The Bible Says It. I Believe It. That Settles It (Except for Loving My Enemies)…

I have found over the years that it is easy for Christians to disregard the teachings of Jesus that make them especially uneasy or that contradict what they believe to be right. There is no greater example of this than the Christian’s complete disregard for, and opposition to, Christ’s teachings on enemy-love and non-retaliation to evil.

For every time I have had a conversation with a Christian about how we are implored by Christ to be peacemakers, to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, and to not repay evil with evil, I am met with sharp disagreement and quick rebuttals. This is so much the case that I have found it easier to gain agreement from those who are NOT CHRISTIANS than those who have professed to be disciples of Jesus.

In many ways it seems as if those who have been invited to the banquet have refused to sit at the table and fully feast, while those on the street corners and in the alleyways are more eager for an invitation to taste and see.

It is a very, very bizarre phenomenon. 

Despite clear and overwhelming evidence that Jesus wants his followers to be peacemakers, to be those who love our enemies, and to be those who do not repay evil with evil, the vast majority of Christians in the United States are pro-capital punishment and pro-war. Even more, the vast majority of Christians in the United States applaud and celebrate when young men and women in our churches go in to military service.

I realize that last paragraph may be confusing for you and maybe even hard to swallow. I remember my confusion when I was first confronted with the fact that much of what I believed and stood for actually contradicted and opposed the way of Jesus. For over three decades, I had somehow been able to compartmentalize my faith and justify my thinking so that my misaligned core beliefs never had to face the cross of Christ. 

In my mind, I could follow Jesus on the things he and I already agreed upon, while keeping hidden those things that opposed him.

With that kind of division in my faith, I did not ever have to face the uncomfortable fact that my support of killing enemies contradicted and opposed the same Christ to whom I had given my life and to whom I had professed to follow. I was able to follow Jesus on my own terms without ever needing to change my heart toward those I opposed, or even hated. Even worse, there was not one single Christian I knew who would question or challenge my thinking on this, because they all believed the same exact thing.

And being that our country is so patriotic and so militarily-minded, very few outside of the Quaker, Mennonite, or Anabaptist traditions are brave enough to stand up and say that American churches have erroneously strayed and abandoned Christ’s teaching and example of loving our enemies. In fact, the position of many American churches more closely mirrors the position of the American government than that of Jesus.  These churches would rather have enemies killed than to love and pray for them. 

While I don’t have any expectation of the American government to follow Jesus, it should not be too much to expect the Church to follow Jesus in how we love our enemies.  One has to wonder if Jesus would agree with Christian support for capital punishment and war, when it is so far from what he intended for his followers.

There is no question that there are assumptions we make about this life from the time we are born into it. Our hearts and minds are shaped and formed by the families in which we were born, the cultures in which we are shaped, and the countries in which we live. The ideas and beliefs we accumulate over the years can become so ingrained into our core being that they become our only reality, the only way we see the world. And we are all in the same boat. That is why there should never be an ounce of judgment among us.

But if we, as followers of Jesus, have fundamental beliefs and foundational positions that stand completely opposed, even antagonistic, to Jesus, ought we not wrestle with these apparent contradictions? 

Even if it challenges us to the very core of our being, is it not incumbent upon each of us, as his followers, to ask very simple questions as to why we can so easily ignore the great breadth of clear and unambiguous teachings of Jesus on loving our enemies and not retaliating to evil? 

Maybe this outrageous point will demonstrate the degree to which Christians have ignored the enemy-loving, non-retaliatory message of Jesus.

The majority of Christians who are pro-capital punishment, pro-war, and pro-military also believe that homosexuality is a sin.

Please, please, please hang with me here.

While Jesus never directly mentions homosexuality as sinful, many Christians believe it is an absolute abomination, and as a result, actively and vocally oppose homosexuality. 

Yet, when there is a GIANT MOUNTAIN of evidence from the mouth of Jesus instructing his followers to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, to not resist an evil-doer, to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile, to give the shirt off our backs, to feed our enemies, to give drink to our enemies, to be peacemakers, to forgive and forgive and forgive, to pray for those who persecute us, to do good to those who hate us, those same Christians do not just ignore his words, they actively oppose them.*

Do you understand what I am saying?

This isn’t a post trying to change anyone’s position or view on homosexuality. I understand how each side has arrived at their position and that is not the intention of this particular post. Hopefully, we can talk about that issue another day.

But for the sake of today, and don’t miss this absolutely essential point- On an issue Jesus never directly mentions (homosexuality) many Christians stand so strongly and so resolutely. Yet, on the issue that is the very foundation of Jesus’ life, teaching, and ministry (loving our enemies), the same Christians completely ignore and oppose it in their support of capital punishment and war.

I hope you can see the problem here.

To me, it is mind-boggling.

I hear so many of my Christian brothers and sisters who are pro-capital punishment, pro-war, and pro-military say, “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.” But I am going to have to challenge you on that assertion.  The Bible says those who follow Christ should love their enemies, not repay evil with evil, and not resist the evil-doer, yet you actively support their killing. And if you truly believed those words, you would surely not oppose the enemy-loving words and non-violent way of Jesus.

I would like to make a reasonable proposition so that we, as followers of Christ, may begin to move forward differently than we have in the past. I would like to honor and thank each and every service man and woman for their past and present service.  For surely our churches and church leaders in both the past and present did nothing but present military service as your Christian duty and obligation. And to that end, we hold absolutely no ill-will toward anyone who served in the past, or who is serving presently. 

But, beginning today, may we draw a line in the sand and move forward into a future where the followers of Christ are those who pursue peace, those who love our enemies, and those who never repay evil-for-evil? 

Can we begin instructing our children that the killing of our enemies, or any life, is contradictory and oppositional to the teaching, life, and ministry of Jesus? 

Can we not move forward differently in our churches as a movement of peacemakers who offer a continual invitation into the peaceable, loving, forgiving, and merciful kingdom of Christ to both friends and enemies? 

We are the physical body of Christ in the world and we have been given the task of looking beyond lines of division, relinquishing all ideologies of hatred, and inviting all image-bearers of God (friends and enemies alike) into the saving, life-transforming kingdom of God.

Peace is the only way…

Brandon

You may want to challenge my position based on some of the arguments below. I have provided links for further consideration. If you are interested in further discussion, let’s have coffee.

*You may want to bring up the violent God imagery of the Old Testament, I already wrote about that in another post, Out of Context.

*You may want to bring up the justification for killing your enemies by Jesus clearing out the temple with whips and by Jesus telling his disciples to bring two knives with them when he was getting ready to be arrested. Those misunderstood arguments hardly overturn the mountains of teachings from the peaceful, enemy-loving, cross bearing Christ. Here is an article about clearing the temple and one about the two swords for further reflection on the issue.

*You may want to support the killing of enemies by using the Just War Theory. The problem is that the Just War Theory is a theory for countries and governments, but not a theory offered by Jesus to his followers. Governments will always act as governments will act, but we are citizens of a different kingdom with a leader whose law is love for friend and enemy alike. And it is this leader and this kingdom to whom we have pledged our allegiance. We will not support or partake in any action that forces us to do anything less than love every human being, even the vilest offender. For even the vilest offender is a son or daughter of God, made in God’s very own image, and worth redeeming to the very end. Here is a great article refuting the Christian justification for killing enemies by using the Just War Theory.

*If we needed to go beyond the words of Jesus to make the case for loving our enemies, we can look at the letters of Paul and the lives of the Early Church. Paul echoes all the words of Jesus throughout his letters to the Early Church. He even says that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers and principalities of evil. That means our battle isn’t against other humans. And the war we wage is one waged differently- not against flesh, but against the powers of evil. Killing people does not extinguish this evil power. Additionally, Paul says that evil is God’s “to avenge,” not ours.

*The Early Christians were so committed to the peaceable, enemy-loving way of Jesus that they were regularly martyred without any attempt at repaying evil for evil. It should also be noted that the biggest explosion of the Jesus movement occurred at a time when Christians were actively laying their lives down in love and in their commitment to non-retaliation to evil.

17 thoughts on “The Bible Says It. I Believe It. That Settles It (Except for Loving My Enemies)…

  1. Wow! A powerful essay. It has been a mystery to me regarding many Christian’s opposition to abortion as well. How do we justify concern for the unborn but not the lives of those born. Jesus did not make a distinction between loving only those without sin, for example. It is a tough teaching for Americans, but if God is the self-professed ruler of our lives, how can it be otherwise thank you for your insights. (Especially proud as a fellow HC alum, 1990.)

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  2. Brandon,
    Kudos for articulating the issue so clearly. Over the years I have engaged in many debates regarding non-violence / loving our enemies, sometimes on the opposing side. I have wrestled with the very personal implications of embracing a total commitment to non-violence, e.g. if my family were attacked would I actively defend them with violence / would I shoot someone to protect my wife, etc.

    First, I would suggest that many Christians understand Jesus’ teachings on loving our enemies to be primarily a social thing, rather than a “war” or “life and death” thing. In society we have enemies who will slap us, insult us, push us around, steal from us, and spitefully use us. It is to these enemies that we respond with kindness, forgiveness, and blessing, in the hope that they will be won over by our radically gracious response.

    Many Christians do not think these teachings apply to times of war or self-defense. Jesus didn’t say, “If your enemy wants to kill your wife, do not stop him” or “If your enemy is going to kill your entire village, do not defend yourselves.” That would certainly settle the question, but his actual examples were, as I said, more social in nature.

    Second, it is a fact that most Christians (I am comfortable asserting this) do not really consider what discipleship entails. There are many “believers” but few “disciples.” When Jesus spoke on discipleship, he emphasized the tremendous cost of it, and that it ultimately will cost us everything. I don’t know many Christians, myself included, who have yet given up everything for Jesus. We still hold on to many earthly norms and comforts, including the “normal” perspective that sometimes war is good, and Christians ought to defend their country and themselves from terrorists and “dirt bags.”

    Real discipleship requires real prayer and real time with Jesus, and real surrender of one’s own self, and that is very uncommon in my experience. So most Christians don’t speak from a disciple’s perspective, but from a “believer’s” perspective.

    Having said all that, I don’t believe a “disciple” of Jesus can kill total strangers in times of war between nations. One could offer humanitarian assistance to soldiers, medical assistance, whatever, but to kill in the name of your country is not for a disciple. Many believers would disagree.

    I don’t believe capital punishment can be enacted in the Church – unlike the Mosaic Law, the Law of Love doesn’t allow us to enforce Church discipline or dogma by threat of death. However, I think capital punishment does have a place in earthly government, and whether a Christian wants to support or oppose it is a matter of conscience.

    When it comes to self-defense / defense of family or others, I have flip-flopped more than once. My wife is a shooter and been around guns most of her adult life. I have never fired a real gun. Although I would hate to take anyone’s life – even an attacker – I probably would, especially if they were threatening to molest or kill my family, and my conscience is OK with that. It may very well not reflect true discipleship, but at the same time, if I am not rigorously adhering to the requirements of discipleship in other areas, why would I take a stand on this particular issue and allow my loved ones to be attacked / molested / killed?

    The Lord may yet alter my perspective on this issue. I think they key to understanding the full implications of any teaching is time spent in the presence of the Lord, reading, reflecting, praying, asking questions. At some point the answer comes, if the heart is willing to receive it.
    ~ Don

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  3. I don’t like war. I hate that people want to kill people for whatever reason. But, are we supposed to let people just come over here and kill us? Are we not supposed to protect our borders and our citizens? I don’t believe in capital punishment, but I think we need to protect our country.
    Also, the Apostle Paul does talk about homosexuality being wrong, in Romans 1.
    I also read your post about God wanting our hearts. I understand that, but we are supposed to adhere to the apostles doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers. The Bible says so. God transforms our hearts when we repent and are baptized. Baptism, communion, offerings, etc. aren’t rituals, they’re obedience. God does want us to do them.

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    1. Hey Patti,

      Thanks for the note.

      To your first point, Jesus is incredibly clear when it comes to enemy-love. His unambiguous teaching and example is for his followers to be willing to go to their death in order to demonstrate the love of God to even the vilest offender. How do you, as a follower of Jesus, ignore his clear teaching of loving your enemies? The entire ministry of Jesus, and the task of every single Christ-follower (who is the Body of Christ in the world) is to be exactly like Jesus in how we “do not return evil for evil, but repay evil with blessing” because we love our enemies and bless those who curse us. You missed the subtlety of my point with homosexuality. The point is that many Christians build an entire movement and opposition (and let’s just include Paul in this) on a couple of verses, yet completely ignore and disregard a MOUNTAIN of verses about the non-violent, non-retaliatory, enemy-loving way of Jesus. It is confounding the scriptural gymnastics that Christians play to support war and killing. I have no expectation that the United States government ought to be like Jesus, but if you are a follower of Jesus… you are not to kill.

      With your other comment referencing my recent post “Freedom from Religion,” I am afraid you missed the point. I didn’t say that we ought to throw baptism, communion, and such things out the window and disregard them. My point is that some churches make them THE ONLY POINT. God does not need any of that stuff from us (read Isaiah 1). God wants our hearts and our transformed lives. What’s the point of going through the motions with the “obedience” if you live an untransformed life. God doesn’t care about your doctrine if your heart and life remains unchanged.

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  4. I’m a simple person but are you suggesting that if a family member is being murdered we shouldn’t kill the attacker if it became necessary? There is a big difference between going to war with Iraq and taking on Hitler. The world couldn’t have stopped him from killing even more jews/gays/Jehovah’s witnesses except through force. Should we all lay down and die simply because someone would commit violence against us?

    We might well not have a world to evangelize to if we let evil men kill without restraint.

    It is interesting that Jesus had interactions with soldiers and seemed fine with them being soldiers who might just have to kill. Part of this could be because we live in a cursed world where everything is tainted and it is literally impossible to truly do the right thing all the time. This is often a gray world we live in.

    Murder is wrong, violence is wrong, but self defense is a basic survival technique any person or animal employs and in this world I just don’t see how we can avoid violence all the time.

    Lying is a sin, but I would lie to save a life, I would steal to save a life. I would also kill to save an innocent life. I’m a sinner and always will be and sometimes I think we have to make hard decisions where things are very gray.

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    1. Thanks Chuck. I agree that there are hard decisions, but it’s ironic that we only utilize the gray-area or the hard decision when it fits what we already believe. I guess I just don’t see any caveats to the overwhelming call from Jesus to love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, not resist the evil-doer, and not avenge evil. If the entire Gospel is predicated on self-sacrificing love, and if that is precisely what Jesus was/is calling is disciples into, then how can any one of us arbitrarily decide when it doesn’t apply? Peter decided it was arbitrary and Jesus reprimanded him by saying, “Peter put down your sword.” It doesn’t sound as if you want me to change your opinion, but I have a hard time understanding how people who wear the name of Christ has such a difficult time doing what Christ calls them to be. Thanks for reading and sharing your perspective.

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      1. Brandon,

        When there is sufficient evidence I am always willing to change my mind. I don’t find anything in the scriptures that leads me to believe a person couldn’t or shouldn’t defend his family for example, and in fact I believe it would be a sinful act to set back and watch such a scenario. Allowing yourself to be punched, spit upon, defamed for the faith I understand, but I can’t make the leap from that, to letting your family be slaughtered.

        Ultimately I don’t see this as a salvation issue. My belief is there will be no judgement for the believer who is basically forced to make such a decision. On the other hand if your life was threatened because of your belief or faith, then I think the situation does call for more “pacifism”.

        Thanks for replying.

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      2. Thanks again for the response. I will add a couple of thoughts.

        1. If I could get Christians to unanimously say that they will practice non-retaliation to violence except for in situations in which their family was in imminent danger… I would take that concession in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, I do not believe the vast majority of American Christians would agree to that strict of adherence. While the extreme examples of a “wife being raped” or “family being attacked” are rare, and who knows how anyone would act in such a situation, I would like to believe that my first instinct would be to pray and to consider creatively non-violent measures to alleviate or escape the situation. If violence is the only, and last, resort then may each man decide. I am afraid too often that the immediate tendency or response is to kill the enemy. Ultimately, I do not believe that it is our responsibility to kill any child of God, no matter their offense. And I find the words of Jesus actually provide overwhelming evidence that this is what he is calling his followers to, a new humanity that operates by an entirely different value system (one that seems like foolishness to the world and looks completely upside-down), but is willing to go the greatest extreme of laying our lives down to demonstrate the love of God… to everyone… even the violent offender… because in the eyes of God that offender has unsurpassable worth as well.

        2. But secondly I want to talk about the word salvation. I take from the way you used that word that you are referring to our assurance that through the death and resurrection of Christ, we are forgiven of our sins that we may judged blameless so that we go to heaven one day. If that isn’t what you believe then I am sorry I inferred it. But I have a suspicion that is what you meant because of the way you worded your response, “Ultimately I do not see this as a salvation issue.”

        I see salvation a bit differently. I don’t see from Scripture that our “salvation” is as much a promise for heaven one day, as it is our new state of living or being right now. Our salvation is something that is practical and tangible. And you pick it up in the language throughout the NT when we are referred to as people of “new creation” and those who are the “firstfruits” (or the first part of that which will come in its fullness later. Salvation is forgiven today that we may be a transformed people, a resurrection people. Our citizenship and allegiance had changed presently because of our salvation… from the kingdoms of this world to the kingdom of Christ. I could keep going with words and I could continue to cite verses, but salvation is, in a very real sense, what has happened to us today- we begin living presently as we will in the future at the renewal of all things. And the reason this understanding of salvation matters, is because being a peacemaker, one who does not resist violence, one who loves enemies is the central identity of one who is saved. Loving our enemies is the mark that we have been saved. It is the distinguishing factor… that we now embody the love of God fully and it is our good pleasure to express it and share it to the world. As the body of the resurrected Jesus in the world, we know become the body that looks like Jesus in everything we do, which includes a willingness to lay our lives down in self-sacrificial love. So to me, loving our enemies actually is a salvation issue. Because when we don’t love like Christ, we behave in a way that does not look saved.

        Thanks again brother for the calm and reasoned discussion. I sure appreciate it.

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      3. Thank you! Off topic, but I discovered your blog through your outdoor blog. I’m a fellow outdoor enthusiast from southern indiana as well. Love to meet you outside someday!

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      4. Just outside Bloomington. Your blog is a model for what I want mine to look like when I get around to creating it! Used your trip info several times! Anyway the Hoosier National Forest is basically in my back yard.

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      5. Oh wow… you are right down the road! We leave in eight weeks for a seven day backcountry trek through Wrangell St. Elias. We have our first planning meeting on Thursday. I am super pumped! Shoot me your blog site.

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      6. I saw that you are leaving soon. I’m heading to Yellowstone/Tetons in 2 weeks, and Rainier in August, Mt. Whitney in Sept. I haven’t created the blog yet, but want/need to. I keep collecting trip data to start one. We always have something planned every few weeks.

        Maybe next time you are in the HNF for a group hike or something we could get together. Would be nice to meet and chat and get ideas as we are finally starting to get men outside at our church for group hikes and talks. I didn’t realize for a long time that you were a fellow Hoosier.

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      7. Wow. You are really knocking out a lot of territory this year! We hit Yellowstone/Tetons last year as somewhat of a consolation when we got hit with heavy snowfall at 12,000 feet in the Wind River Range. The Mt. Whitney trek will be incredible. I will let you know the next time we hit Hoosier National or Deam.

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  5. Hi Brandon,

    The recent comments have brought me back to this post. I am thinking over your description of what it means to be “saved” and live right now as a New Creation and a citizen of a different kingdom. Along with that, how do you biblically support the assertion that “even the vilest offender is a son or daughter of God”? I get that humanity was originally created in God’s image (with assorted interpretations of that statement) but Jesus flat out told some Jews who opposed him that their father was the devil, and Paul describes us all as “objects of wrath” prior to knowing Christ. Aren’t we “sons and daughters” of God only by adoption, through faith in Jesus? Isn’t it true that apart from Christ we are outside of God’s family and cut off from the promises of God? Thanks.

    Don

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    1. Thanks Don for reading and for your comment/question. You can chalk that up to a hastily written response more than a theological position. I simply meant brothers and sisters in a more general sense as those who are connected as God’s fellow creation. I simply used familial language. I don’t want that to overshadow the larger points of salvation being a present phenomenon. Thanks for pointing that out. Peace… Brandon

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