What if Jesus really meant what He said? If you search for this phrase online you’ll likely find links to articles, books, and interviews by or about Christian leaders such as Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo. Fans of this website may not be familiar with Claiborne but will probably remember Campolo from his days as Bill Clinton’s spiritual advisor. I’m guessing that neither author takes up much space on your bookshelf.
Where are the conservative voices leading the charge to take the teachings of Jesus seriously? Who are the conservative Christians who have embraced the Sermon of the Mount as the driving force of their life’s vision? What would it look like for 2014 to be the year conservative Christians believe that Jesus really meant what He said?
Let’s take for example the idea of Christian non-violence. Here are five key statements concerning non-violent resistance from a section of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:38-45):
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil.”
“But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
“And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.”
“And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
Now if you are still reading at this point, think about this: the same conservative Christians who were so pro-war in Iraq and Afghanistan, pro-preemptive strikes, pro-Patriot Act, and pro-enhanced interrogation following 9-11 have become anti-war during the Obama administration. A sizeable percentage of conservatives vehemently opposed military intervention in Libya and Syria, for example.
Why is this? Is it simply because a Democrat is in the White House now? Or is it something more significant? I believe that frustration over a morass of issues in Iraq and Afghanistan coupled with a distrust of the current President along with a deepening concern over the misuse of unmanned aerial vehicles has led to a backlash against military intervention among conservatives.
If we are honest with ourselves, most of the conservatives who have opposed military intervention during the Obama administration have done so for the same reason anti-war Democrats have disappeared since the President’s election. It’s politics.
What would it look like for both conservative and progressive Christians to take a consistent, principled stance based on the teachings and example of Jesus before the next war comes about despite who is in office? Christians of all political persuasions must think through the implications of Jesus’s teachings in Matthew 5:38-45. Taking Jesus seriously may lead you to a form of just war theory or it may convince you of Christian non-violence. It certainly would not lead us to an approval of the status quo of the past ten years.
Thinking through issues of war and peace and violent versus non-violent resistance isn’t the only way to take the teachings of Jesus seriously but it would be a good place to begin. 2014 could be a year American Christians take steps toward a more Christ-centered agenda driven by the mission given to us by our Lord rather than allowing ourselves to be pulled along by the vacuous agendas of political parties.
This is not a call to withdrawal but to a more authentic Christian engagement. We have ceased being salt and light to the world when the who, what, when, where, and how of our political engagement looks exactly like the world’s. This can be the year we change that. Thinking through how to be in the world but not of the world in the political realm can be a challenging but eternally fruitful New Year’s resolution for 2014.