taking the words of Jesus seriously

I envy the distrust that Muslims in America face.  There are loud voices claiming that they can’t be counted on to be totally dependable citizens.  In particular, we are being told that Muslims can’t be trusted to serve in the armed forces. On Veterans Day Tennessee State Representative and outspoken anti-Shariah advocate Rick Womick was very clear: “Personally, I don’t trust one Muslim in our military.”  When asked whether he believes they should be forced out, he answered unambiguously, “Absolutely, yeah!”  I wish that kind of concern was being expressed about Christians.

Largely, I find Womick’s fears about Muslims to be ridiculous and baseless.  He and others in the anti-Shariah law movement oppose a non-existent threat, given the absence of a single move to institute this Muslim code anywhere in the U.S.  In fact there has not been so much as a serious discussion among Muslim leaders about even making an attempt to do so.  But none of this has stopped Womick and those who share his views from depicting Shariah as one of the greatest threats to American freedom in our time.  The entire issue is a fabrication apparently devised by alarmists who seek to keep Muslims on the margins of American society by heightening suspicions of them.

In a statement of full-bore fear-mongering, Womick declared, “[I]f they truly are a devout Muslim, and follow the Quran and the Sunnah, then I feel threatened because they’re commanded to kill me.” [sic] He and his fellow travelers can be counted on to give a fair and informed interpretation of Muslim scripture just about to the same degree that a leader of Al-Qaeda can be counted on for a credible interpretation of the Gospels, which is to say, not at all.  But what is striking in his words is the assumption that Muslims will follow the logic of their faith where ever it leads regardless of the costs and American interests will not be given priority.

Why don’t Christians generate that kind of concern?

I am envious because the anti-Shariah law clan believes Muslims are likely to take the teachings of Mohammed seriously enough that it will get in the way of their military service.  But apparently Christians can be trusted because they can be counted on to come up with reasons to ignore Jesus.  Ultimately, they will do their duty to the state unhampered by the words and teachings of Christ.  Christians can be trusted to wear the name of Christ without actually being like him.  This is the kind of religion that works well in the military, quite in contrast to what Womick takes to be the posture of a serious Muslim.

Because of their vociferous critics, Muslims in America are reminded that they are outsiders.  They can’t easily believe that they comfortably belong in the mainstream of society.  The suspicion of others reminds them of their distinctive identity.  Christians aren’t confronted with that sort of reminder because they aren’t viewed as being distinctive, at least not in any way that is seen as important.  So there is no one suggesting that Christians shouldn’t be welcome in the military.  No one suspects they will be resistant to learning how to kill well or be reluctant to kill who they are told to kill, even other Christians, if so commanded.

I can’t help but wonder how people would react if Christians were Christian first of all. For instance, what would happen if Christian soldiers took the idea of “just war” seriously?  Sure, officers learn of the “just war” tradition as part of their training.  But what if they understood that what “just war” is should not just be relegated to politicians alone to decide.  The church has something to say about it.  How well would Christians in the military be trusted if they got together to discuss whether the cause of a war was truly just or whether it was, indeed, a last resort or whether discrimination / non-combatant immunity was likely to be respected in a given operation, regardless of what they were being told by political or military leaders? If the “just war” tradition truly guided Christians, it could not be taken for granted that Christian soldiers would automatically take to the battlefield just because they were told by the President and their superior officers to do so.

What would happen if Christians in the military prayed in a way that was as striking as Muslims pray?  What would happen if Christian soldiers got together and prayed like Jesus taught?  Not the God-Bless-America sorts of prayers.  Not the protect-us-and-help-us-be-successful prayers.  Rather what if Christian soldiers prayed for their enemies and asked that God bless them?  What if they prayed to see all people as God sees them and prayed for the strength and wisdom to behave accordingly?  Would the military really want men and women in their ranks who are at risk of actually believing that the enemy’s life is every bit as precious as that of other Americans or even that of fellow soldiers? Just how dependable is a soldier who allows his or her faith to exert such life-shaping influence?

But no one seems to worry about these sorts of questions.  While there is fear in some quarters that Muslims might be too independent, too influenced by their faith to be fit for the armed forces, Christians don’t evoke that kind of concern.  Apparently, it is universally believed that as a group Christians in America can be counted on to be compliant.

So I envy the distrust faced by Muslims in America.  I long for the day when Christians will take Jesus seriously enough that politicians question whether they are fit for military duty.

Craig M. Watts is the minister of (Disciples of Christ) in Coral Springs , Florida and Co-Moderator of Disciples Peace Fellowship. He authored the book Disciple of Peace: Alexander Campbell on Pacifism, Violence and the State (Doulos Christou Press: Indianapolis, 2005) and his essays have appeared in many journals such as Cross Currents, Encounter, the Otherside, DisciplesWorld and more. Craig blogs on the

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About The Author


Craig M. Watts is author of "Bowing Toward Babylon: The Nationalistic Subversion of Christian Worship in America" (Cascade Books 2017), an ordained Disciples of Christ minister, and a life-long peace activist. He is lives with his wife Cindi in Oaxaca De Juarez, Oaxaca, Mexico.

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