What we need to get men back in churches—which apparently means those of us in churches presently are not men—is we need to talk about the battle we have to fight. This is what I have been told for years. You see, Christians are warriors and our purpose here on earth is to kick evil’s a-- in all possible forms. That's the way of Jesus: manliness and warfare.
A pundit on Twitter the other day: "Jihadists would be well advised to steer clear of our Baptist churches. Nearly every deacon is packing heat - along with 90% of the WMU." I mean, sure Jesus said to love your enemy, but I guess if you look at the original Greek then "love" could be interpreted as "riddle with bullet holes."
I wish I were making these things up. But I'm not. War language has been with the Christian faith from the beginning like a sketchy friend that we just can't shake. Sometimes the connection is metaphorical, as it seems to be in my first example. These people don't really believe that Christians should be going to actual war with people. But they can't help but talk about the faith without heavy doses of Braveheart, Gladiator, and war movies. Of course, when you say that the Christian (man, pretty much universally in this instance) should be like these guys that leave a pile of bodies in their wake, but we should love others then the message gets confused.
Of course other times the warfare that people want is literal as it is in our second example. I totally understand why this viewpoint has escalated of late. News reports are filled with the terrorism of ISIS. These are evil individuals who are doing inhumane acts in the name of their faith. In their twisted world view, they are beheading, burning, and crucifying children, women, and men in the name of a religious war. "If it's a religious war they want, it's a religious war they'll get," thus saith some of our politicians, pundits, and preachers. Eye for eye. Tooth for tooth. Bomb for bomb.
But I can't square any of this with Jesus. There is nothing religious or holy about war. Don't get me wrong, the international community needs to respond to these atrocities in some way. I am too cynical to be an out and out pacifist, though I truly would like to be one. I am not suggesting that military action would immoral, but I cannot say that I am every excited about such a possibility.
I believe that Christians should be horrified by violence. I think you see this in the gospels, in Acts, and in the early church. Violence is not something that we should celebrate or glorify. We should not rejoice in the destruction of our enemies. We should love them, pray for them, and look for ways to reach out to them. Why? Jesus tells us so.
And I am not going to lie: that is extremely difficult. I do not want to love a terrorist who delights in murdering in cold blood. I do not want to pray for those who persecute Christians, Jews, and other Muslims. These are evil, heinous people. Yet I can't shake Jesus telling me to do this. I can't shake the image of the vulnerable God beaten, tortured, and crucified that is ingrained in our faith and screamed during this Lenten time of year.
We are in this battle between good and evil, but that battle is not won the way that our violent conflicts are won. God defeated evil through love, sacrifice, and vulnerability. We are instructed to do the same. This does not mean we passively let evil steamroll us like a tank, but we search for ways in which we can creatively, boldly, and decisively challenge the evil in this world. When Jesus told his followers to turn the other cheek, he was giving them a way to challenge Roman oppression without retaliating and escalating violence. It was creative and brilliant. One thing that it was not was easy. Fighting back is easy. Loving your enemy is not.
I do not want to be told that I am at war. I don't want to be told that I am in an army. I don't want our whole story to be a narrative of us versus them. I do not want to fight people, I want to fight for people and I want to fight like Jesus fought. I want to fight with love. That is so ridiculously hard on its own. The last thing I need are my fellow Christians muddying the waters by trying to revive some sort of Crusade mentality.
I am tired of being told that to be a Christian and to be a man, that I need to be in the business of battle. I want to be in the service of helping and saving others from the evil that steals, kills, and destroys from us all. Stop trying to put a gun in my hands.