Memorial Day, as we all know, is not just the official beginning of the summer vacation season. It is a federal holiday that commemorates U.S. soldiers who died in military service for their country. Although it was first observed in…
God & Country: for generations, it has been the refrain of 'respectable' Christianity for many Americans, but is it really a Christian concept? What about the majority of the world's Christians who live outside the United States, many of them…
DS: Most libertarian Christians are highly suspicious of centralized power. We contend that when power becomes increasingly concentrated, it becomes increasingly corrupt and more harmful to society. You strongly oppose the idea of empire in your book, especially when the empire claims to have God on its side. Few Christians (even Christian anarchists) would deny that governance is needed, but at what point does government become empire? Are local governments less likely to become satanic than federal governments?
BZ: I loosely define empires as rich, powerful nations who seek to rule other nations and claim a manifest destiny to direct history. As a Christian I am opposed to empire for the simple reason that what empires claim for themselves, God has given to Christ. God loves nations, but is opposed to empire. So, yes, smaller is better. This is where I think we should all listen to Wendell Berry. If there is a prophet in America today it’s Wendell Berry.
Brian Zahnd is the founder and lead pastor at Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Missouri. He is the author of several books, most recently A Farewell to Mars (review here), where he recounts his journey to the gospel of peace after many years of marching to the drumbeats of war. His journey will resonate with libertarians who are disenchanted with the state of political affairs in the United States, as well as with many Christians who hunger for a gospel that speaks to human social needs.
Zahnd agreed to discuss the themes of his new book with somebody who has a libertarian Christian audience in mind. My questions were shaped in part by my desire to connect the core issues that matter to me as a libertarian – primarily violence and peace – with my belief that the gospel of Jesus will change human society. I do not assume or expect Zahnd to agree with libertarians on politics, but I do believe our views overlap enough to have a unique conversation. I have also tried to avoid questions he has already answered in the book.
Thank you for being willing to discuss with me the themes in your new book. As I was reading it, I knew it would resonate with my fellow libertarians. We have a reputation of being contrarians, especially in politics! Many of us are strongly anti-war. The non-aggression principle is foundational to our political beliefs. We strongly affirm Lord Acton’s famous quote on the corruption of absolute power. It is no surprise that anyone who teaches that Jesus spoke against empire ends up on our radar!
DS: On this issue of peace and violence, what criticisms have you experienced? What do you believe your critics are missing most about the message of Jesus? How has their critique affected the way you understand and communicate this message?
BZ: First of all, Doug, thank you for the opportunity to engage with your audience.
We tend to divide the subject of violence into two categories: individual/criminal violence and corporate/civil violence. If I speak of the problem of violence on the level of the individual — street violence, domestic violence, criminal violence — I receive no criticism at all. But if I call into question the organized mass violence of war, I have to brace myself for withering criticism. The violence of war is sacred violence. It’s hallowed in anthem, memorial, monument, and myth. The massive violence of war is sacred because it has been the organizing principle of civilization. This is the story that history (and the Bible) tells us. This is the foundational story of Cain and Abel. Cain re-imagined his brother as a rival and enemy. So Cain killed Abel. Then Cain lied to God and himself about what he had done, moved east of Eden, and founded the first city. This is how the Bible tells the story of the rise of human civilization as we build upon a foundation of collective murder. Over the course of six millennia human civilization has clung to power enforced by violence as our organizing principle, and most people find it nearly impossible to imagine the world any other way.
I cannot overstate my excitement to promote Brian Zahnd’s latest book, A Farewell to Mars. I am passionate about the message of Jesus as it addresses all of life, including politics. I believe the message of Jesus was intensely political. The puzzle for us today is how to work it out in our unique socio-historical context. This is where Zahnd’s book is relevant to a part of the church that is blinded to its addiction to and endorsement of violence. Many others have made the case for peace, and many have done so by appealing to Jesus. Zahnd shares his journey, and in so doing, he subtly exposes the church’s infatuation with a power that is truly impotent to save the world.
As libertarians we embrace a politics of peace. Non-aggression is our one non-negotiable. We believe that free trade creates mutually beneficial transactions that promote prosperity for all parties involved. As Christians we believe that true individual freedom comes from faith in Jesus. Our commitment to peace is highly personal for us. A Farewell to Mars is about how the message of Jesus applies to human society. Jesus’ world was radically different from ours. He did not address the specific issues that preoccupy us today. Yet everyone who heard the claim “Jesus is Lord” understood that it meant emphatically that Caesar is not! As the saying goes, “Them’s fightin’ words!”
Zahnd expected to write this book when he was 70 years old. It arrived 15 years early when he had three grandchildren (to whom the book is dedicated). His reluctance to write it is evident on its first pages, where in a brief letter to the book itself, he writes, “I had to write you. You wouldn’t let me sleep until you were written.” Every page thereafter is simply thick with passion for the world-changing message of Jesus.