Yesterday I was interviewed on Lifeline with Craig Roberts , a Christian radio talk show in Northern California. In addition to talking about my book Alone with a Jihadist we also had a healthy debate on Pacifism Vs. Just War theory, with me advocating the former and Craig Roberts advocating the latter. All in all, it was a very good discussion, and I appreciated that Craig kept the dialogue civil, unlike experiences I've had in the past with Christian talk show hosts. Still, one thing I figured out is that when you're a guest on a program and you're arguing a different perspective than the host, the deck is always stacked in favor of the host, mainly because once you've made your point, the host can respond and then go to a commercial break. You never get the last word.
The interview was supposed to last 45 minutes, but Craig kept me on for an additional 15 minutes at the top of the hour. I had a hugely embarrassing moment when I thought that we were still in dialogue mode, and it turned out that Craig was making his closing remarks. I kept trying to cut in till the last moment before he ended the segment--something I hope I never do again! You live and you learn. All in all, I got most of my points in. Those of you that know me, or have had robust discussions with me personally on some of these issues, you know that my brain goes about 1,000 miles a minute. For every point made, I usually have about 5-10 counter points in my head. The problem is, when you have so much information, it's hard to reduce your arguments to sound bites and get every point in. So, in the interest of redeeming myself, here are some of the points I didn't get a chance to say.
1. Craig asked the question of what do we do with all of the warrior imagery in Scripture, in particular the Spiritual Warfare imagery that the Apostle Paul uses and the passages in Scripture portraying God as a warrior. What I said was that the warrior imagery that Paul used is meant to be taken spiritually, and nothing else. In fact, Paul explicitly says "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal" (I Corinthians 10:4). What I didn't get around to saying was that one of the reasons why Scripture consistently portrays God as a warrior is to illustrate the point that covenant people are supposed to trust in God, not the sword. In fact, the prophet Ezekiel specifically lists relying on the sword as one of the reasons why God sent the Jews to Babylon in judgment (Ezekiel 33:26). One of the constant themes in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) is that God got ticked off at His people when they didn't trust Him to fight their battles for them, but instead trusted in their own military might. I find it odd that not once have I ever heard the theme of "repenting for our reliance on our military might" come up in a major prayer and repentance conference here in the U.S. We repent for a lot of other things, but never for trusting in the sword to save us. Interestingly, the period of the Pax Romana, a two hundred year period of relative peace and security of the Roman Empire, ended right around the time the first Christian soldier is recorded. Before then, Christians saw that their primary duty to the empire was to pray for the peace and well-being of their fellow Roman citizens.
2. I made a lot of points about why the Bible should be read through the lens of Jesus, and why Christians are under the Law of Christ, not the Law of the Old Covenant. For example, Hebrews 8:13 calls the Old Covenant obsolete. Jesus said, "You've heard that it was said an eye for an eye, but I say unto you...." still the counter-argument was that Jesus said "I've not come to destroy the law but to fulfill the law" (Matthew 5:7-18) What I didn't get a chance to say is that when it comes to Biblical interpretation, when you have numerous verses that clearly say one thing and one verse that seems to contradict the numerous verses, you don't throw out the numerous verses in favor of the one, like many people do in this case. There are a myriad interpretations of this verse ( I like the one that says that if you obey Jesus, then you're fulfilling the Spirit of the Law, which is what Jesus never intended to abolish), the fact is still the same. Jesus said, "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15) (italics emphasis mine). The question of whether a Christian should participate in violence should be determined by Jesus, not by what God commanded Israel to do in the Old Testament era.
3. Craig used the cleansing of the temple to show that Jesus was, in fact violent. I pointed out that Isaiah 53:9 specifically says that Jesus never did anyone violence. The example of Jesus cleansing the temple is more of a basis for an aggressive activism against injustice, like what was displayed in the civil rights movement. I wish I would have elaborated on that point of non-violent direct action as a way of addressing injustice in the world. Besides, isn't it a bit of grasping for straws to use a civil protest as a pretext for flying over skies and dropping bombs?
4. Craig made the point that the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount were meant to be limited to personal interactions. I never got a chance to rebut this, so here's my partial answer now. I think the distinction between personal enemies and national enemies is an artificial one, especially when you look at the political backdrop of the New Testament. One of the over-arching themes that we see in the New Testament is that Jesus and the Apostles did not want their followers participating in a rebellion against Rome. The Romans did some awful things, both in their brutal persecution of Christians and also in the way they put down rebellions--like slaughtering and crucifying civilians--yet still the answer that Jesus and the Apostles gave was Christians were not to participate in violence even against such monstrous evil as what the Roman Empire was doing to many of its citizens. In fact, the very context of the Romans 13 passage, which many just war theorists use as the ace in the hole argument, is don't rebel against Rome! Especially if you back up a few verses to the last few verses of chapter 12, you'll see that the entire context of Romans 12:14-13:7 is that Christians should be kind and gentle, and never exacting vengeance even on their worst political enemies!
There's a lot, lot, lot, more I could say on these points, but this post has been longer than normal as is. Thank you Craig for keeping the dialogue respectful.
To my readers, keep your eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our non-violent faith!