Part of American Christianity has planted its flag in the issue of war. Defending America’s use of violence, and subsequently all actions carried out by the American military, has become a matter of patriotism as well as devotion to God.
This past week Fox News’ commentator, Todd Starnes, in response to criticism of the film American Sniper, said, “I’m no theologian, But I suspect Jesus would tell that God-fearing, red-blooded American sniper, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant for dispatching another Godless jihadist to the lake of fire.'”
This is a disgusting and despicable comment, yet it is precisely the sentiment which many American Christians embrace. (Take a few minutes to consider the ramifications of Todd Starnes comment. This perspective is the justification behind every atrocity performed by Christians throughout history.) We believe in a Jesus who is for us, against our enemies, and rejoices in their destruction. We embrace a Jesus who delights in death and looks forward to sending the enemies of America to eternal torture. We neglect the Jesus who taught enemy-love in favor of a Jesus who is out for blood.
The film American Sniper, and more specifically the actions of Chris Kyle, have become one of the most recent battlegrounds in the culture war. Whether or not the movie glorifies war is debatable. Personally, I believe the film reveals the horror of war without defending it, but that is not really the issue. Apologists for war, especially religious conservatives, have rallied around American Sniper in order to defend violence perpetuated against the enemies of America. Chris Kyle, the deadliest sniper in American history, has become the figurehead for godly patriotism. Do we really believe, though, that Jesus endorses the killing of human beings, the destruction inflicted on society, and the ravaging of the souls of the soldiers involved in war? War is hell.
In his autobiography Chris Kyle writes, “That’s what we were fighting in Iraq. That’s why a lot of people, myself included, called the enemy ‘savages.’… I only wish I had killed more.”
He also says, “I loved killing bad guys. … I loved what I did. I still do … it was fun. I had the time of my life being a SEAL.”
Kyle is being applauded in Christian circles, but these comments should never make us cheer. They should cause us to cringe. They should cause us to grieve that our world is in such a state that horrible violence seems necessary and those who perpetuate it are held up as heroes.
I have no desire to make Chris Kyle into a villain. What I hope for is that we Christians will choose peace and stop embracing the way of war.