Op-ed by George Payne –
One of the reasons I stopped identifying as a Christian is that pacifism is too demanding. Personal questions concerning justified warfare, what to do about extremely violent criminals, and protecting two young children, became impossible to rationalize in light of Jesus’ teachings about absolute nonviolence. Put differently, in order to preserve my own sense of moral consistency, I had to stop claiming that I was a follower of Christ. I still admire his teachings, and I still believe that the Church does incredible good in the world; but in all honesty, I am not able to live up to his standards. And make no mistake about it. When it came to matters of war and peace, Jesus was unambiguous.
In the Gospel of Matthew, he is depicted telling his disciples: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” In 1 Thessalonians 5:15 of the New International Version, Jesus implores his followers to not “return evil for evil.” And in 2 Corinthians 10:4, he taught Christians that “the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.”
On no other topic was Jesus more committed or more clear.
But apparently President Trump and his evangelical Christian base does not feel any sense of internal conflict when it comes to Jesus’ stance on violence and the use of force against America’s enemies.
A day after Trump ordered the targeted assassination of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, at Baghdad’s international airport, he appeared before a raucous crowd of Christian supporters in Miami. In his speech, he claimed that Soleimani was planning a “very major attack,” and he was “terminated” in a “flawless” strike. Trump went on to say, “Qassem Soleimani has been killed and his bloody rampage is now, forever gone…He was plotting attacks against Americans, but now we’ve ensured his atrocities have been stopped for good.”
These lines were met with roaring applause by the packed megachurch. According to a report in the New York Times, “they held hands and prayed. They sang songs praising God… They chanted “USA” and “four more years…”
“He’s talking from his heart,” said Michelle Hoff, who came to the rally with two other women from her prayer group. “I can’t remember when we had a president who was honest like he is. Like everyone else, he’s a sinner saved by grace. A lot of people say stuff that they don’t do. He’s doing it.”
Not one to miss the moment, Trump even went so far as to claim, “I really do believe we have God on our side … or there would have been no way that we could have won.” “People say, ‘How do you win?’ You don’t have the media. You have so many things against you, and we win. So there has to be something.”
It has been said many times by people far smarter than me, but it bears repeating, especially in light of the President’s latest breach of international law: one cannot be a follower of Jesus and celebrate murder. To cheer the killing of another human being may make good political sense. It may even make Americans and the world at large a safer place. But it is not an act of Christian duty and it would not have pleased Christ. To celebrate an assassination in a church is not only a distortion of the Christian message; it is a gross example of moral hypocrisy and massive self- deception.
Moreover, Trump’s threat to take out 52 Iranian sites, “including some that are important to the Iranian culture,” is despicable. Such attacks have been condemned as “cultural cleansing” by Irina Bokova, a former director general of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). “The deliberate destruction of heritage is a war crime,” she told the U.N. Security Council in 2017, gadding that “it has become a tactic of war to tear societies over the long term.”
Others have gone further by equating this threat to the actions of ISIS. “A nation that willfully destroys another country’s heritage would be no better than the criminals who have destroyed irreplaceable sites in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in recent years,” Sara C. Bronin, a lawyer and specialist in historic preservation, wrote in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times.
I do wonder if evangelicals care what Jesus said and did. Do they care that their new leader is threatening to carry out the same type of actions as ISIS? If so, should the rest of the world continue to refer to them as Christian at all? Is it time to stop giving them a label that they are not prepared to live by? Why not just call them Evangelicals for Trump or simply Trumpists?
George Cassidy Payne is a freelance writer in Rochester, NY. He has master’s degrees in theology from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School and Emory University.
(The views expressed on our opinion pages are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or viewpoint of the Minority Reporter.)