It’s been a week now since Holy Week has come and gone, as good a time as any for Christians to ask ourselves what difference the resurrection of Jesus makes in our lives—not just our inner lives, but how we act in this world.
World events of the last few weeks have been almost perfect illustrations of the values that run this world in contrast with the values that a life following Jesus demands. In response to what was almost certainly a false-flag gas attack in Syria, President Trump ordered 59 Tomahawk missiles launched at an air base there. It was an illegal, unconstitutional act of war with no strategy behind it, yet it was the first time that the political and media elites praised Trump with remarkable fervor—here’s a survey of editorial reactions from major American newspapers, and here’s a look at what some of Trump’s political opponents had to say). The same people who have been blasting Trump as temperamentally unqualified to be president give him the approval he desperately seeks when he starts playing at Middle Eastern brinksmanship with Russia—what could go wrong here? (Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept asks, How can those who view Trump as an Inept Fascist now trust him to wage war?)
No surprise then that Trump immediately turned to trash-talking North Korea, sending Vice President Mike Pence, a professing Christian, there to dress up like an Army man and tell the world, “The United States of America will always seek peace but under President Trump, the shield stands guard and the sword stands ready.” When a normal person uses the word “but” like that, he is probably not very committed to the ideas in the first half of his statement—when a politician like Pence does it, you can be certain that he means only what he said after the “but.”
None of this is a surprise. Trump, Pence, the media, and the rest of the political class are acting the way the political class always acts—in America and elsewhere, now and all through history—in opposition to the Jesus way of respecting individuals and resolving things peacefully.
Seldom do we hear followers of Jesus speak in the public sphere against the actions of people and institutions that use force to rule people. Brian Zahnd is one of the rare, brilliant exceptions:
Click on his status update and read some of the comments—it’s instructive to see the resistance that believers have to such a simple, true idea. So many of those who question Zahnd’s post do so on explicitly pragmatic grounds, responding with their thoughts and questions that try to determine exactly when it is all right to kill someone. But shouldn’t Christians be looking for ways to make holy exceptions to man’s law rather than looking for loopholes in God’s? (Also, you owe it to yourself to buy and read Zahnd’s A Farewell to Mars for a life-changing perspective on the American church’s sin of militarism.)
We Christians worship Jesus, who was crucified by the state for, among other things, denying its authority to rule his people, and who then rose from the dead—offering freedom from sin and proving his claims that this world—the here and now—is just as much a part of the Kingdom of God as is Heaven.
The Church—after taking such care to observe the solemn self-denial of Lent and to commemorate sacrifice of the crucifixion—seems to have reverted to being quite uninterested in going to work to redeem this world on the terms Jesus has laid out and with the power he’s given us to do just that. If you doubt me, ask the Christians you know what they think about Trump’s belligerence.
That’s what happens when the church lacks the faith to trust Jesus in all matters and instead seeks protection and patronage from the state—God’s authority is undermined, as the state is granted not only legitimacy in the eyes of believers, but primacy over vitally important matters, especially war. And though we’re told that we should trust the president (or the king, or the prime minister, or the high priest, or whomever) because that’s the pragmatic way to ensure security, war always makes things worse, and it always breeds more war.
Church and state should not mix, but faith and politics must; indeed, a faith without politics denies one of the essential claims of Jesus—that he is sovereign—and blocks us from experiencing the abundance of a life following him.