War, Jesus, and the Christian Right

hacksaw_ridge
A scene from Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge (2016), a war film unlike most other war films.

There is a group of Americans that calls itself the Christian Right. Theirs is a theology that supports war and discrimination and is contrary to Jesus and the Gospels.

Perhaps they should be called the “Christian Wrong.”

One thing “wrong” with their theology is what Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges calls, “a theology of despair,” that is, a theology that preaches a false “biblical” rapture narrative, eagerly awaiting the “end times.” For them, war is necessary to take the battle to Islam and away from our shores.

As an American military wife, I see value in the work of our service members. I support efforts to bring aid to humans trapped in the devastation following disasters natural and manmade. It is comforting that brave women and men are willing to put themselves in harm’s way to keep others, like my children, safe.

There is a value in a strong military, but it is not found by pounding the drums of war.

When I was younger and far more naïve about theology and war, I loved films in which the bad guys get theirs and America wins the day. Mel Gibson has made many such films.

His film The Passion of the Christ is riddled with unrelenting, graphic violence and bad theology. Rev. Dr. Susan Thistlethwaite of Chicago Theological Seminary rightly labels Passion a “war film.” She writes, “as the blood flows, the blows fall and the hammers pound the nails into flesh,” we find a theology in which “God is the author of this violence.”

This violent God is not found in the teachings and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.

Mel’s latest war film is about a soldier who used his pacifist faith to save and heal rather than kill and conquer. In Hacksaw Ridge, we follow Pvt. Desmond Doss, an Seventh Day Adventist Army medic whose WWII military career was marked his conscientious objector status. He refused to carry a gun, rushing into dangerous battles to save the wounded. I wonder if the men he saved on those battlefields recognized in Doss the work of a God who is with us in our suffering, not a bloodthirsty God demanding satisfaction through brutal violence.

The American military is not revered across the world. It has been implicated in horrific war crimes. Yet this doesn’t have to be its legacy. The redemption of our military and of America’s very soul can be found in a Doss-like theology that saves rather than destroys.

This is not the theology of the Christian Right. When a political candidate cavalierly discusses the use of nuclear weapons and refuses to take in children fleeing from war-torn Syria, Jesus weeps.

Jesus said, “You have heard it said love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44).

As a military wife and Christian seminary student, I follow the Jesus of the Gospels. I urge the Christian Right to do the same.

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2 thoughts on “War, Jesus, and the Christian Right

  1. Jessica, I like your bold and righteous stand on this. War is not to be glorified, and I suspect those who glorify it have not had to see it up close and have not had their families torn apart by it. Like you, I believe in a theology that saves rather than destroys. I was not familiar with the story of Desmond Doss, but he sounds like a brave man who truly lived his faith. Is it possible Mel Gibson is actually making a peace movie of sorts this time?

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  2. Jessica – thank you for this post! The trailer for Hacksaw Ridge brought tears to my eyes. What a different movie, indeed! And the fact that it’s based on the true story of a person who was nonviolent due to faith? I look forward to seeing the full movie and engaging with others about it. I imagine it will bring up powerful discussions about when (and if) violence is an appropriate tactic, how faith informs our actions, and where self-preservation comes into it all, whether this means our own person, our religion, our country, etc. The church has been critiqued for using tactics that are not loving or rooted in justice, but instead being self-serving. I wonder how we can continue to engage this complicated question about violence “for good cause.” If we believe that we need to continue existing to do more good in this world, but are willing to cause violence in order to stay alive, then are we ultimately doing good? Or are we compromising that which is good and justifying evil? I’m grateful for movies (as well as other art forms) that set out to lift up these questions. Your blog is one such art form. Thank you.

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