I am getting a little tired of all of these “Christian nationalists” who think that their religion justifies nationalism and the violence necessary to defend their nations. The sentiment is admirable enough, but the theology just isn’t there, and the cherry-picking faith of people who can find one or two bible verses to justify their own opinion and then claim that their opinion is the product of their faith is not only annoying; it’s a losing strategy.
There is one verse in particular that keeps getting brought up, and that is the passage in which Jesus claims that he “has not come to bring peace but a sword.”
Upon reciting this, the Christian nationalist shouts “deus vult!” and picks up his crusader sword in rationalized triumph.
But let us take a closer look at the passage in question:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
– Matthew 10:34-39
To take this sword reference literally, one must believe that Jesus intends to instigate literal duels between family members.
As it happens, there actually is biblical scripture pertinent to literal swords, but it takes a very different direction; not a metaphorical passage from a single gospel, but a historical account recorded in every single gospel:
And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”
– Matthew 26:51-54
But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.”
– Mark 14:47-49
When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.
But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.
– Luke 22:49-51
Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)
Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”
– John 18:10-11
One is almost inclined to think that given these verses, maybe Jesus’ mission is special, that perhaps his compliance with his persecutors might be some unique, prophetic exception to an otherwise sane rule of self-defense. But no. Jesus’ commands to love your enemies and to turn the other cheek are not contextual in this manner, and in any case, Jesus is the ultimate example for the believer to emulate.
The “peace” Jesus is rejecting in Matthew 10:34 is not an absence of violence, but an absence of interpersonal conflict over religion. “This faith will divide you against your family,” he is saying. That is not literal warfare, but it is not — strictly speaking — “peace.”
This verse has nothing to do with ‘defending one’s nation’ or any such notion. In fact, to the contrary, it seems to imply — by extension from the family — the possibility of division against one’s nation.
Concerned with violence in defense of what one loves, Christianity is broadly pacifistic. The ‘Just War’ doctrines which give Christianity a plausible enough defense of violence in specific circumstances essentially require all violence to be done in a spirit of reluctant detachment.
There are a number of other verses in the bible that reference swords and so forth, which Christians will — no doubt — flock to in lieu of the metaphorical and self-defeating (for nationalists) Matthew 10:34. I’ve heard reference to Joel 3 in particular — one of the “minor prophets” like Obadiah or Habbakuk that no one seems to reference unless they’re really reaching to justify a position that flies in the face of what Jesus repeatedly and directly says.
None of these desperate and reaching rationalizations stand up to the spirit of Christianity revealed in the teachings of Jesus and in the clarifications and directions of Paul. As a Christian, you are to love your God with all of your heart, all of your soul, all of your strength, and all of your mind. If you are loving something — anything — other than God, then you are failing to love God as absolutely as is mandated. This failure is a kind of sin, with a particular name: idolatry.
In Christianity, nationalism is idolatry.
So is loving your family.
This is why I am not a Christian.
Actually, I’m not a Christian because the Christian God does not exist. But I am no longer sympathetic towards or occasionally tempted to pass myself off as a “cultural Christian,” in spite of my disbelief, because of what Christian spirituality actually entails. This spirituality affects “cultural Christians” far more deeply than they understand, because it cedes moral authority to those who are more pure in the spirit of the faith with which they identify. This spirit undermines all love for nation or family or any other “traditional” or “right-wing” values… or “left-wing” values, for that matter.
Jesus did not come to bring “peace on earth” because Christianity holds that the earth will be passing away. His mission is to announce the sovereignty of God in the hereafter, and to die on our behalf that we might join him there. In this hereafter, there is peace, perfect harmony without tension between God and the “corruption” of the world. Theologically speaking, Jesus did come to bring peace.
For all his talk about swords, he never once used one.
And I can’t help but notice that when confronted with this point, Christians never have an actual argument, but will instead give some variant of the following responses:
- “That’s an interesting thought, let me get back to you on that” (never to be heard from again)
- “You’re a moron. You know nothing about Christianity. Do not speak about Christianity again.”
Not very promising for the faith.
But that’s none of my concern. I have other things — like my family and country — to worry about.