SERMON OF SUBVERSION: SERMON ON THE MOUNT

by Jon Kauffman

“it’s a dangerous world out there, and pacifists depend for their safety and security on the generosity and good will of non-pacifists. Prior to the Christianization of the Roman empire, many Christians were not faced with the responsibility of defending the public and ensuring public order.” Were the Early Christians Pacifist, by Jimmy Akin

What if the Sermon on the mount is a sermon of subversion? What if Jesus is teaching poor people the proper way to rebel against an abusive and enslaving government and society? What if the United States is an abusive and enslaving government?

JIMMY AKIN

Jimmy Akin attempts to make a case that Christians began to use violence and the military to control people because they became responsible for protecting the public. When Christians obtained political power, it became their responsibility to run government using the violence of government.

Jimmy spends a great deal of time trying to defend his position of violence by demonstrating that the early Christians were not pacifist.

The real question is not whether Christians were pacifist, but is it possible for a Christian to join the military or to use violence to ensure public order while following the teachings of Jesus.

Peace Dove

ST AMBROSE

St Ambrose was Roman Governor in Milan. The people loved him, and he became Bishop of Milan by popular acclamation. St Ambrose was government man. Most likely he would agree with Jimmy Aiken that maintaining the peace and governing the people is one of the most important tasks of a Christian. As Bishop, St. Ambrose advocated killing the pagans. Jesus taught going into all the world, baptizing and teaching people to follow everything Jesus commanded.

St. Ambrose’s approval of killing pagans by Roman soldier is similar to our country using the Doctrine of Discovery. The Doctrine of Discovery stems from the papal bull which gave Europeans the right to kill and conquer. Pope Alexander VI issued the Papal Bull ‘Inter Caetera,” on May 4, 1493.

THE UNITED STATES

The United States foreign policy from the beginning has followed the Doctrine of Discovery, where a “Christian” country of greater power has the right to kill and destroy weaker peoples in order to take what belongs to the conquered for the conquerors. Using the Doctrine of Discovery, the United States stole land from the Native Americans and Mexico.

In 1899 the Philippine-American War was fought to enslave the Philippines as a United States colony. The War Prayer, By Mark Twain.

The United States has sent Marines all over the world to protect American financial interests. The Marines have been sent to protect American Banana companies and keep banana plantation worker working at a low wage.

The United States military protects American oil wells in the Middle East. Throughout its history the United States has used its military to obtain wealth and power by killing and enslaving people.

Does Jimmy really approve of Christians joining a military who upholds these values?

THE SUBVERSIVE SERMON

I think the Sermon on the Mount is a great place to start to determine if Jimmy Akin’s premise that Christians should violently defend to the public and ensure public order really follows the teachings of Jesus.

Some claim that the Sermon on the Mount only applies to our personal lives, maybe at the level of social interactions in a small village, but not on a larger scale, especially when it comes to government.

Many people in the time Jesus were enslaved and controlled by the Romans. At the same time wealthy Jews took advantage of their fellow Jews to gain great wealth.

But what if the Sermon on the Mount applies to how the poor are to treat the rich and the oppressor. What if the Sermon on the Mount is the way the poor are to deal with superpowers like Rome and Great Britain and the United States with their great militaries and great wealth?

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:38-42

Many feel that in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is asking us to take the violence like a doormat. But Jesus is showing us how to nonviolently fight for freedom and justice for the weak, the vulnerable and the poor.

Walter Wink explains the Greek word in Matthew 5:39 and suggests a better translation “Do not retaliate against violence with violence.”

Wink says, “Jesus was no less committed to opposing evil than the anti-Roman resistance fighters. The only difference was over the means to be used: how one should fight evil.

There are three general responses to evil: 1) passivity, 2) violent opposition, and 3) the third way of militant nonviolence articulated by Jesus. Human evolution has conditioned us for only the first two of these responses: flight or fight….

Neither of these alternatives has anything to do with what Jesus is proposing. It is important that we be utterly clear about this point before going on: Jesus abhors both passivity and violence as responses to evil. His is a third alternative not even touched by these options. The Greek word “Anistenai” cannot be construed to mean submission.

Jesus clarifies his meaning by three examples. “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Why the right cheek? Try it. A blow by the right fist in the right-handed world would land on the left cheek of the opponent. To strike the right cheek with the fist would require using the left hand, but in that society the left hand was used only for unclean tasks. Even to gesture with the left hand at Qumran carried the penalty of exclusion and ten days penance (The Dead Sea Scrolls, 1QS 7) The only way one could strike the right cheek with the right hand would be with the back of the right hand. What we are dealing with his unmistakably an insult, not a fistfight. The intention is not to injure but to humiliate, to put someone in his or her “place”. One normally did not strike a peer thus, and if one did, the fine was exorbitant…. Masters backhanded slaves; husbands backhanded wives; parents backhanded children; men backhanded women; Romans backhanded Jews. The only normal response would be cowering in submission.

It is important to ask who Jesus’ audience is. In every case, Jesus’ listeners are not those who strike, initiate lawsuits, or imposed forced labor, but their victims….

Why then does he counsel these already humiliated people to turn the other cheek? Because this action robs the oppressor of the power to humiliate. The person who turns the other cheek is saying, in effect, “Try again. Your first blow failed to achieve its intended effect. I deny you the power to humiliate me. I am a human being just like you. Your status does not alter that fact. You cannot demean me.”…

The second example Jesus gives is set in a court of law. Someone is being sued for his outer garment… Only the poorest of the poor would have nothing but an outer garment to give as collateral for a loan. Jewish las strictly required its return every evening at sunset, for that is all the poor had in which to sleep…the poor debtor has sunk even deeper into poverty, the debt cannot be repaid, and his creditor has hauled him into court to try to seize his property by legal means….

Why then does Jesus counsel them to give over their inner garment as well? This would mean stripping off all their clothing and marching out of court stark naked! Put yourself in the debtor’s place and imagine the chuckles this saying must have evoked. There stands the creditor, beet-red with embarrassment, your outer garment in one hand, your underwear in the other. You have suddenly turned the tables on him….

Nakedness was taboo in Judaism, and shame fell on one causing the nakedness.

Jesus’ third example, the one about going the second mile, is drawn from the very enlightened practice of limiting the amount of forced labor that Roman soldiers could levy on subject peoples.

To this proud but subjugated people Jesus does not counsel revolt. One does not “befriend” the soldier, draw him aside, and drive a knife into his ribs. Jesus was keenly aware of the futility of armed revolt against Roman imperial might and he minced no words about it., though it must have cost him support from the revolutionary factions.

But why walk the second mile? Is this not a rebound to the opposite extreme: aiding and abetting the enemy? Not at all. The question here, as in the two previous instances, is how the oppressed can recover the initiative, how they can assert their human dignity in a situation that cannot for the time being be changed. The rules are Caesar’s, about how one responds to the rules- that is God’s, and Caesar has no power over that.

Imagine then the soldier’s surprise when, at the next mile marker, he reluctantly reaches to assume his pack, and now you do it cheerfully and will not stop! Is this a provocation? Are you insulting his strength? Being kind? Trying to get him disciplined for seeming to make you go farther than you should? Are you planning to file a complaint? Create trouble?

From a situation of servile impressments, you have once more seized the initiative. You have taken back the power of choice…

Jesus’ Third Way:

  • Seize the moral initiative
  • Find a creative alternative to violence
  • Assert your own humanity and dignity as a person
  • Meet force with ridicule or humor
  • Break the cycle of humiliation
  • Refuse to submit to or accept the inferior position
  • Expose the injustice of the system
  • Take control of the power dynamic
  • Shame the oppressor into repentance
  • Stand your ground
  • Force the Powers to make decisions for which they are not prepared
  • Recognize your own power
  • Be willing to suffer rather than to retaliate
  • Cause the oppressor to see you in a new light
  • Deprive the oppressor of a situation where a show of force is effective
  • Be willing to undergo the penalty of breaking unjust laws
  • Die to fear of the old order and its rules

Quoted from “Christian Peace and Nonviolence” by Michael Long. Chapter 4. “Walter Wink”

Would Jesus want us to join a military that causes the very poverty, injustice and enslavement that he is overcoming? Does Jesus want us to join the government and become the oppressor?

Maybe we Americans don’t like the teaching of Jesus because we are the wealthy in the world, enslaving others with our military? What if we are the goats Jesus discusses in Matthew 25?

What if the whore of Babylon in Revelation 17 is any superpower who accumulates great wealth and military power through enslaving the poor and calling it self-defense and national interest?

Perhaps to be a pacifist who follows the teaching of Jesus is far more dangerous than depending on the government for our safety and security?

Perhaps Jesus would only want us to be involved in government if we refuse to do anything that is contrary to his teaching?

Perhaps if St. Ambrose had seen the Sermon on the Mount as a call to fight against the injustice of the Roman government, he would have used these principals to preach the gospel and bring justice to the pagans? Perhaps he would have refused to endorse the Roman Military?

Linda Lee/Lady Quixote shared this website: The Miracle of 9/11 World Trade Center Bible

Christian Peace and Nonviolence, A Documentary History, by Michael Long.

Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way by Walter Wink

“America’s War for the Greater Middle East.” By Retired Army Colonel Andrew J. Bacevich

Copyright © 2020 by Jon Kauffman. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted when used to further the Kingdom of God. Permission is gladly given to re-blog this post.

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OUR FRIEND TALKS PACIFISM

By Jon Kauffman

Today I listened to two YouTube videos about pacifism. I found the gentleman’s arguments less than persuasive. I will call him our friend.

As I listened, many questions came to mind as well as many facts which to me seem to contradict his position.

See also QUESTIONS FOR OUR FRIEND.

Peace Dove

St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, and C.S. Lewis wrote that Christian participation in violence is justifiable. They are all smarter than me and our friend has authored many books and also appears to be smarter than me.

I will disagree with all of them anyway. I have found that the more I try to put these issues in perspective to the teachings of Jesus, the greater my disagreement becomes.

POINTS OF THE VIDEOS

Our friend made several points while discussing pacifism. Here are his points about pacifism and the military as I think I heard them. I summarized his salient points in my own words.

  1. Romans 13 demonstrates that Jesus would approve of the state using violence and would approve of the Christian killing enemies for the state.
  2. Matthew 8 demonstrates that Jesus approves of Christians joining the United States Marines and killing enemies of the United States Government.
  3. The sermon on the mount pertains only to our private lives or perhaps that of interactions between friends and neighbors of a village. The sermon on the mount does not pertain to our interactions with the military or the government of our empire whether it be Rome or the United States.
  4. If someone is chasing a woman with a knife, we must do something about it. We must not be involved in feuds.
  5. It is acceptable for a Christian to join the military and kill the enemy if the state is fighting a just war.
  6. A Christian can join the US military and easily follow any commands given them to kill their enemies, because the US only fights just wars because the President and congress are doing their jobs. However we cannot do something unjust such as kill civilians or participate in sexual immorality.

ADDRESSING THE ABOVE STATEMENTS.

POINT ONE:

Romans 13 demonstrates that Jesus would approve of the state using violence and would approve of the Christian killing enemies for the state.

Does Romans 13 allow Christians to use violence? Romans was written in 57 or 58 AD. Paul was in prison. Nero, one of the bloodiest emperors of Rome and a great persecutor of Christians was emperor of Rome at the time. Jews considered Rome a deadly enemy. When I read Romans 13, I see no evidence that Paul thought it would be acceptable for a Christian to be a member of the Roman military. Why would Paul approve of Christians joining a military that is killing Jews and Christians? That would be like an American pastor telling his congregation to join ISIS or Boko Haram.

From the time of Alexander the Great, Jews had been rebelling against Greece and in the 30’s BC with the Romans in power, Jews rebelled against the Roman Empire. When I read Romans 13, I see Paul telling the Christians that they should not join the Jews in rebellion against the Roman Empire.

2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. Romans 13:2. NIV

And Paul was correct. In 70 AD, as a result of the rebellion, a million Jews died at the hands of the Romans in Jerusalem. Most Christians avoided the slaughter because they fled to the mountains as Jesus commanded them in Matthew 24:16.

In Romans 13:1, Paul says Christians should be subject to the governing authorities. The governing authorities of Rome are the Christian’s enemy. This reminds me of Assyria capturing Israel or Babylon defeating Judah as God punished his people. God used Assyria and Babylon to bring about good. This does not mean that it would have been good for an Israelite or Jew to join the Assyrian or Babylonian Armies to fight Jews!

Romans 13 also brings to mind Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” NIV. Jesus would want everyone to follow him and live nonviolently. But evil men do evil things, including men in the military. God turns that evil to good just as he turned the evil of Assyria and Babylon to good. Just because God turns the works of evil men into good does not mean that we as Christians are to participate in that evil. Christians live in every country around the world and are members of the Kingdom of God. When we kill Christians in foreign lands, we are killing our brothers and sisters. We are fighting against our own true King.

The Jewish Christians of Rome to whom Paul was writing this letter, certainly would not have seen the Roman army as instruments of God nor would they have seen them as agents that God uses to work for the good of those who love God.

Verse 8 says we must love our neighbor as ourselves. Even if that neighbor is a member of the evil Roman military.

When Nero drug Christians off to be burned as lights for the games the Christians did not die because they ran out of swords. They died because Jesus asked them to Love their enemy and turn the other cheek.

Nero hated God and Christian and yet God made Nero his servant.

4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Romans 13:4. NIV

If we read Romans 13 in context of history and the teaching of Jesus, we actually find that Paul is saying we need to lay down our lives out of love for our enemies. We must follow the example of Jesus dying on the cross.

POINT TWO:

Matthew 8 demonstrates that Jesus approves of Christians joining the United States Marines and killing enemies of the United States Government.

Our friend tells us that in Matthew 8 when Jesus healed the centurion’s servant and marveled at his faith, Jesus was telling us that it is a noble career to be a Marine in the United States Marine Corp.

Let’s think about this logically. As I said above Rome and Roman soldiers were enemies of the Jews. Rebellious Jews on crosses were common sight at the time of Jesus. The centurion and his troops had probably helped put a few of these people on the cross. Simon the zealot and Simon Peter wanted Jesus to defeat Rome militarily. Jesus was not yet ready to preach to the gentiles.

When Jesus was healing the centurion’s servant, he was demonstrating that he loved his own enemies. Jesus was showing us how we should love our enemies. Jesus loved his enemy even before everything was in place for him to love his enemies.

I find it difficult to understand how Jesus showing love for an enemy can be construed as support for joining the Marines and killing enemies of US politicians and the state, including Christians living in foreign lands.

POINT THREE

The sermon on the mount pertains only to our private lives or perhaps that of interactions between friends and neighbors of a village. The sermon on the mount does not pertain to our interactions with the military or the government of our empire whether it be Rome or the United States.

I am not sure how our friend can read the Sermon on the Mount and find it applies only to private matters?

In the sermon, Jesus speaks a great deal about the Kingdom of God. It is clear that we are to pray for that Kingdom and do the will of God. Our final allegiance must be to the Kingdom of God and not some temporal short-lived Empire such as Rome or the United States. Citizens of the Kingdom of God live in every country.

Matthew 5:38-48 clearly references the military. Roman soldiers had the legal right to ask anyone to carry their bag for a mile. Jesus says to carry the bag of the enemy soldier for 2 miles. Clearly if you are helping out your enemy, it is difficult to kill him. Maybe your enemy will be so grateful that he will become your friend. Perhaps because of your witness he will become a follower of Jesus.

Verse 44 says to love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you. Who persecuted the Christians? The entity who persecuted the Christians and the Jews the most in the first 3 centuries of the church was the Roman empire. Jews would have considered other Jews their neighbors and would have quickly settled differences to deal with their enemy the Roman Empire.

This is another case where our friend has not taken into account the history and cultural context in which this story occurred.

POINT FOUR

If someone is chasing a woman with a knife, we must do something about it. We must not be involved in feuds.

What about protecting a woman? Our friend seems to have the mistaken impression that the use of violence is the only option when people are committing unjust and evil acts.

One day I was walking home from work. About ½ a block away I noticed a man beating a much weaker man. I began staring at them and walking more quickly straight towards them. The man beating the other turned and quickly walked away.

I could see that the man was far quicker and a better fighter than I could be. Yet he went away. Sometimes men doing evil are cowards.

If we are not afraid to be hurt or die, usually many other opportunities present themselves to nonviolently intervene in violent situations.

Jesus died to save us and did not promise safety for us or our families if we follow him. In fact, he said we are to take up our cross and follow him. Following Jesus might mean we tackle a man with a deadly weapon and using no deadly violence risk our own lives to protect a woman. We might be successful, but we might not be successful. Sometimes the man who shoots first and asks questions later is successful for the short run. Sometimes violence escalates into more violence and failure in the future.

If we assume the only way to protect this woman is to kill the attacking man, we may risk starting a family feud. Then each side of feud will feel justified in killing people they are feuding with.

Perhaps we don’t know the whole story. Maybe the woman is a murderer. Perhaps the man is chasing with a knife the murderer of his wife and 3 small children. When we shoot him, perhaps we are cutting his name off the face of the earth forever.

I agree with our friend that we must not be involved in feuds, but I think he is contradictory because the very action he is proposing could lead to a feud. This is also the type of behavior that causes feuds leading to war between countries.

If we use violence, we continue the cycle of violence. Jesus broke the cycle of violence when he died. The only way wars and feuds can end is if Christians nonviolently break the cycle of violence.

If we use violence we die by violence. If we live by the sword we die by the sword.

Jesus said there is no greater love than to lay down our lives for our friends. By friends he meant brothers and sisters in Christ.

POINT FIVE

It is acceptable for a Christian to join the military and kill the enemy if the state is fighting a just war.

Our friend is discussing Romans 13 again. As I mention in Point One, our friend has taken Romans 13 out of context.

POINT SIX

A Christian can join the US military and easily follow any commands given them to kill their enemies, because the US only fights just wars because the President and congress are doing their jobs. However we cannot do something unjust such as kill civilians or participate in sexual immorality.

Our friend’s sixth point has so many errors I hardly know where to begin. Many in government are seeking power and money. Their goal is re-election and they are willing to make oil companies and weapon manufacturers happy in order to achieve this goal.

War is a Racket, by General Smedley D. Butler

Many of those in power have no interest in following the teachings of Jesus or even ensuring that the United States holds to just war principals. I am sure a majority of politicians do a good job holding to their own principals and are very good at keeping their donors happy.

Andrew Jackson knew in advance of plans to drive out the Indians from their homes to steal their land. He bought up the rights to many acres of land before the wars and sold for exorbitant prices to settlers after the wars.

Now we have the BIA (Bossing Indians Around) controlling the interests of native Americans for the United States Government. The New Trail of Tears, How Washington is Destroying American Indians, Encounter Books, 2016. By Naomi Schaefer Riley.

The US government has used the military to fight the Banana Wars to protect American Banana companies and keep low-paid banana workers in line.

The United States used drones to kill “terrorists” in Pakistan from 2004 to 2018. Pakistan is considered our friend. Often these drone bombings did not kill anyone who was a military threat to the US, but sometimes the bombs slaughtered innocent men, women, and children.

Who is the terrorist here? How does the US have the right to kill people without trial or without properly identifying who they are? Would Jesus approve? I would argue that the US President and Congress willingly fight illegal and unjust wars.

The Lawfulness Of Us Drone Strikes In Pakistan: An International Perspective By Robert Donaldson

And What About Hitler?

In 1918 after the peace treaty to end World War I, Congress refused to allow the United States to sell wheat to starving Germany. Nearly a million Germans died of starvation, leading to the election of Hitler and World War II. Obviously Congress doesn’t always do the right thing.

They did not know it then, but if in 1918 Congress had followed Just War principals they could have prevented World War II. If they had followed the teachings of Jesus to feed the hungry, they could have prevented the death of 800,000 plus Germans and prevented World War II.

If a person believes that the United States follows Just War principals and that Christians can join the military because the Congress and President are doing their jobs to ensure Just War, they have not been reading their American History.

I could give many, many more examples.

If we use the Just War definition of Thomas Aquinas or the Catholic Catechism to define just war, I think it can be easily argued that the United States has never fought a just war.

And not only in the United States has the church caused war by refusing to follow the teaching of Jesus.

Christian Tutsis fought Christian Hutus and 800,000 were slaughtered in Rwanda. What if the church had taught them the reconciliation and the nonviolence of Jesus instead of Just War theology?

If you think some acts of killing are just and others are not, I’m not sure how you know the difference in the foxhole? Or what if that civilian walking towards you might have a bomb tied to her chest? Would Jesus approve of you killing her?

WHO HAS THE AUTHORITY TO LEAD US?

I would argue that if we claim to be Christians, our final authority should be Jesus Christ.  Jesus wants us to voluntarily follow his teaching.

Some argue that St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, Thomas Aquinas, the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, Martin Luther, C.S. Lewis and other theologians and writers can change the teaching of Jesus to meet the needs of our culture. These people would argue for a Just War theology.

Others feel that just war theology is too restrictive and that a person’s country can fight whenever the countries leadership feels it is necessary. It is possible that these Christians may say we must obey to the leaders of our country to the point of killing our brothers and sisters in Christ even if our leaders are not Christian and do not follow a just war politics or the follow the teachings of Jesus.

If anyone claims that someone other than Jesus has the final authority as a guide for Christian living, I must agree to disagree.

CAN A MAN OF VIOLENCE BE SAVED?

If a Christian is a man of violence, does that mean he cannot be saved? Certainly he can be saved. King David was a very violent man. He killed many enemies. Before King Saul, Israel depended on God for defense and did not possess great military knowledge or a standing army.

King David hired mercenaries for foreign lands to defeat his enemies and train his troops. It was easy for David to kill. He killed Bathsheba’s husband. But David and Israel suffered greatly because of the consequences of David’s violence. David could not build the temple. Absalom was killed.

And yet David was called a man after God’s own heart.


VIOLENCE OF THE NEW TESTAMENT

When I read the New Testament, I find zero statements positively allowing military service by a Christian. I find many statements suggesting we must love our enemies. When I read writings of the early Christians for the first 300 years, I find zero quotes demonstrating that Christian leaders approved of violence. I find many quotes where Christians speak against violence and service in the military.

POSITION OF THE EARLY CHURCH ON VIOLENCE

Even after Constantine came to power in 306 AD the 300 Bishops in the Council of Nicaea (325 AD) called Christians to leave the military and this was the official view of the Roman church at that time.

“Those who endured violence and were seen to have resisted, but who afterwards yielded to wickedness, and returned to the army, shall be excommunicated for ten years.” 
Excerpt from Cannon 12 of the Council of Nicaea.

I probably have not convinced our friend. I hope he has time to address my questions and correct my misunderstandings of his position. One reason for writing this blog is so that I can better understand the position of Christians who approve of Christian participation in violence.

Copyright © 2020 by Jon Kauffman. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted when used to further the Kingdom of God. Permission is gladly given to re-blog this post.

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