Military metaphors structured Falwell’s understanding of Christianity. The church was an “army equipped for battle,” Sunday school an “attacking squad,” Christian radio “the artillery.” Christians, “like slaves and soldiers,” ask no questions. As an occupation force, they needed to advance “with bayonet in hand” to bring the enemy under submission to the gospel of Christ. The enemy here was a human one, according to FitzGerald: anyone who didn’t subscribe to Falwell’s brand of fundamentalism.
~Jesus and John Wayne, Kristin Kobes Du Mez
Doesn’t it seem odd that there is a lot of military language surrounding some corners of Christianity? I mean no disrespect to those who have served. Looking back at my family history, there were a lot of my ancestors who served in the military going back at least as far as the Civil War, perhaps even further.
Interesting aside: I don’t know how true it actually is, but according to the family tree I’ve been working on on Ancestry, Henry Morgan is my ninth great uncle. Talk about a person who led some military campaigns. Imagine reading up on this distant relative and seeing that he was responsible for “sacking Panama” in the 1600's.
I understand the need for military, and I pray that one day that need will disappear; though, it seems less and less likely as history marches on, and we are currently living in a reality that demonstrates exactly why we need a military in the first place.
But it seems like the Church is one place where we could get away from militaristic language and metaphors. After all, the word “sanctuary” refers to both the place of worship, as well as a place where one can go to seek refuge, to escape the horrors of war. And yet, we sing songs like “I’m in the Lord’s Army” and the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which draw on this militaristic language for inspiration. I think what’s worse is the fact that the former is a song intended for children.
Yes, in Matthew 10:34, Jesus says, “Don’t imagine I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace but a sword.” However, I think this language is much more metaphorical and hyperbolic than it appears at face value. Because what happens when he is arrested? One of his disciples actually brings out a sword and cuts the ear off a servant of the high priest. Does Jesus encourage the ongoing defense and escape to plot a military campaign against the Jewish religious leadership? No, he tells his disciple to put away the sword, heals the young man, and submits to his arrest, trial and execution at the hands of the Roman military. I don’t think Jesus is thirsting for battle; nor do I think his followers should either.
And yet, that’s the language that some have employed, especially in fundamentalist/evangelical circles in the last few decades. They’ll talk about spiritual warfare and putting on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6), but in their minds, the enemy is anyone who disagrees with their doctrine because if they don’t agree, then they must be wrong and from the devil. At least, that’s how the “logic” goes. Frankly, it’s problematic.
The older I get — and Lord willing, that’s every day — the less concerned I am that people absolutely agree with me. I recognize that God speaks to different people in different ways. I recognize that there is room for a spectrum of beliefs. I’m okay with that. They aren’t my enemy; they just think differently on some things.
Perhaps we need to shift our language and our perspective. Perhaps we don’t need to be so combative when it comes to our faith. I regularly see posts and theological statements with which I disagree. I don’t see those people as my enemy. Misguided? Maybe. Uninformed? Most likely. But not my enemy. Maybe, just maybe, if others adopt this approach as well, things will be a whole lot better.
We aren’t here to conquer. Jesus already won the greatest victory. We just need to share the good news.