“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
Matthew 5:9 NRSV
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Matthew 10:34 NRSV
The Bible is not only the “Good Book” - it is the greatest book ever written. It is filled with tales of redemption, and triumph, and faith. It shows the lowest and the highest points of human possibility with hope and grace. But for all that it is, one thing it is not is clear about all things. Time, location, and culture have removed today’s modern audience far from the original readers of scripture so that now they require additional study to grasp its meaning. There are many places where the Bible appears to contradict itself, and in those places, modern Christians are left to divine its intent through their Church and the Spirit. This does not, however, result in uniform interpretations, which causes friction and factions. One such area of contention is that of the Biblical view of violence.
Some Christians practice extreme pacifism, viewing the taking of a human life under any circumstance as the ultimate evil. Their faith is even recognized as a valid exemption from military service. Some Christians see it as their duty to enlist in the armed forces or own their own weapons in order to serve as a defender of the defenseless.
Believers on both sides of the divide can base their reasoning on scripture and their beliefs in the sanctity of human life yet still come to utterly opposite conclusions. This argument over the appropriate Christian response to violence has ebbed and flowed for centuries often flaring up in times of turmoil and generally exacerbating political divisions within the Church. One could write an entire book, as some have, working out the differences between Biblical passages as the ones listed above, and still reach no consensus. While this topic is important, finding the “right” answer is not my intention here. There is something just as vital surrounding the application of Biblical principles to issues of violence that no one is discussing: the Christian usage of violent metaphors designated to detail or illustrate their position between themselves and the world around them.
How many times have you heard Christians say damning things about the people around them – and use Christian phrasing to do it? If you live in the South, you probably hear it a lot. Whether it’s a true southern “bless your heart” (read: “you poor dumb fool”), or a snide “in the final judgement, every knee will bow”. Yet worse – things like calling those with whom they disagree the antichrist. American Christians have gotten pretty good at deciding who is “in” and who is “out”. To exacerbate the issue, a large number of Evangelicals have turned to using war imagery to widen the divide.
Many American Christians have made being the victim of society a large part of their identity. They cling to verses such as “they will hate you because of me”, “blessed are you when they persecute you”, and “if you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed...” They see themselves as “at war with the world”. They see enemies around every corner, unaware that loss of their dominance in society is not the same as persecution. They instead “put on the full armor of God” as part of the “Lord’s army” to “fight the good fight”. Unwilling to serve those that Jesus served and unwilling to speak with those whom he chose as disciples many modern Christians instead prepare for a final battle where “the enemy will be defeated” and they will no longer have to tolerate those with whom they disagree.
But Rebekah – didn’t Paul use war imagery? Are you saying Paul is wrong? Are you saying the Bible is wrong? Yes, no, and no.
Paul spoke of struggles and competitions, but not as struggling or competing with our fellow humans. As soon as we label people as enemies - as soon as we label them an “other” and consider them only as they stand in opposition to ourselves - we’ve lost our way. “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places”... not people. Every human being is created in the image of God. No human is perfect, nor is any human being inherently evil. People can be formed by experiences and shaped by concepts that cause them to live in a myriad of ways, some good and some bad, but no matter how they have chosen to live, they are just as loved by God as you or me. It is unhealthy and unfair to label them “the enemy”.
“As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” and “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks”. Both the Bible and modern psychology emphasize the importance of our words. What we think leads to what we speak, and what we speak has the power to benefit or break not only ourselves but the people we encounter. Words have the power to harm and the power to heal. In setting Christians in opposition to everyone else through competitive and combative language, we harm us all.
Muslims are not our enemies. The LGBTQ community is not our enemy. Conservatives are not our enemies. Liberals are not our enemies. Certain ideologies may be “at war” with the gospel, but never should we take it upon ourselves to deem another human being as past the point of redemption because of the views they hold, choices they have made, or they way they were born. God’s grace is not limited. We are not in competition with or opposition to one another. All can “win”.
“May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus”
About The Author
Rebekah Gordon holds a BA in Bible & Theology and Religious Studies from Johnson University and is a graduate student in the Religious Studies department at the University of Denver. She is the book editor for the Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory and assistant editor for Esthesis online art magazine, and her interests range from secular-sacred relations in America, to religious fiction, to political and religious ethics.
Recommended For You