I don’t know if you are a Gungor fan. If you aren’t, woe to you, oh missing-out one. If you are, then you have probably already listened to their latest album, I Am Mountain, enough to be familiar with the song I’m going to talk about. I don’t consider myself a true fan of Gungor… not because I don’t like them (I love them), but because I’m usually not savvy enough to know about all the cool stuff they do until my brother tells me about it.
Anyhow, one of my favorite songs from I Am Mountain is called God and Country. Set to the giddy-up style sounds of the ol’ West, as Michael Gungor explains it, “The song imagines a war between two lands and is told through the eyes of a daughter and a father who both lost somebody they love on opposite sides of the conflict.” On the band website, Michael gives a rundown of his thoughts behind the song. So, if you’re curious about that, you should click here.
As he aptly points out, one of the biggest slaps in the face comes from the realization that “it is often the ‘God fearing Christians’ that are the most trigger happy, pro-war people on the planet.” I think he’s right. Nationalistic Christianity is one of those things that just seems to permeate American culture. Those of you who have read my Theology of Non-Violence know how antithetical I think violence is to Jesus and his message. Peace and non-violence was kind of Jesus’ thing. And when we marry the enemy-loving gospel with our self-asserted right to kill people who threaten us, we are not just deviating from the gospel… we are all-out contradicting it. Violence always works at cross-purposes with the message of Christ, whether we think it is justified or not. Just to be clear, I’ll say it another way – when we do violence to others (friend or foe), we are actively undoing the very thing that Jesus came to do.
Which leads me to something that Michael says at the very beginning of his comments on God and Country…
“I used to be a pacifist, but then I had a kid.
I do still believe that non-violence is always the better option, but I just think that there are times when complete non-violence becomes impossible in certain circumstances. If someone breaks into my house, yes, I’m going to do whatever I need to do to protect my wife and my daughter.”
Now, Michael and his wife Lisa are amazing artists, innovative musicians, and genuine kingdom revolutionaries. But on this point, I think Michael’s wrong. Not because he wants to protect his family, that’s fine. But because he still believes that protecting the things we care about is (at some point) worth doing violence. His statement that he is “going to do whatever I need to do” sounds eerily similar to Malcolm X’s “by any means necessary” statement.
Admittedly, I sympathize with where he’s coming from. Once my son was born, I quickly realized how easily that mama bear instinct kicks in. But, just because my animal instinct gets activated doesn’t mean I should listen to it, otherwise I would spend all of my time eating, looking for sex, and beating up people who threaten me (which unfortunately is how some people seem to live). Here’s how I see it – Jesus taught that in his kingdom allegiance to him comes before all other allegiances, even allegiance to family (Mt 12:46-50; Lk 9:59-62; 14:26), and, as I’ve argued before, one of the essential features of his kingdom is non-violence. If we are going to swear our allegiance to Jesus’ lordship, we can’t switch citizenship whenever we feel threatened.
Now, here’s where I think a lot of people start to get into trouble with their thinking. Whenever I make an argument for non-violence, I invariably get someone who says, “Yes, but what if someone breaks into your home and wants to murder your family” … you know, because that happens to us so often. But even if it does happen,1 that seems like the exact sort of situation in which Jesus would want us to be most kingdom-like. In fact, many of the early Christians faced that exact situation!
The way it normally works is we begin with an extreme situation where we feel justified in doing violence, and then we work our way back from that…
If someone threatened my family, I would be justified doing violence.
What if it’s your extended family?
Family is family, so yeah.
What if it’s not your family, but a neighbor?
The Bible says to love your neighbor, so definitely.
How about all of your neighbors, your whole country?
Well, it would be wrong to only protect some of my neighbors, so yeah, okay.
And there we’ve just made great strides toward justifying going to war and killing other people, for the sake of national security, to protect our rights, or whatever. It’s a slippery slope, and one that many Christians are far too quick to slide down. But, what if we did things the other way? What if we began with a situation where we most readily love our enemies and then work forward from there?
If someone gossips about me, I will regard them as infinitely valuable and respond with love.
What if they slap you in the face?
Turn the other cheek.
Yeah, but what if they want to do you real harm?
I suppose, try to stop them, but still in a peaceful, loving way.
But, if they want to kill your loved ones, then you can kill them, right?
Not if I still maintain that they have infinite value. I should still resist them in a loving way.
See how that can work both ways? I once heard a friend say, “If someone tries to harm my family, they’ve already decided for me that their life is worth less.” But, why on earth would you allow an attacker to decide how much anybody’s life is worth, even their own? Rather, Jesus should be the measure by which we determine the value of human life, and he seemed to think that all people have infinite worth (since he, being God, had infinite worth and was willing to sacrifice himself to obtain us). If someone has infinite worth, then I ought to treat them as such. And if everyone has infinite worth, then that necessarily includes both the attacker who wants to harm my family and my family… both “the strangers from the east” and “our fathers and our sons.”
Although I may disagree with Michael Gungor on this particular aspect, I think God and Country is an amazing song. You should definitely give it a listen below.
“Those who live by the gun… die by the gun.” How true.
1: ... which sadly it does once in a blue moon...