American Jihad
28 August 2010
This is part four of a seven-part series of articles which take an in-depth look at the book The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest For Political Power Is Destroying the Church by Gregory Boyd.
Because I can only share a small portion of this vital book, it is vital that you get yourself a copy as soon as possible, and read the entire book a number of times. Click on the book cover to go to and make your purchase.
If you have not yet read...
  • part one — The "Power Over" Kingdom
  • part two — The "Power Under" Kingdom
  • and part three — The Militant Church
  • sure to do so now before continuing here.
    Today we will analyze the role of "God" in violent American "power over" behavior, which virtually amounts to an American version of jihad:
    Many Christians believe that America is, or at least once was, a Christian nation. This notion is inaccurate for the simple reason that Christian means "Christlike," and there never was a time when America as a nation has acted Christlike.... The Kingdom of God, which always looks like Jesus, is not simply an improved version of the kingdom of the world, for a version of the kingdom of the world may be relatively good, but it cannot be beautiful.
    Nothing has been more damaging to the advancement of the Beautiful Kingdom in America, and to a significant degree around the globe, than this myth that America is a Christian nation.
    Since the time of Constantine, Christianity has largely been the obedient servant of the kingdom of the world, while the cross has often been reduced to the pole upon which a national flag waves. When leaders of so-called Christian nations felt the need to go to war to protect or expand the interests of their nation, they could often count on the church to call on God to bless its violent campaign and use its authority to motivate warriors to fight for their cause "in Jesus' name." However much leaders were driven by power or economic concerns, their cause could be made "holy" by convincing Christian subjects that God was involved. Hence, when any group had to be vanquished in the interest of the Christian nation, it has often been carried out under the banner of Christ — even when the enemy was other professing Christians. "For God and country" has been the battle cry of Christians, as it has in one form or another for almost every other army, whatever the particular religion or nation.
    A stunningly clear example of this was the heavy use of religious rhetoric to support the invasion of Iraq and the ongoing fight against terrorism. Instead of simply arguing that it was in America's national interest to go to war — a claim that some would accept and others reject — many religious leaders and some politicians invoked God's name in support of this cause, just as the extremist Muslims did. As in the medieval Crusades, "Abba" has once again been pitted against "Allah." Many even argued that supporting the war against the Taliban and Saddam Hussein was a "Christian duty."
    This Christianization of military force was strongly reinforced when President George W. Bush depicted America as being on a holy "crusade" against "evildoers." Elsewhere he said that America is the "light of the world," which the "darkness" (that is, our national enemies) could not extinguish. He was of course quoting Scripture in making his point — Scripture that refers to Jesus (John 1:1-5). The fact that evangelicals as a whole were not shocked by this idolatrous association is ... evidence of how thoroughly we have accepted the Americanized, Constantinian paradigm. In this paradigm, what applies to Jesus ("the light of the world") can be applied to our country, and what applies to Satan ("the darkness") can be applied to whomever resists our country. WE are of God; THEY are of the Devil. WE are the light; THEY are the darkness. Our wars are therefore "holy" wars. With all due respect, this is blatant idolatry.
    That a political leader would use religious rhetoric to rally people around a military cause is not surprising. This is typical in all versions of the kingdom of the world. What is surprising, and cause for great concern, is that many evangelicals were not only NOT disturbed by this — they APPLAUDED it.
    We now find ourselves in a version of Christianity where protecting OURSELVES is one of the main things we stand for — "in Jesus' name!" In the name of the One who surrendered His rights and died for sinners, we fight against sinners for our rights! As with many other things, we do what ordinary pagans do — we simply CHRISTIANIZE it.
    Though many Americans, including President George W. Bush, seem unable to appreciate it, there are reasons why a significant percentage of people around the globe despise us. Not only does America represent greed, violence, and sexual immorality to them, but they view America as exploitive and opportunistic. To their way of thinking, for example, the 2002 invasion of Iraq ... simply confirms a long history of U.S. aggression under the guise of "spreading freedom." When President Bush repeatedly says that America has a responsibility to spread freedom throughout the world, what some people around the globe hear is that American imperialism is alive and well and that we are planning on aggressively bringing other governments under our control for self-serving purposes.
    What should be the primary concern for all Kingdom-of-God people is that this disdain gets associated with Christ when America is identified as a Christian nation. The tragic irony is that those who should be most vehemently denying the association for the purpose of preserving the beautiful holiness of the Kingdom of God — in contrast to what America represents to many people — are the primary ones insisting on the identification! The result is that it has become humanly impossible for many around the globe to hear the Good News as good. Instead, because of its kingdom-of-the-world associations, they hear the Gospel as BAD news, as American news, exploitive capitalistic news, greedy news, violent news, and morally decadent news. They can't see the beauty of the cross because everything the American flag represents to them is in the way.
    As a result, global missions have been tremendously harmed by American nationalism.... We have allowed the cross to become associated with the sword of Constantine. We have allowed the unblemished beauty of Calvary to get wrapped up in the typical ugliness of our version of the kingdom of the world. We have allowed our allegiance to the Kingdom of God to be compromised by allegiance to our nation.... Since our ultimate allegiance is not to our nation or institution, we [as followers of Jesus] should be on the front lines proclaiming that the history and activity of our nation has nothing to do with the Kingdom of God.... Following the example of Jesus (which is, after all, our sole calling), we should publicly side with all who have been or continue to be harmed by our nation.
    Shortly after the Gulf War in 1992 I happened to visit a July Fourth worship service at a certain megachurch. At center stage in this auditorium stood a large cross next to an equally large American flag. The congregation sang some praise choruses mixed with such patriotic hymns as "God Bless America." The climax of the service centered on a video of a well-known Christian military general giving a patriotic speech about how God has blessed America and blessed its military troops, as evidenced by the speedy and almost "casualty-free" victory "He gave us" in the Gulf War (Iraqi deaths apparently weren't counted as "casualties" worthy of notice. Triumphant military music played in the background as he spoke.
    The video closed with a scene of a silhouette of three crosses on a hill with an American flag waving in the background. Majestic, patriotic music now thundered. Suddenly, four fighter jets appeared on the horizon, flew over the crosses, and then split apart. As they roared over the camera, the words "God Bless America" appeared on the screen in front of the crosses.
    The congregation responded with roaring applause, catcalls, and a standing ovation. I saw several people wiping tears from their eyes. Indeed, as I remained frozen in my seat, I grew teary-eyed as well — but for entirely different reasons. I was struck with horrified grief.
    Thoughts raced through my mind: How could the cross and the sword have been so thoroughly fused without anyone seeming to notice? How could Jesus' self-sacrificial death be linked with flying killing machines? How could Calvary be associated with bombs and missiles? How could Jesus' people applaud tragic violence, regardless of why it happened and regardless of how they might benefit from its outcome? How could the Kingdom of God be reduced to this sort of violent, nationalistic tribalism? Has the church progressed at all since the Crusades?
    Indeed, I wondered how this tribalistic, militaristic, religious celebration was any different from the one I had recently witnessed on television carried out by Taliban Muslims raising their guns as they joyfully praised Allah for the victories they believed "he had given them" in Afghanistan?
    We expect nations to be driven by self-interest, but we shouldn't expect Kingdom people to applaud this fact, especially when the national self-interest involves taking lives! Isn't our central calling as Kingdom people to manifest the truth that this old, self-centered, tribalistic, violent way of living has been done away in Christ? How can Kingdom people not grieve the loss of Iraqi lives as much as the loss of American lives? Didn't Jesus die for Iraqis as much as for Americans? Don't they possess the same unsurpassable worth that Americans possess? Are we not to embody and manifest Christ's Calvary-quality love even for our nation's worst enemies? When a congregation, gathered in the name of the crucified Nazarene, applauds the violent conquest of fighter jets flying over His cross, is this not further evidence of the diabolic power of the sword to blind us?
    Most American Christians accept that the New Testament does not forbid serving in the military. While I respect that people will have differing convictions about this, I must confess that I find it impossible to reconcile Jesus' teaching (and the teaching of the whole New Testament) concerning our call to love our enemies and never return evil with evil with the choice to serve (or not resist being drafted) in the armed forces in a capacity that might require killing someone.
    Neither Jesus for any other New Testament author ever qualified their prohibitions on the use of violence.... Jesus' disciples aren't to love and bless those who persecute them when it makes sense to do so and to fight back and perhaps kill them when it makes sense to do so (that is, when it's "just") — for, as a matter of fact, it NEVER makes sense to love and bless a persecutor, and it ALWAYS makes sense to fight back and kill them if you have to!
    However much we might wish it were otherwise, there is no plausible way to insert a "just war" exception clause into Jesus' teachings. We are not to resist evildoers or return evil with evil — period. We are to love our enemies, turn the other cheek, bless those who persecute us, pray for people who mistreat us, and return evil with good — period.
    While Paul encourages Christians [in Romans 13:1-5] to be SUBJECT to whatever sword-wielding authorities they find themselves under, nothing in this passage suggests the Christians should PARTICIPATE IN the government's sword-wielding activity. Leaving vengeance to God, we are to instead feed our enemies when they are hungry and give them water when they are thirsty. Instead of being "overcome by evil," we are to "overcome evil with good" [see Romans 12:14-21].
    In other words, we may acknowledge that in certain circumstances authorities carry out a good function in wielding the sword against wrongdoers, but that doesn't mean people who are committed to following Jesus should PARTICIPATE in it. Rather, it seems we are to leave such matters to God who uses sword-wielding authorities to carry out His will in society.
    To belong to God's Kingdom is to crucify the fleshly desires to live out of self-interest and tribal interest, and to thus crucify the fallen impulse to protect these interests through violence. To belong to this revolutionary Kingdom is to purge your heart of "all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice" (Ephesians 4:31) — however "justified" and understandable these sentiments might be.
    It is better to serve than to be served and better to die than to kill. It is [better], therefore, to opt out of the kingdom-of-the-world war machine and manifest a radically different, beautiful, loving way of life. To refuse to kill for patriotic reasons is to show "we actually take our identity in Christ more seriously than our identity with the empire, the nation-state, or the ethnic terror cell whence we come," as Lee Camp says [in Mere Discipleship].
    So, while I respect the sincerity and courage of Christians who may disagree and feel it their duty to defend their country with violence, I honestly see no way to condone a Christian's decision to kill on behalf of any country — or for any other reason.
    While we should worry about being despised because we're viewed as self-righteous hypocrites, we should never worry about being despised because we refuse to participate in a culture of violence. Our response can only be to testify that we have a higher duty to a greater King and a greater country — and to invite our antagonists to join us in fulfilling this higher duty and serving this greater country.
    Tomorrow the fifth article of this series will investigate the civil religion of the American nation, as well as its peculiar deity, sometimes known as the "mush god".