You can't call violence Christian

January 22nd, 2015

Recently on Ministry Matters, Mark Lockard asked, ‘American Sniper’ or ‘Selma’: How Christian is your movie choice? In his article he juxtaposed the Christian faith represented by the hero of each movie: Chris Kyle vs. Martin Luther King Jr.

Mr. Lockard’s post was partially a response to Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s earlier piece detailing the Christian faith “you won’t see in the film” about Chris Kyle. She describes elements of Kyle’s faith by pulling quotes from his book, “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History,” which, she points out, enjoyed a 37-week run on The New York Times’ best-seller list.

After reading Mr. Lockard’s piece, I was thankful that Ministry Matters had published a more thoughtful examination of the two movies that posed the question: Which version of the Christian faith is more accurate: Kyle’s or King’s?

The post generated quite a bit of online discussion. For my part, I began with this statement:

“I’m so glad I read this article after reading the one posted here about Chris Kyle’s faith. I would much rather support MLK’s version of discipleship than Mr. Kyle’s, as King’s more closely resembles the Jesus I see in the gospels. Likewise, I am more compelled by MLK’s version of patriotism than Mr. Kyle’s. King’s is one that calls us to live up to our proclaimed ideals of equality and justice rather than the more conventional “patriotism” that tells us freedom is only accomplished when we secure American economic interest through military dominance. Both forms of patriotism claim to answer evil with determined resistance, but while Kyle’s resistance takes the form of death by bullet, King’s embodies Christ’s sacrificial love.”

Many of those who posted comments after me suggested that it wasn’t fair or realistic to compare King’s nonviolent form of Christianity to Kyle’s, because they were acting in completely different contexts. In other words, nonviolent protest is fine within the protected confines of the U.S., but in the Middle East we’re dealing with evil, violent extremists who can’t be dealt with peacefully.

Here are some examples of such sentiments:

• “Protesting stateside or being thrust into a violate (sic) situation cannot be compared.” - alhatesreligion
• “Remember, pacifist resistance, MLK,Jr. and Ghandi style only work if the authorities we are resisting have a conscience.” - Sam Foreman
• “Of course we as Christians support the Selma version of our faith, but let us not be too quick to judge. Patriots like Chris Kyle are the reason we have the freedom to express ourselves and the Selmas of this country.” - Mack McClain

The main question I have in response to these kinds of statements is, do you think nonviolent activists like Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi or Jesus Christ existed in contexts less violent than the Middle East? Were they preaching, teaching and protesting in some sort of protected bubble where they could operate without risk?

Obviously they weren’t. All three of these leaders, and many who joined the struggle for freedom before and after them were killed for their resistance. They faced just as real a danger as any soldier ever has. The difference is they answered that danger with a refusal to act violently themselves. They chose to love their enemies instead of demonizing them.

Call them foolish if you want. The apostle Paul does. He and everybody else who followed Jesus in the first century understood that the nonviolent way of Jesus appeared stupid, naive and ineffective to the rest of the world. It’s okay, sensible even, to reject the teaching of Christ when it comes to violence.

But you can’t reject that bedrock teaching of Christ and then claim your actions are Christian. Justify violence any other way you want. Say it’s regretfully necessary. Call it prudent or practical. Believe that killing bad guys protects innocent lives even, but do not call it Christian, because Christ specifically rejected violence against humans every chance he got.

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