Revisiting the Christian and State Relationship.

Archive for the ‘patriotism’ Category

Regarding ‘Step Up for Your Country’–Letter from father to son

Dear son,
I read the article that you forwarded to me, “Step Up For Your country,” by General McChrystal. I am pleased that you are experiencing a desire to serve. I want to offer you a different perspective. As a Christian person, how do you pursue this desire to serve? Please listen. See what you think.

I noticed that McChrystal’s article is littered with numerous keywords (“service,” 30 times, “responsibility” 13, “obligation,” 4, relentless “we,” language–more than 30 times throughout). Sacrifice appears repeatedly, too. It sounds noble!

But why serve the nation-state? Do you really have responsibility and obligation to serve it? Is the nation-state you and your neighbors, friends, and relatives? And, from a Christian standpoint, is this biblical?

Let’s start by getting one thing clear: you are to serve God. He is your King. You have chosen fealty to Him. Your choice was voluntary. The second thing, is that you cannot serve two masters without corrupting your character. It just does not work. You may be able to serve one master with undivided loyalty and then interact thoughtfully with other agents, but you cannot successfully serve two masters.

Thirdly, it needs to be remembered that the nation-state is not God’s agent. It is not neutral toward God. It stands in direct opposition to Him.

When, in the time of Jesus and the apostles they were persecuted by the nation-state and then released, the prayer went up after:

“Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’ for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel” (Acts 4:24-27).

This arrangement of “church and state” was foretold in Psalm two. Human rulers set themselves up as kings and oppose their Maker. God says He will destroy them and their kingdoms–completely.

”As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. . . And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever, just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold” (Daniel 2:34, 35, 44, 45a).

If These kings/kingdoms/nation-states are actually in rebellion against God, and willfully resist Him, and if He foretells His destruction of them so that no trace of them will remain, and so that the place they occupied is filled with a kingdom encompassing the whole earth–then it is clear that these kingdoms do not represent God. They actually represent rebellion against Him.

But Jesus said to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. It sounds like there is a space there for Caesar, that something dos, in fact, belong to Caesar. And yet, biblically, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. He made them and all that is in them (Exodus 20:11). He is the rightful owner of all creation (Psalm 50:11). We can give to Him only that which is already His own, which He has permitted us to borrow (“for all things come from you, and of your own have we given you,” 1 Chronicles 29:14).

Caesar’s kingdom is temporary, and God has scheduled it for destruction. In the time of Ceasar, coins bore the image of the emperor’s likeness; the money was truly considered to be his money. Jesus is only saying, “Go ahead; give him back what is his.”

But, back to the question about the nations: they stand in opposition to God. This is true all the way back. In 1 Samuel 8-12, God warns the Hebrews pointedly how choosing a human king comes with all manor of negatives. He even declares that in doing so, they have rejected Him (God) from being king over them. Very strong stuff, eh? And the testimony of Scripture stays on the same line all the way through the Bible. Looking through God’s Word, passage by passage, text by text, the story is clear: God has nothing good to say about human government. The Bible as a whole is decidedly anti-state.

That said, there is one passage consistently quoted by those who make the Bible justify the nation-state: Romans 13:1-7. Much is claimed for this passage, and doubtless, those who advocate “national service,” if they are Christians, would point to this text for justification of their program. What can we say about it?

First, we look at the whole testimony of Scripture, and as already pointed out, it is recognizably anti-state. Thus, one or two verses that don’t seem to fit, we should anticipate, read with care and researched with caution, should find a harmony with everything else in the Bible.

Second, these seven verses do not stand alone; they are part of a longer section, stretching from 12:1 to 13:14. The thrust of the larger message of these two chapters is, do not be conformed to the world, but be changed and exhibit Christian behavior. The believer is to serve God (Romans 12:11). He is to abhor that which is evil wherever it is found, and endorse the good wherever it is found. More than endorsing good, he is to overcome evil.

The message of 13:1-7 is far from an endorsement of all that a nation-state does, or call to serve it, or to make oneself its agent. We are to serve God first. As far as the nation-state goes, we are to be in subjection to it as far as we can do so ethically. This does not mean unqualified cooperation.

Paul argues that God has ordered the world this way. He has permitted these entities to exist, just as He permits thieves, sexual immorality, and drug lords to exist. But what is permitted is not endorsed, for He has made clear His law: no killing, no stealing, no adultery are permissable. But the nation-state in our day endorses all of these, encouraging poor health practices, licensing sexual immorality (endorsing immoral “marriages” of those who “divorce” their spouse without biblical grounds and who “remarry” (commiting adultery, violating the covenant with the original wife), and taking means and imposing fees by force.

The believer is not called to resist the order that God has permitted, nor is he instructed to cooperate with it. He is to be subject to it. This falls far short of unequivicol endorsement. The rulers are appointed by God to do His will, through them he sometimes takes down or raises up other nation-states. Particularly, they serve as instruments of wrath against those whom God chooses to judge.

But, very often, their behavior goes too far. Was it really God’s will for the nation of Israel to kill Isaiah the prophet? And for Rome to kill Jesus and Paul also–all of whom functioned in direct service to God? The leaders of a nation often bring collateral benefit to the believer, even if it is mostly incidental and unintended on their part.

We are subject to them because it is not God’s purpose for us that we invest our energies in attacking them. He sets up and removes kings, and vengeance is His, not ours. He will deal with them in His time and His way. Our part is to pray for divine intervention so that we may live quiet and peaceful, non-violent lives with as little interaction with the national machinery as possible. Our part is to do good quietly and stay out of their way. We should give Caesar the respect that he requires, but not to the point of crossing over into serving him. We have exacly one Master, God. The human nation is godless and temporary.

Love does no wrong to others. It serves neither self, nor Caesar. We are called to cast off the works of darkness and to live upright lives, and to seek out no excuses for satisfying our baser inclinations.

How odd it would be for Paul to begin his argument by asking us not to conform to the world (and by extension, the nations of the present order), and yet, to turn around and suddenly call us to conform to them! On the contrary, John the Baptist told soldiers to refuse to commit acts of violence, and God time and again breaks His followers out of prisons and intended executions–against the express wishes of the authorities, religious and national.

But what about these assertions that we have responsibilities, obligations, owe service and even sacrifice to the nation? It is always interesting to go back, and look again at the Ten Commandments and see which things God says actually are transcendant. What do we find there?

As far as obligation and responsibility goes, the story looks like this.

First Commandment: Our primary obligation is to God; all other obligations are secondary.
Second Commandment: We must worship God and avoid the worship of all idols and secondary commitments.
Third Commandment: God says that we may not empty the worship of God of meaning.
Fourth Commandment: God has made a day of worship for us to spend with Him; we must keep it. We must not cause others to work on this day.
Fifth commandment: God says that we have an obligation to our immediate family.
Sixth Commandment: God says that we have a commitment to our fellow men not to kill them.
Seventh Commandment: God says that we have a definite commitment to our spouse and to other married couples.
Eighth Commandment: God says that we have an obligation to respect the property rights of others.
Ninth Commandment: God says that we have an obligation to deal with other people truthfully and to guard their reputations.
Tenth Commandment: God says that we are not to desire the spouses or possessions of others.

And so, a look at the Ten Commandments reveals three circles of commitments:
(1) To God first.
(2) To our spouse and other couples, and to our immediate familiy.
(3) To our fellow man, in not killing him, telling untruths about him, stealing from him, or causing him to work on Sabbath.

Commitment to national units is nowhere to be found: not in the Ten Commandments; not in the teachings of Jesus; not in the teachings of Paul, or anywhere else in the New Testament.

Very simply, these are good values (responsibility, fulfilling true obligations, service). But anyone asking that you engage in them on behalf of their favorite nation-state, or any nation-state, is pressing upon you obligations not found in the Word of God.

Consider my words, my son, and avoid lying Generals.
Your Father.

Advertisements

Drop weapons

Of course, no one would actually do this. Of course, no soldier or CO would encourage this. Of course…

The American Warmonger’s Bible

by Laurence M. Vance

Two tools of government propaganda used to get young men to kill, maim, and destroy for the state are nationalism and religion. Put both together and you have a deadly combination.

Imperial Christians who equate patriotism with militarism and nationalism now have a book to guide them: The American Patriot’s Bible.

The publisher of this new Bible is Thomas Nelson Publishers. Now, this publisher has recently published some excellent books (e.g., the works of Judge Napolitano), but The American Patriot’s Bible is certainly not one of them.

The general editor of The American Patriot’s Bible is Richard G. Lee, founding pastor of First Redeemer Church in Atlanta and frequent speaker at conferences and on television. Dr. Lee is the author of twelve books, a trustee of Liberty University, and a board member of the National Religious Broadcasters. He was named “Father of the Year” by the Southeastern Father’s Day Council and received the Ronald Reagan Leadership Award for 2007. Lee hosted a “Restoring America” conference in 2009 with assorted Republican Party apologists.

The American Patriot’s Bible is not a new translation of the Bible. It uses the New King James Version that was published by Thomas Nelson in 1982, but “joining with the sacred text are stories of American heroes, quotations from many of America’s greatest thinkers, and beautiful illustrations that present the rich heritage and tremendous future of our nation.” This is done via special introductions to each book of the Bible, twelve full-color, four-page sections inserted randomly throughout the Bible, and 254 brief articles on certain virtues and various patriotic and historical themes that appear near specific Bible verses in boxes within the text, on half pages, and sometimes on full pages. None of the articles actually comment on the biblical text. Certain words in the text are merely used as a springboard to launch into the subject of the article, which usually has nationalistic, militaristic, or political overtones. Other features of The American Patriot’s Bible include an introduction, a subject index to the articles, a concordance to the Bible, maps, a list of the U.S. presidents, and a list of the fifty states with their dates of admission to the Union.

Before I even turned to the first book in the Bible, I realized that The American Patriot’s Bible had a militaristic and nationalistic perspective that I was going to choke on. In addition to the usual pages in the front of some Bibles that are used to record births, deaths, and other family records, The American Patriot’s Bible has a page to record “Military and Public Service.” There is also a four-page section on “The Seven Principles of the Judeo-Christian Ethic.” Now, there is certainly nothing wrong with following Judeo-Christian ethics, but under principle one, “The Dignity of Human Life,” the attempt is made to justify U.S. military interventions around the world:

In the Declaration of Independence our nation’s Founding Fathers wrote that everyone has “unalienable rights,” and that among these rights are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We Americans not only believe this for our land, but also we send our brave military men and women around the world to defend the rights of those who are threatened.

Principle four, “The Right to a God-Centered Education,” is also problematic because it accepts the existence of a government school system as legitimate. Any parent can give a child a God-centered education, either at home or at a Christian school. The idea that we should expect the public schools to give children a God-centered education is ludicrous. Government schools don’t need to be “taken back” by Christians, they need to be abandoned.

Another disturbing sign is the prominent place given in The American Patriot’s Bible to Abraham Lincoln – a man who is neither a role model for a Christian nor an example of a president who upheld the Constitution. In addition to the image of the Lincoln Memorial appearing on pages I–2, I–36, and on the front of the dust jacket; Lincoln’s picture appears on pages vi, 488, 832, 1058, 1401, 1456, I–30, and I–32 (twice). Lincoln appears in a montage that includes his Lincoln Memorial statue on pages 236, 266, 296, 302, 339, 371, 407, 442, 475, 516, 531, and 550; Lincoln appears in a montage that includes Mount Rushmore on pages 561, 600, 704, 743, 756, and the rear flap of the dust jacket; Lincoln is quoted on pages I–2, I–32, I–36, 302, 488, 718, 823, 832, 527, 528, 1037, 1058, and 1328; Lincoln is mentioned on pages 78, 808, 1035, 1099, 1114, 1448, 1456, and I–37; Lincoln is discussed on pages I–30, 518, and 1401.

Like most study Bibles, each biblical book in The American Patriot’s Bible is preceded by a brief one-page introduction. But there are two things that are different about these introductions.

First of all, at the top of the page of the introduction and the first page of the biblical book there is a montage that includes images of soldiers and/or naval ships, military aircraft, flags, national monuments, or national symbols. On the introduction page to each of the New Testament Gospels there is an image of soldiers raising a flag underneath the banner of the national motto “In God We Trust.” All of the other books in the New Testament open with a montage containing the Statue of Liberty on the left with troops marching on the right.

The second thing that is disturbing about the book introductions is their content. Each introduction contains a paragraph that tries to relate the theme of the biblical book to some patriotic or nationalistic theme or an event in American history. For an example in the Old Testament, we can turn to the book of Nehemiah. The theme of the book is said to be “godly leadership.” But who is put forth as an example of a godly leader like Nehemiah? It is the wretched Franklin Roosevelt. In the introduction to 2 Thessalonians in the New Testament, we read about how the Apostle Paul “always moved quickly to deal with heresy before it could damage the churches.” We are told that he used the authority of his apostleship and did not seek anyone’s permission. This is applied to George W. Bush saying that “America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our country.” Then we are told that after the 9/11 attacks Bush “immediately announced a Global War on Terrorism, which commenced with the invasion of Afghanistan and the overthrow of the Taliban regime and Al-Quada.” It is nothing short of sacrilege to mention George WMD Bush in the same paragraph with the Apostle Paul.

The subjects of the twelve four-page color sections that appear throughout The American Patriot’s Bible are: The Bible and American Presidents, Christianity in Colonial America, Faith of the Founders, The American Revolution, The Great Awakening, The Bible and American Education, Christianity and the American Frontier, The Civil War, Monuments to American Patriotism, World War II, Christianity and Equal Rights, The Bible and Famous Americans.

In the section titled “The Bible and American Presidents” we are given quotes about the Bible from eleven presidents. This is all well and good, but no one should think for a minute that these eleven men put into practice the precepts of the book they spoke so highly of. In “Faith and the Founders” we are told that 93 percent of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention “were members of Christian churches.” If this is true then the fact that the Constitution never mentions the Lord Jesus Christ other than a reference to “the year of our Lord” is even more disturbing. The section on World War II is especially disheartening with its picture of the loathsome FDR, its claim that Japan, Italy, and Germany wanted to rule the world, and its simplistic explanation of the coming of the war. The picture of a smiling President Obama in the section titled “Christianity and Equal Rights” is also disturbing. What is a man doing pictured in a Bible who was the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate, who has spent his life in the service of racial preference, who has had the most radical of associations, who practices an aberrant Christianity, who orders and jokes about Predator drone attacks, and who is an economic corporatist that believes in the redistribution of wealth?

The third major feature of The American Patriot’s Bible is its 254 articles on certain virtues and various patriotic and historical themes. The articles are a mixed bag of virtues, principles, patriotism, nationalism, and militarism, with a heavy emphasis on U.S. presidents.

The small articles in boxes near specific biblical verses contain quotes from famous people about God, the Bible, religion in society, or some virtue, tell us where in the Bible a particular president placed his hand when he took the presidential oath of office, and reference certain events and documents in American history. Seeing the first one, which appears on page 44, made me nauseous – it is a quote on freedom from the evil warmonger and torture master Dick Cheney. Even worse is the sight of a quote from Colin Powell on U.S. foreign military interventions that goes with John 3:16. It is implied to the reader that just as “God so loved the world that he gave” so the United States sends its “fine men and women into great peril to fight for freedom beyond our borders,” asking nothing in return but enough land to bury our dead soldiers.

When these articles take up a page or half a page, it is more of the same, but with longer quotes and the addition of images. Presidential warmongers are prominently featured: FDR on page 217, George W. Bush on page 292, Woodrow Wilson on page 586, Abraham Lincoln on page 1058, and Theodore Roosevelt on page 1071. This is fitting since the focus of the articles is often times related to war. This time, however, it wasn’t until the second one that I became nauseous. Appearing on page 6, it is the story behind and words of the blasphemous “patriotic” song The Battle Hymn of the Republic. The identification of the slave-owning George Washington as the “American Moses” (p. 64) is ludicrous as is the quote from the denier of Christ’s deity and miracles, Thomas Jefferson, on the moral precepts of Jesus (p. 1096).

The last thing I want to read about in the notes of a Bible is something about a U.S. president. Although some of the historical information in The American Patriot’s Bible is interesting and informative, it belongs in a separate book, not in the word of God. And the American history that is presented is highly selective.

Gregory Boyd, the author of the highly-recommended book The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church (Zondervan, 2006), has written several times about The American Patriot’s Bible. Because the conclusions he has reached are also my own, I will simply list some of them here:

* It unashamedly glorifies nationalistic violence
* Selective retelling of American history
* Overt celebration of America’s violent victories over our national enemies
* The text of the Bible is used merely as an excuse to further the patriotic agenda of the commentators
* The glory of nationalistic violence permeates this Bible
* The commentators attempt to give their idealized version of American history divine authority by weaving it into the biblical narrative
* The biblical text has been reduced to nothing more than an artificial pretext to further a particular nationalistic and political agenda
* Saturated with this nationalistic, “fight-for-God-and-country,” mindset
* A very high percentage of the commentaries sprinkled throughout this Bible exalt American wars and their heroes
* Offers no commentary on any passages related to our instruction to love and do good to our enemies
* A version of the Bible whose sole purpose is to reinforce the nationalism and celebrate the military victories of a particular country
* Virtually incarnates the nationalistic idolatry that has afflicted the Church for centuries
* It excludes from consideration almost every aspect of American history that could blemish the image of America or its heroes
* Especially in the Old Testament, an explicit parallel is drawn between Israel and America
* This intense glorification of national violence constitutes a central theme of this ill-conceived Bible

You can read Boyd’s blog posts about The American Patriot’s Bible here and here and his review here.

“If you love America and the Scriptures, you will treasure this Bible,” says the introduction to The American Patriot’s Bible. I think it would be more accurate to say that if you love American exceptionalism, American nationalism, American imperialism, and American militarism, you will treasure this Bible. Many Christians who love America and the Scriptures know better than to equate patriotism with any of these things.

July 15, 2010

Laurence M. Vance [send him mail] writes from Pensacola, FL. He is the author of Christianity and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State and The Revolution that Wasn’t. His newest book is Rethinking the Good War. Visit his website.

Copyright © 2010 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.

Tag Cloud