Saturday, August 16, 2008

Can the gun guard legimately be called a Christian? Questioning warm fuzzies

In response to a question about how his Christianity affects his life in a daily way, Senator John McCain partially answered with a story. He said back when he was imprisoned in a Vietnamese prison camp, they used to tie a rope around both arms, pull the arms behind the back, put the rope around the head, and pull the head down between the knees, and then leave them to cope with that highly uncomfortable position for hours.

McCain said that there was a guard they called "the gun guard", who simply walked around the camp on regular rounds holding a gun. This guard, he said, came in soon after McCain was left in the previously described tied position and loosened all the ropes. Then he came back a couple hours later and tightened them back up, not long before the original guard came back to remove the ropes.

A few months later, McCain says, on Christmas day, and because it was Christmas day, the prisoners were all allowed to stand outside their cells for a few minutes. The gun guard came up during those few minutes and stood next to McCain, and furtively drew a cross on the ground. After a few minutes, he rubbed the cross out and went on about his day.

During those few minutes, said McCain, weren't guard and prisoner, American and Vietnamese. We were just two Christians worshipping God on Christmas day.

The evangelical audience at Rick Warren's California mega-church clapped hugely. Even I felt the powerful surge of warm fuzzy emotion in response to this story.

But here's what I wanna know. Is it reasonable to call yourself a Christ follower and choose to be in the position of either of these individuals? Can I call myself a Christian and be a prison guard in a prisoner of war camp where prisoners are being tortured? Can I call myself a Christian and be a fighter pilot who drops bombs as part of a militarily powerful empire which is carrying out wars against smaller, less powerful nations?

I'm not asking rhetorically. I really want to know. Is it legitimate to ... constrict our understanding of what it means to be a Christian in such a way that we can say there are certain ... more generalized lifestyle choices which are simply incompatible with calling oneself a follower of Christ?

Why or why not?


brooke said...

oh - you watched that stuff? i can't do it. i can't watch the election stuff. it's just too revolting.

BUT. in response to you, and you won't be surprised. i don't believe in a christ of violence. i just spent the evening composing a response to a letter sent to me by my former mormon bishop in response to my letter requesting my name be removed from the records of the church. in it i described my beliefs about christ and peace and justice. at one point i said this:

Anytime I think about His life I know that he was also deeply committed to peace. In fact, my new pastor, when preaching on Matthew 10: 24-39, said this, which I simply love:
When push comes to shove, and the only worldly alternative is to use violence (properly justified by the evidence of course), Jesus does indeed die by the sword, but not because he picks one up. Even when faced with a painful, humiliating death, like a lamb he emphatically refuses to pick up that sword.

another pastor that who's church i'll attend whenever i'm home in eugene said this:

Like Jesus, we should be greatly disturbed in spirit that so many are needlessly dying while war profiteers make millions on the weapons that do the killing. To believe in Jesus as the resurrection and life means that we do not accept this way of the world. We do not accept this way of violence, of retaliation, of revenge killings. We refuse, however, to turn our anger into hatred. We do not stand at the tomb of Lazarus and ask “Who is responsible for this death?” that we might seek revenge. No, we stand at the tomb of Lazarus and ask “How do we remove the stone?”. How do we let loose life and hope into our world, that death will not have the last word. We believe that there is an alternative to an ‘eye for an eye’ and a ‘tooth for a tooth’ that is found in each of our traditions. Life, greater than death. Love, stronger than hate. Compassion, justice, and affirmation for our common humanity is the way of peace, and the will of God for our world. May it be, for the sake of the children, and for us all. ~Pastor Dan Bryant

so, do i think you can be a christian and be john mccain or that camp guard? well, yes, of course. but is it really following the teachings of christ? in my opinion it isn't.

Megs said...

I think one can follow Christ and be a warrior. God is so much bigger than our assumptions, boxes, hopes, paradigms. Relating to God is a very personal thing, and I think God shows different people different parts of Godself. I think Matthew 7:1 'Do not judge others...' is really important, as it's SO easy to judge, and we never really understand that which we are judging.

Your question implies an enormous amount of personal freedom - many people are working for survival - people who are in the military, people who are prostitutes, people who do manual labour - the luxury of choosing what one does to earn money is limited to a privileged minority.

Brooke, your words are beautiful. Yet I don;t think it's possible not to fight in this world of sorrow. If we don't fight, we let harm happen to others and to ourselves. If we don't advocate for the causes of the weak, they are trampled. Jesus' death is a good focal point for this discussion, because it absorbs everyone, every horror, every harm, every wrong...

Seren said...

Hallo Benjamin guess who moved into a place with broadband?
I can leave all sorts of opinionated comments on your blog now...
IMO it's depressing that there is no Christian denomination on earth that is happy with every other denomination who uses the name "christian." Back when i was a church girl i knew jw's and mormons weren't "christian" even though that's what my jw and m friends at school called themselves. the official catholic line is that only catholics are "christian" but we've all met hot prots who say it's impossible to be both catholic and christian.
my lazy agnostic view is that there are probably as many jesus-es as there are christians, so if someone says they're following jesus, that's probably just what they're doing.

JHagan said...

Jesus encountered military men in the Gospels as did the Apostles int the book of Acts. These Roman soldiers were enlisted in the services of Empire. Jesus, the Apostles and even John the Baptist never told them to lay down their arms or choose a more "peaceful" profession. You have your answer. Romans 13 says that the Govt. bears the sword. Will the situation in Darfur be resolved without military threat. don't think so. Scripture does not teach pacifism and Christian pacifists are quite bad at exegesis simplisticly interpreting "turn the other cheek" etc.

Benjamin Ady said...


yeah-as you can see from my more recent post, I'm kind of watched out on the election stuff too =).

sounds like your church is to some extent a peace church. We have a peace church quite near us, and I rather like them enormously.


Hooray, Broadband!

I think you're spot on that there are as many Jesus's as there are Christians, just as there are as many gods as there are theists.


You said "Scripture does not teach pacifism and Christian pacifists are quite bad at exegesis simplisticly interpreting "turn the other cheek" etc."

This seems to me to perhaps be a bit of a simplification in itself. I suspect that there are deep thinking scholars who are good at exegesis who come down on both sides of any issue you can bring up.

My understanding is that in the first century church, it was understood that if you became a Christian you pretty much had to leave the army.

Darfur *is* a ... sticky question. I'm still not convinced we can solve the violence with more violence. One has to ask what violence *led* to the current violence?

JHagan said...

the first century church didn't join the military because an oath had to be taken that Ceasar is Lord. Can't do that if one believes that Jesus is Lord.

It also depends on one's approach to scripture. Does one believe that God ordains authority as stated in Romans 13. the government bears the "sword" to punish wickedness. Should we ask for policemen to be disarmed while criminals carry weapons? May a Christian be in the employ of the state? I would think yes.

Seren said...

Ah, but JHagan, does this not mean that the Government authority in the Sudan has been ordained by god?
Therein, I suspect, lies the rub.

peace, love, flowers, and happiness to all.
xx s.

(forgive me, i've been listening to "Hair" on the radio)

JHagan said...

Peace and love to you as well.

Peace is a beautiful thing and should be prayed for earnestly. Actually everything is ordained by God. He works ALL things after the counsel of His will and He works ALL things together for our good. All Governments, even wicked ones, are ordained by God or else God has created a world that he no longer controls. If one throws out the Old Covenant as irrelevant then then I guess one would not believe this but God raised up ungodly nations to do His will. Rome was no exception. God used Rome to bring about our salvation through the cross of Christ. It didn't make Rome less wicked and oppressive.

Seren said...

If God allows it, who are we to say it shouldn't happen?

Benjamin Ady said...

"or else God has created a world that he no longer controls"

And this strikes you as ... unlikely? undesirable? impossible?

If the current state of things is what the world looks like under God's control, does that bother you at all? Does it make you feel an attraction toward God? Does it make you want to be with him? be like him?

Benjamin Ady said...

"If God allows it, who are we to say it shouldn't happen?"

We are ...

Benjamin and Seren (and perhaps JHagan) =)

Joe said...

Me too.

That is sloppy theology seren. God allows all kinds of things, that does not imply he is happy with them.

JHagan said...

sloppy theology indeed. kind of bypasses the fall and the sin of man.

I'm attracted to God as he is not a God who will conform to my view of the world. A God who works through even the most desparate of circumstances. And if He does not control and rule the universe then He is not God.

We use the phrase "play God" because it is wrong for man to take things into his own hands but God does as he pleases as it says in the Psalms. He is all loving at the same time.

Benjamin Ady said...

"We use the phrase "play God" because it is wrong for man to take things into his own hands but God does as he pleases as it says in the Psalms. He is all loving at the same time."


"It also depends on one's approach to scripture. Does one believe that God ordains authority as stated in Romans 13. the government bears the "sword" to punish wickedness. Should we ask for policemen to be disarmed while criminals carry weapons? May a Christian be in the employ of the state? I would think yes."

I'm confused. Are you saying man *should* take things into his own hands, as long as he is carrying out ... what God told him to, but *otherwise* it's wrong?

It seems to easy to say that the evil done by governments is *wrong* for the individuals in the government to do, but it's not wrong for God to use the things they are doing in some kind of grand greater purpose, and that those who use violence on behalf of a state to "punish wickedness" are carrying out God's will, but not in the case of Darfur.

I guess I'm just not following you.


I think Seren is rather more on side with you than not, and that what you are calling sloppy theology has a good strong tint of sarcasm in it.

On the other hand, *if* you insist that God allows it, then it *does* make sense to ask what it means for us to not allow it. It points to the half truth (or perhaps the outright untruth) in the statement "God allows it."

I used to worship a god who allowed it. But I've since fired him. he was a bastard.

JHagan said...

No man should not take things into his own hands. the authority a policeman has has been delagated by God. if he misuses that authority he must answer to the law as enforced by higher authorties. If he continues to get away with his wrongdoing the final judgment is with God on the last day. Ever here of Nuremberg? the nazis thought they could get away with genocide but they were judged by human courts with delagated authority ultimately from God.

a policeman or soldier who performs his job with integrity is operating under God's authority and not "playing God." This is what Jesus and John the Baptist urged the soldiers to do in the Gospels. They never told them to lay down their swords. If Jesus was a pacifist wouldn't it have been a great preaching opportunity to rebuke all the soldiers in Palestine and tell them they were evil for ever thinking about going into the profession? He's God after all and didn't hold back speaking His mind on other subjects.

JHagan said...

sorry meant. No. no man. apologize for the confusing double negatives.

a policeman can "play God" when he takes things into his own hands. He can also perform his duties with integrity and not "play God." I live in a high crime innner city neighborhood. I appreciate the many policemen who act with integrity and do their jobs. My peaceloving African American neighbors appreciate it too. Armies and police can be a blessing from God. Thank God for the forces that liberated Europe from Fascist tyranny!!

Benjamin Ady said...


I really appreciate you engaging with me on this.

I have a harder time seeing the line between good and evil, "playing god" and "using violence with inegrity", than you do.

Have you seen the brilliant movie "Crash"? It touches on how complex, nuanced, and ... plain difficult some of these issues are.

Police officers, and soldiers in armed forces, work within a *system*. The system is what my peace-church friends call "empire". If the system is oppressive to minorities, or perpetrates evil against smaller weaker nations, and so forth, to what extent do those who work within that system have to assume the guilt for the evils committed by the system? I don't say this as one who considers himself better than. I realize that I too am part of the system. I eat empire food, and drive on empire roads, and send my mail using the empire post office. meanwhile the empire continues to perpetrate enormous evil against people both here and abroad. Just like north vietnamese did. At one level I would like to think that I'm somehow ... less guilty for the evils of the empire than, say, a private in the U.S. army. But I'm not exactly super convinced this is true. I think I'm ... *relatively* more free to speak out against the evils of empire than your typical private in the army. But that's probably more a function of education than it is of position.

JHagan said...

I'm glad you are questioning whether you are less guilty than a private in the army. Otherwise, it would seem elitist.

I agree about "empire." It can often oppress. Of course Jesus lived during the "Roman empire." It took centuries to undermine through love and eventually it crumbled. Again, I don't find anything in the New Testament that condemns participation in the military. Something else regarding authority is going on here.

Seren said...

Hi Joe and JHagan. Nope, it wasn't sloppy theology, it was just a question. I realise now that it looks completely rhetorical, but that wasn't intended.
But you have motivated me to put my cards on the table!
This is a really interesting dialogue for me to be involved with because I don't actually have any close friends who are theists. It's not something that comes up in any discussions i have with people around me about right and wrong, or life's meaningfulness. When people talk about religious or spiritual practices/beliefs i tend to assume they mean some kind of Western Buddhism. So in this conversation the assumptions are a long way from what i'm used to. Which is a good thing!
I hope i'm not an interloper.
Joe, you said, "God allows all kinds of things, that does not imply he is happy with them," and i'm having trouble figuring out what this could mean.
Does g-d have moods? What does it mean if something makes a deity unhappy? is it regret - g-d allows something and then it seems like a bad idea? how do you know what makes god un/happy?
That's enough of the questions. I suppose i feel that the discussion here has turned to the question of, "how shall i live?" And the theism in the responses trips me up, because i don't immediately think that a deity would have anything to do with the answer to that question.
Please be aware that i don't think it's illegitimate that you /do/ think there is a god that is very relevant to the answer.
Thanks for the blog, Benjamin.
xx s.