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In this guest post LCC welcomes Matthew Gilliland, libertarian writer and speaker. He holds a J.D. from North Carolina Central University School of Law.
Jesus presents a considerable challenge to every believer in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5:
29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matt. 5:29-30, NRSV)
On its face, Jesus seems to be suggesting self-mutilation, but that is easily dismissed. Hands and eyes do not choose. They have no agency. They cannot cause you to stumble. Rather, these evils arise from the depths of the human soul, which the Bible calls the heart (Matt. 15:19). Thankfully, through grace we are saved from the duty of cutting out our hearts; Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection to new life has atoned for our sin, so instead we may repent and turn away from our sin and be forgiven. We are not permanently broken, and can be fixed through His grace and favor.
This realization, however, leads us to implications for this passage that can potentially be far more uncomfortable for our daily lives. We are not broken systems. Some systems, however, are broken. Some systems cannot be redeemed – their evil is inherent to them and cannot be excised.
As an example, take prostitution. The job requires fornication, which is sinful. One cannot go about the task of prostitution in a way that is consistent with Christianity, and so if a prostitute is or becomes a Christian, the Biblical prescription would be for him or her to tear that out of their life and throw it away. This is fairly uncontroversial.
But what of the soldier? Most Christians think of the military as an honorable job, and yet there has been no war in history in which a side did not do things that were both sanctioned or sinful. The funding mechanism for war, even in cases of defense against aggressors, is theft. “Collateral damage” is commonplace, and the Christian Right has been quick to justify killing – at least the killing of God’s Own U.S. Military – broadly and with little exception.
The clear conclusion is that this is a broken system. There is no cleansing available to something that involves sin as part of its design. There is no reform available to such institutions. Repentance requires a turning away from the sinful behavior, and in an institution that is built on the sin, that is not possible. This is the sense in which outside influences can “cause” one to stumble. One is still responsible for the choice of engaging with those influences, and turning away from them means cutting them out of one’s life. If your job necessarily causes you to stumble – even a high-paying, comfortable job, or a job others respect you for and think is honorable – tear it away from you.
This also applies to the State as a whole. As Nietzsche said, “The state lies in all the tongues of good and evil; and whatever it says it lies; and whatever it has it has stolen. Everything in it is false; it bites with stolen teeth, and bites often. It is false down to its bowels.” Christians can only serve one master, and in a choice between the State and Christ, one hopes the decision should be easy.
Many early Christians seem to have taken this view. Laurence Vance, in an excellent discussion of The Early Christian Attitude Towards War by C. John Cadoux, notes that the Didascalia (a collection of instructions for church leaders) cautioned against accepting money for the church from executioners, some politicians, killers, and “soldiers who behave unrightously.” Cadoux also cites, among others, the early theologians Tertullian and Origen, who believed military service to be incompatible with Christianity.
If we zoom out for a moment to get some perspective, we can see that this viewpoint is a more consistent application of Scripture to a world marred by sin. All Christians know that murder and theft are wrong. Libertarian Christians simply understand that this also applies to what others excuse as “preventive war” or “progressive taxation.”
That can be a hard truth to swallow.
Take a look at your life. Is any job, habit, or hobby you engage in something that you cannot do without sinning? Are you able to go to the bar without drinking to excess? Can you serve God while fulfilling your contract with your boss? If the answer is no, then cut that thing away from you. It doesn’t matter if it is a “normal” thing, like having a few extra drinks, or even something admired and glorified by society, such as being a cop, Marine, or politician. Look at it. Can you do that without sin?
Here is where the rubber meets the road. As Christians, we are responsible for what we know to be right and wrong. When we receive revelation that something you once thought was right is actually sinful (and this happens to the best of us!), we will have to choose. Will we go with what is easy, normal, and traditional, or will we follow Christ?
This passage is part of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is preaching something radical; he is taking the commands of the Torah, and reading into it something beyond a mere adherence to rules. Turning one’s cheek, loving one’s neighbor, and returning blessing for insult are not natural behaviors for sinful people. They require a true change of heart and a firm commitment to cling to Christ even when it isn’t comfortable.
If we heed this admonition, then we may be mocked by the world. Where evil is normal, a righteous man is really, really weird. We could even be accused of evil ourselves — those who have stood for peace have often been targets of those promoting war. If that happens, remember Jesus’ promise earlier in the chapter: “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt. 5:11-12)
“The real glory is being knocked to your knees and then coming back. That’s real glory. That’s the essence of it.” – Vince Lombardi
Many of life’s lessons can be learned while playing football. My son’s youth football league, for example, enforces rules to manufacture more “competitive” games. When a team is behind by more than four touchdowns it automatically begins all its offensive possessions from its opponent’s 40 yard line. To ease matters, the clock is also run continuously to shorten the game. Finally, if a team wins by more than 43 points, its head coach is suspended for a game.
Supporters might argue that these rules teach sportsmanship. Such sportsmanship, however, is involuntary – it is made compulsory by directive. Knute Rockne, Notre Dame’s legendary head coach, once remarked, “One man practicing sportsmanship is better than a hundred men teaching it.” Players only learn sportsmanship and compassion when they choose to practice leniency against a defeated opponent. Read More→
Today, Christmas Eve 2014, marks the 100th anniversary of the Christmas during World War 1. On that remarkable day, soilders from all sides of the war – French, British, Scottish, and German soldiers – crossed no-man’s land and in the spirit of the Prince of Peace celebrated Christmas together. Yesterday I posted a brief review of the event and a book by Stanley Wintraub about the truce called Silent Night. Today I want to say a few additional words about the truce and what it should mean to all of us.
In the days leading up to Christmas in 1914, British General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien issued a firm instruction to the officers of all British army: “It is during this period that the greatest danger to the morale of troops exists. Experience of this and of every other war proves undoubtedly that troops in trenches in close proximity to the enemy slide very easily, if permitted to do so, into a “live and let live” theory of life… officers and men sink into a military lethargy from which it is difficult to arouse them when the moment for great sacrifices again arises…the attitude of our troops can be readily understood and to a certain extent commands sympathy… such an attitude is however most dangerous for it discourages initiative in commanders and destroys the offensive spirit in all ranks…the Corps Commander therefore directs Divisional Commanders to impress on subordinate commanders the absolute necessity of encouraging offensive spirit… friendly intercourse with the enemy, unofficial armistices, however tempting and amusing they may be, are absolutely prohibited.”
The General reveals something in his orders that is rather shocking: soldiers of one side do not tend to have any real grievance with the soldiers of the other side. Then why must they fight each other? Because the states they work for said so. They are ultimately used as pawns for power grabs rather than protectors of peace. As the saying goes, “War is just politics continued by other means.”
In August 1914, Europe entered World War 1 in a strange fervor. It was not initially considered a life-or-death struggle but almost like a big parade. Most of the soldiers thought of it as a game or contest, and that it would all be over quickly and they would even be home for Christmas. And to get them into the war spirit, every side launched huge propaganda campaigns to demonize the other side. No accusation was too low to be used.
Just a few months into the war, the protracted destiny of the war became clear to everyone on the front lines, and morale was desperate. They were ready to grasp at anything that could help them to feel human again.
Thus, when the spirit of Christmas suddenly rolled through the camps and prompted everyone to lay down their arms and remember that Jesus Christ was born to save, the soldiers began to reevaluate their priorities. What were they fighting for, really? Was the glory of their state really worth it? Many realized that it couldn’t be so. Although we know the ultimate result – the war resumed just as one might expect – the Christmas truce was a spark of humanity in a sea of unconscionable violence.
The incident truly reveals the deceitful nature of the state and the violence it perpetuates. In general, we have no need to start a quarrel with other nations. Wars occur not because every citizen of one nation has been wronged by every citizen of another nation, but because the state apparatus of one nation has decided it needs to wield its will against the state apparatus of the other nation. It takes the state propagandizing citizens to have them believe the enemy is actually every German, or Italian, or Mexican, or Iraqi, rather than the citizen’s own government that daily tyrannizes them.
I highly encourage you to read Silent Night, or to watch the great movie Joyeux Noel which dramatizes the Christmas truce, this Christmas season. You won’t regret it. And finally, remember that Jesus is truly our Prince of Peace, no matter what storm you encounter whether personal struggle or worldwide war.
This Christmas Eve marks the 100th anniversary of the Christmas Truce, when French, British, Scottish, and German soldiers unexpectedly laid down their arms and celebrated Christmas together. It was a remarkable event unmatched in its touching display of humanity despite the horrors surrounding them. A few years ago, I wrote about Silent Night, a book by Stanley Weintraub that chronicled the events of this truce. I want to highlight this article again here and encourage you to soak in some of these remarkable details of this incredible event. Tomorrow I will write a little more about the truce and what it should mean to all of us.
Stanley Weintraub’s Silent Night isn’t a book that warrants a long review because the point is so clear. The book is about the World War I Christmas Truce. All over the front lines in Europe in 1914, men laid down their arms and remembered the Prince of Peace. During and afterwards, many wondered why they were fighting in the first place. Weintraub’s book retells the events of “horror taking a holiday” over Christmas on the front lines through soldiers’ personal recollections and other reports.
On June 28, 1914, Bosnian-Serb student Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. The murder triggered a fast-paced series of events that ultimately led to what we now call World War I. On one side were the Entente Powers: France, the United Kingdom, and Russia; on the other side were the Central Powers: Germany and Austria-Hungary. By August 1914, the countries were engaged in total war the likes of which had never been seen on earth – trench warfare. On the front lines, opposing men were separated at times by less than 100 feet, living in filthy trenches dug into the ground. Both sides believed that the war would be over quickly, but as December 1914 approached such a resolution seemed much less likely. Soldiers excited of the prospects of war glory quickly lost their initial enthusiasm in favor of sheer survival. But as Christmas eve approached, an unlikely truce was forged by troops all across the front lines. Much was learned when those who only knew their enemies through propaganda and caricatures actually conversed with their foes. Read More→