taking the words of Jesus seriously

Any preacher who sanctions the use of nuclear weapons is from the pit of hell.

This isn’t a time to be subtle about it. Saying that God has empowered a national leader to use weapons of mass destruction to kill enemies — and many others who would likewise die — for any cause is evidence that the minister is taking his guidance from a very dark source. Nothing of the light of Christ is in the words of one who would say, “God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary — including war — to stop evil.” Yes, I’m naming Rev. Robert Jeffress.

His claim is the polar opposite of the words of the apostle Paul who echoed Jesus when he wrote, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all” (Romans 12:17). No, “whatever means possible” is not what God permits. That is what hell permits. “Whatever means possible” is what levels entire cities, annihilates civilizations, burns the flesh off children. “Whatever means possible” is not the way to defeat evil; it is the very nature of evil itself.

The words of Jeffress, a Baptist megachurch pastor from Dallas, are especially repugnant because they were a show of support for the dangerously unwise threat from President Donald Trump directed at North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un. Trump boisterously declared that North Korea would be “met with fire and fury like the world has never seen” if its leader continued to threaten the United States. Clearly, such unprecedented “fire and fury” could only come from nuclear weapons. In response, the North Korean leader immediately made another threat.

Instead of following the Prince of Peace by calling for calm, reason, and further attempts at reconciliation, Jeffress threw gasoline on the hot exchange between Trump and Kim Jong-un. He offered unqualified support for a president who has shown himself to be rash, uninformed, and excessively confrontational. And Jeffress went further by assuring the president that God supported him in whatever he might choose to do, including raining down unspeakable violence upon the peninsula.

READ: Did We Worship Our Way to Trump?

Jeffress anticipated the objections that would come from Christians such as me. He claimed the passage I cited above refers to Christians, not to the government. In other words, Christians must not respond to evil with evil — but governments should. But that begs the question: Aren’t Christians called to follow Jesus in every domain of life? Jesus says, “Love your enemies” He doesn’t tell us, “Love and bless your enemies, unless the government tells you to kill them.”

Our Lord makes no distinction between personal enemies and international enemies. That is a distinction fabricated by those who want to minimize the radical teachings of Jesus. We are never citizens of the United States first. Our discipleship must not be tailored to fit American interests. It is always wrong for disciples to promote practices at odds with the words and life of Jesus. There is no right time for Christians to howl with the wolves, regardless of what national leaders choose to do.

Jeffress lifts up Romans 13:1-8 to bolster his claim that God is on the side of Trump. This has always been a favorite text of the clergy who are friends of tyrants and dictators. It justifies a multitude of sins: “There is no authority except from God …for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:1,4).

Jeffress fails to note that his ham-handed interpretation of this passage would suggest that Kim Jong-un is no less “the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.” As such, he reads the passage through the eyes of an American nationalist with all the self-righteousness that entails. He uses it to support American dominance and American definitions of “wrongdoers.” Yet, Jeffress would  certainly object to others using his simple-minded appropriation of Romans 13:1-8 to justify actions by leaders of other nations to undercut American interests and power by deciding to “execute wrath on the wrongdoer” in Saudi Arabia or some other nation with a dubious human rights record that has U.S. support.

Jeffress boldly declared, “God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong-un.” But he doesn’t mention the countless innocent people who would be “taken out” as well and the horrific suffering that would follow if Trump carried out his threat to inflict “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” Any God that has given Trump the authority to unleash vast devastation to “protect America” is not the God revealed in Jesus Christ but an idol wrapped in red, white, and blue.

RELATED: What Will It Take to Ban the Bomb?

It is no wonder that Jeffress neglected the words of scriptures immediately before and after his Trump-supporting proof text. Paul issues a whole-hearted call for Christians to be a people of extraordinary love and peace:

Let love be genuine…love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor… extend hospitality to strangers…Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them…live peaceably with all…Beloved, never avenge yourselves… ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink’…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:9-21, NRSV).

Those words cannot in any way be construed to support a president who threatens earth-scorching fire from above. And so, too, do the words that follow Jeffress’ proof text. The people Paul calls Christians to be are a people shaped by the story of the nonviolent, relentlessly loving Jesus: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments… are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:8-10).

The neighbors we are called to love are not just other Americans but North Koreans as well. And any preacher who suggests God sanctions a president nuking them is from the pit of hell.

About The Author

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Craig M. Watts is author of Bowing Toward Babylon: The Nationalistic Subversion of Christian Worship in America (Cascade Books 2017) and minister of Royal Palm Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Coral Springs, Florida.

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