves from being imprisoned or tortured or burned or eaten alive.

Is this compatible with the American Dream? Does this behavior have any correlation with the founders of American independence? Hardly. Although we’re always told that our founding fathers were focused on creating a nation where religious freedom was paramount, it seems incongruous for a follower of Jesus to fight for his right to love his enemies peacefully.

How did we get to this point? After about 300 years of enduring oppression and persecution, Emperor Constantine not only lifted the boot from the necks of Christians, he put their leaders on the payroll of the Empire, handed them ornate marble temples to worship in and elevated their pastors to high positions within the political arena.

What’s more, Constantine was allowed to re-define for the entire Church what it meant to be a Christian. Before this, a follower of Jesus was defined as someone who put the words and teachings of Jesus into practice every day of their life. After Constantine’s influence, the definition of "Christian" was changed to: "Someone who believes a set of doctrines". This definition still dominates our imaginations today, in fact. And I believe it’s why Christians today can claim to be “followers of Jesus” without actually, you know, “following” Him.

The effect on the Christian community of Constantine’s day was devastating. Within just one generation we have those same peaceful, formerly-oppressed Christians taking up the sword to go and put to death and oppress and persecute another group of people who disagree with their religion. The oppressed become the oppressors. Those under the sword now take up the sword and fight for the very Empire that once put them to death.

This same paradigm shift is what allows Christians in America to support torture, and to cheer military victory, and to participate in the killing with little or no reservations about how any of this might be anti-Christian behavior.

I have to ask, can you honestly picture Jesus allowing or endorsing or supporting torture? Really? Can you honestly picture Jesus blessing his disciples to go out and kill people? Seriously?

I can't. I'm sorry.

As Lew Rockwell, author of “Christianity and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State” asks:

“Can a Christian smash someone against a wall in the name of the Lord Jesus? Can a Christian heartily lock someone in a dark box for hours at a time? Can a Christian deprive someone of sleep to the glory of God? Can a Christian give thanks to God while he hangs someone from the ceiling?

Sure he can, but not without violating the whole tenor of the New Testament.

Christians are told to put off anger, wrath, and malice (Colossians 3:8), to not render evil for evil (1 Thessalonians 5:15), to not give offense (1 Corinthians 10:30), to abstain from all appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22), to not be a brawler (Titus 3:2), and to abhor that which is evil (Romans 12:9). I think this rules out waterboarding.”

I must agree.

If we are serving a king and a kingdom from this world, then let us take up arms against our oppressors and kill every last one of them. However, if our king and our kingdom is not of this world, then let us not fight. Instead let us obey our King and love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us and do good to those who hate us.

Let us live a life where practicing our faith and actually following Jesus with our everyday life defines our Christianity, no matter what.

Keith Giles


Brent said...


I have wrestled with “turn the other cheek” since I was a young boy. Since I didn’t know how Jesus wanted me to put this into practice I interpreted it as conservatively as I could. I decided not to do violence to any man, and not to shed blood - even in self defense. To be honest this did not work out very well in 7th grade, when boys push and shove and challenge and punch as a way to test their strength and establish a pecking-order. I had to learn how to stand up for myself without actually standing up for myself. Nevertheless I persisted, as I didn’t see any other way to implement Jesus’ instructions.

As a young man I had additional challenges. What should I do if I encountered a man raping a woman? Sure, I could call the police and have someone else do violence to the man for me, but how long would it take for them to get there? I decided that I could scare off the man without actually attacking him. Thankfully I was never put in a position to test this strategy. When I got married, the equation became even more difficult. What if someone broken into my home and attacked my wife and children? Would Jesus really want me to stand by and let that happen? Is that what he meant for us to do when he said to turn the other cheek? I decided that God could protect my family and that I would attempt to thwart any attack without violence.

During all this time I couldn’t shake the feeling that I didn’t quite understand what Jesus meant for us to do. But other Christian’s that I knew simply ignored the passage and I was unwilling to do that. In fact, I was praying and asking God to help me understand how to live this teaching just a few days before the 911 attack. It was therefore natural for me to put myself on the plane and ask myself, “If I was on the plane and it was in my power to stop the hijackers from murdering all those people – would God be pleased if I did nothing?” My refusal to do violence to any man would have resulted in many innocent people being murdered. Sure, I could allow someone to kill me, but my conscience before God would not be clean if I allowed someone to commit all those murders when it was in my power to stop it. I knew that wasn’t how Jesus wanted me to put his teaching into practice. But then what did it mean to turn the other cheek? So after 911 I returned once again to study this passage of scripture (Mathew 5:38-48).

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’[f] 39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. 41 And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor[g] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,[h] 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren[i] only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors[j] do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

‘An eye for an eye’ is all about a fair balance. If you hurt me, then I owe you one. I hurt you back and the scales are balanced again. I have come to believe that Jesus is not teaching us to be week or to allow others to be victimized. Instead, he is teaching us to be merciful and generous – specifically to those who do not deserve our mercy and generosity. In that way we are to be like our heavenly father, for he is merciful and generous to those who don’t deserve it. Thus if someone injures us we are not to insist on balancing the scales. We can let it go. If someone tries to take away our possessions with a wrongful lawsuit, instead of fighting him, show him generosity by freely giving him even more than his evil heart wanted to take. If we are compelled to carry a soldier’s pack for a mile, instead of grudgingly obeying, cheerfully carry it a second mile. Jesus reinforces the concept of an unbalanced scale with a string of contrasts: love for hate, blessing for curses, goodness for hate, prayer for persecution. Therefore, in our daily lives we are to show goodness and kindness to everyone – even those who don’t deserve it.

It is another thing entirely however to extrapolate “do not resist an evil person” to mean that we are to allow any evil to flourish. If we do not rescue the abused child because we don’t want to resist an evil person then we have erred. We will certainly not bring any glory to God by doing so. “Turn the other cheek” and “do not resist an evil person” are not new laws for us to blindly follow. Instead, we have been freed from the law that we may walk in the Spirit. Can we walk in the Spirit and love our neighbor and still use force to defend the cause of the weak? Can we walk in the Spirit and love our neighbor and stand by and watch them be murdered, raped or abused while we do nothing to help?

I’d love to sit down and talk about these questions if you like. As I said, I have wrestled with “turn the other cheek” since I was a young boy. I have considered myself a Christian pacifist almost all of my life, but am now beginning to see that I may have misunderstood what Jesus intended me to do.

Your brother,


Brent said...


Here's a few thoughts more specifically about military service. I think being a police officer can be a high calling, since he is willing to lay down his life to defend his neighbor’s families. Likewise a soldier can be a high calling because he is willing to lay down his life to defend families that aren’t even part of his community at all. Anyone who takes up a sword however, even with a noble heart is in danger of human error and the slippery slope. The problem is that almost any of us can justify the use of violence in certain situations. In fact our humanity compels us to act in certain situations. Once we take up the sword however we do not get to control the circumstances around us. Right and wrong can get fuzzy and it can become difficult to know what to do – all the while we are being forced to make life and death decisions, with limited information, limited sleep and without time for reflection. This is when decisions are made and lives are taken that haunt an individual all of their life. My friend Chuck, who served in several special assignments as an Army Ranger explained it to me before he died. It was this slippery slope that killed him inside. He explained that when a man does violence to another man he also does violence to himself. He just doesn’t know the damage he has done to himself until later in life.

In my opinion, we should never be asked to do violence to another man. God should judge and punish men himself. He is the one who has all the information, will make a righteous judgment and is the giver of life so he has the right to take it away. Unfortunately God does place it on a society to stop and punish the evil doer – even though we are not really qualified to do so. He will judge all men, but he won’t do it in this life. Perhaps some day God will explain to me why it had to be this way.

- Brent