By Jim Tune
The Sermon on the Mount has been speaking to me in fresh ways lately. In the tradition of Alexander Campbell, I am trying to read these passages without viewing them through any particular Evangelical, sociopolitical, or theological lens. You can imagine how difficult this is to do. My biases rise up in protest—especially when I read what Jesus taught about peacemaking and loving enemies.
Please don’t send me any hermeneutical treatments of the subject. I’ve read them all. But in times of honest reflection, I find myself pushing back when it comes to all the Evangelical escape clauses that neuter Jesus’ words. What if Jesus actually meant “love your enemies”?
I’m a little ashamed to admit part of me is fascinated with war. I am not the gentlest of souls. Curiously, although the Bible says the fruit of the Spirit includes peace, gentleness, and kindness, there is plenty of space for a man like me in the Evangelical camp. I have applauded wars and violence. I have fed my fascination through my politics, books, and even the movies I watch. Many of my favorite movies have celebrated vengeance and high body counts.
It’s not easy to hold nationalistic and patriotic views alongside Jesus’ kingdom priorities. During the first Gulf War, I cheered for coalition troops. I was, for lack of a better word, entertained while watching the war in “real time” on CNN. At the start of the new millennium, I saw life through eyes clouded with the dust of two fallen towers in Manhattan. It seemed logical to me that “someone needs to pay.”
For most of my life, I have accepted the necessity of violence. Cowboy justice has always held a romantic appeal. As a preacher, I supported nearly all of our UN, NATO or American-led wars. I care immensely about the men and women who serve in our armed forces. I pray for them. I am, for the most part, very proud of them. Still, when it comes down to our neighbors, the culture wars, cold wars, or the current hot wars, I sense that Evangelicals don’t especially value Jesus’ teaching about loving enemies.
My discomfort with the church’s apparent easy coexistence with the machinery of power, violence, and coercion doesn’t make me a liberal, a communist, or a pacifist. I don’t believe Jesus taught pacifism. The Jesus of the Bible was not passive. But he did preach a gospel of peace and nonviolence.
We are not first Canadians or Americans or Russians or Ukrainians. Instead we are citizens of what Stanley Hauerwas calls a “peaceable kingdom”—a kingdom that deploys an alternative politic and refuses to flash the sword of Caesar, or Constantine, or the United States. The cross alone symbolizes the politics of Jesus.
Here is my question: Do Evangelicals believe that if the good guys kill enough bad guys we will somehow save the world? Can we save the world by killing the world? This is what I wrestle with when I hear Jesus calling his followers to lay down their arms, wage peace, and love their enemies. What if Jesus was proposing that, in his kingdom, there be a weapons ban?