“To kill the innocent is ‘…objectionable and unjust… Whereas eliminating oppressors and criminals and thieves and robbers is necessary for the safety of people and for the protection of their property… [E]very state and every civilization and culture has to resort to violence under certain circumstances for the purpose of abolishing tyranny and corruption… [Armies, police forces, and security forces are] all designed to eliminate whoever even contemplates to attack that country or its citizens. The violence we practice is of the commendable kind for it is directed at the tyrants and the aggressors and the enemies of Democracy… Killing those and punishing them are necessary measures to straighten things and to make them right.'”
I read this quote this afternoon and I imagined myself as a teacher. So here’s an exercise. If I were teaching a class, I would ask this question after displaying this quote for the class: Who said this? What is their religious background? What is their political party affiliation? I assume a few answers would likely be given to these questions.
Who said this? General MacArthur or George W. Bush or Winston Churchill or Sarah Palin.
What is their religious background? Christian or Evangelical or None.
What is their political party affiliation? Republican or Tea Party or Constitutional.
I would then let the class know that all of the italicized words were changed by me, and challenge them to replace them with one word and its root. Can you do that? What do you come up with? Injure? Dominate? Subdue? Love (probably not love)?
After some rather lively discussion, likely with some disagreement and argument, I would then display the above quote as written, or rather stated, by the speaker: “To terrify the innocent is ‘…objectionable and unjust… Whereas terrorizing oppressors and criminals and thieves and robbers is necessary for the safety of people and for the protection of their property… [E]very state and every civilization and culture has to resort to terrorism under certain circumstances for the purpose of abolishing tyranny and corruption… [Armies, police forces, and security forces are] all designed to terrorize whoever even contemplates to attack that country or its citizens. The terrorism we practice is of the commendable kind for it is directed at the tyrants and the aggressors and the enemies of Allah… Terrorizing those and punishing them are necessary measures to straighten things and to make them right.'”
This quote is from Osama bin Laden. He is politically incorrect in his use of terrorism to describe what he set about to do in the world. He is unapologetic. He believes that terrorism is necessary to make things “right”. Obviously, this viewpoint is warped, evil, deranged, and misguided.
But is it all that different than the viewpoint that our nation’s leaders hold towards “terrorists” in the world? Look back at the first version of the quote. Couldn’t you hear a contemporary politician in America saying these exact same things to justify spreading democracy in the world? Is that any different? How so?
In his book “Who Is My Enemy”, author Lee Camp challenges some basic assumptions that American Christians have regarding “Just War”. He makes a clear distinction between the foundations of Islam and Christianity, noting that Jesus took on the imperial powers and injustice of his day just like Muhammad. But Jesus chose to submit himself to death at the hands of the imperial powers, only to resurrect and show that they really have no power over the Kingdom of love, the Kingdom of God. Muhammad challenged the imperial powers of his day by encouraging his followers to fight in order to overcome injustice and establish peace through the use of force. One submitted to death, refusing to fight, and the other chose to fight. That’s completely different.
It wasn’t until Constantine that Christians began to use force to impart justice in this world. “While the founding stories of Jesus’s cross and Muhammad’s sword are indeed profoundly different, the Christian tradition made the cross a tool of the sword…” (Camp). “The Christian may rightly claim that the Jesus story and the Muhammad story are different. But that same American Christian often then advocates war against Islamic militants; and he employs not the logic of Jesus, but the logic of Muhammad, who taught that it is legitimate to make war against those we judge aggressors” (Camp). The reality may be that we, without seeing it this way, are as much in service to our government as we are to Jesus when it comes to our views on war and the spread of democracy. The problem here is that we have our faith in one hand and our politics in the other, and the hand that represents our politics is the one we wield most often. That’s more than slightly disturbing to me.
Can faith in the way of Jesus inform our politics? If so, what might that look like? If not, what good is that faith? If our faith is simply for personal salvation, its really no good at all. “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18b). The truth is, our faith in a Savior that humbled himself and submitted to unjust death in order to usher in a new way of being on earth has to inform the way we think about how we, as Americans, view our politics as well. If we separate the two, we are in danger of being the very hypocrites that Jesus, and most people who don’t follow him, want nothing to do with.