Monday, September 5, 2011

(Mis)Interpretion In a Post-9/11 World

Christians are not called to be heroes or shoppers. We are called to be holy. We do not think that holiness is an individual achievement, but rather a set of practices to sustain a people who refuse to have their lives determined by the fear and denial of death...Our response is to continue living in a manner that witnesses to our belief that the world was not changed on September 11, 2001. The world was changed during the celebration of a Passover in 33 A.D.
Stanley Hauerwas, Performing the Scriptures (2004)

On September 11, 2001, 15 faithful Muslims members of a violent cult from the Middle East declared war mercilessly attacked the American East Coast because they hated American freedoms resented rampant American imperialism and violence in their own backyards. For them (and so many others), the United States came to represent a beacon of hope and freedom a threatening bully that was willing to use massive force in order to free the world of tyranny hoard precious natural resources and bolster their own national (in)security. Ironically, the United States has responded to the 9/11 murder by declaring war and mercilessly ramping up their imperialist adventures on resource-rich Middle Eastern targets. The cycle of violence has intensified.

To add insult to irony, some a majority of American Christians, self-proclaimed followers of the God of Violent Vengeance Prince of Peace, over the past decade, have consistently supported advanced interrogation techniques torture, Homeland Security endless war and collateral damage civilian casualties in order to sustain the American Dream a military economy that has thrived from the World Wars to the Cold War and Beyond. In doing so, American Christians overwhelmingly support liberty and justice for all a status quo that favors “the national interest” the Establishment, everyday working people the corporate and government elites who benefit from billions in contracts and subsidies while, mostly, the sons and daughters of the Establishment working poor are recruited to put their lives on the line in combat.

In the decade since 9/11, it has become clear—-perhaps more than ever—-that theology matters. Here are 4 key passages whose self-evident truths misinterpretations have served tragic agendas:

1. Mark 12:17: Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's.

These words of Jesus have unfortunately been abused to legitimate a division of spheres (separating “religion” and “politics”) that would never have been understand in 1st century Palestine. The “image” of Caesar, the self-proclaimed “Son of God,” was on Roman coins used in Israel—-should a faithful Jew use this currency and commit idolatry? Jesus’ firm response was/is subversive: either one will worship God or Caesar. Unfortunately, Jesus words have continually been manipulated by both church and government leaders to endorse the worship of both, quarantining religous beliefs as a private affair, having nothing to do with public policy.

2. Romans 13: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.

These words from Paul were written to a politically powerless Christian community of both Jews and Gentiles in the most powerful city in the entire world. Paul’s vision was that actions of this community would function like leaven, reflecting the gospel of the kingdom of God, a realm quite different than the kingdom of Caesar. Remember: every Christian was a diehard pacifist during the first 3 centuries. Quoting this passage after September 11, 2001 to compel Christians (75% of the American population) to blindly support US military invasions should never be condoned (especially when considering Paul's exhortations immediately prior to this passage).

3. Matthew 10:34: I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

I heard an octogenarian Christian quote this one recently in an attempt to persuade me that there will always be war and violence in a depraved world and that Christians are not called to waste time trying to bring them to an end. Jesus was simply being metaphorical here, explaining that his hard teachings would inevitably divide friends and families into groups that followed him…and those who would not.

4. John 18:36: My kingdom is not of this world.

Jesus’ words to Pilate are not an endorsement of a disembodied heaven separated from a sinful world. Instead, Jesus is pointing out just how different the kingdom of God is from the kingdom of Caesar and Pilate: Jesus’ way of suffering service and love trumps Rome’s violence and domination. As Martin Luther King proclaimed repeatedly, “Unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.”

This week will bring plenty of celebrations and TV specials remembering events that "changed our world" 10 years ago. In a post-9/11 world, Christians must approach these biblical justifications of violence with fear and trembling. After all, the interpretive results are a matter of life and death.

1 comment:

  1. Spot on! We need to remember that the Prince of Peace not once turned to violence. Even while on the cross in humiliation, he expressed love and asked forgiveness for his enemies because they know not what the do. If Christians really want to carry the cross, we have to be advocates of peace, social justice, and love. We have to be thoughtful, poised, and compassionate ... not brash, violent, and unaware.

    As a proud American, I try to serve my country by working hard at my job, giving my time and energy serving my community, always studying and reading about the direction of our country, and actively questioning (though walks/emails/calls/protests) authority when things don't seem fair or make sense. If we are not educated, current, and courageously willing to question what we are told, future generations of Americans will not be as fortunate as we are ... and perhaps worse, the world may suffer hundreds of thousands of deaths due to violent and unjust foreign policy.