The Christian and Armed Militias
The following article appeared in the April, 1997 issue of Companions magazine.
The following article appeared in the April, 1997 issue of Companions magazine.
Waco, the incident at Ruby Ridge, the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, and the “Freemen” have focused our attention of the phenomena of militias, and to other small anti-government, anti-society groups. According to some sources, as many as 15,000 Americans may be members of militia groups. Members point to the corruption in government, the moral breakdown in society, the bias in media, and the threat of a coming one-world government. Many even claim to be born-again Christians, and some even hold Bible studies to promote their views. This, however, raises some very serious questions: for example, should Christians train in preparation for armed anti-government conflict? Should Christians even be members of militia groups at all? Or should Christians take the opposite approach and retreat to the wilderness to await the coming of the Lord.
At least two issues must be considered when discussing the matter of militias: a government issue and a hate issue. We will examine these two issues by focusing on Jesus in His historical context and by drawing applications to the militia movement. The fourth chapter of John records that one day while Jesus was passing through Samaria on His way to Galilee, He stopped at a well and asked a Samaritan woman for a drink. She was amazed because, as the text says, Jews do not have things in common with Samaritans. This is usually explained by the fact that Samaritans were so-called “half-breeds.” But that is only part of a long history that begins with Solomon.
After Solomon died, the nation of Israel was divided. The Northern Kingdom, known as Israel or Samaria, set up their own worship centers and soon adopted the gods of the Canaanites. This Canaanite worship sometimes sunk to such depths as to include religious prostitution and human sacrifice! In 722 BC, the Assyrians conquered Samaria, deported some of the population, and brought people from other conquered nations to live in Samaria. The remaining Samaritans intermarried with these foreigners, and their descendants ceased to be completely Jewish. To the godly Jewish “remnant” this intermarriage with godless “pagans” was viewed as a direct affront to God and was often a source of tension. But, as mentioned above, this is only the beginning of the story.
A little over a hundred years later, Babylon began a series of invasions into the Southern Kingdom of Judah, deporting much of the population to Babylon. After about 70 years in exile, the Jews were allowed to return home to rebuild their cities and temple. The only obstacle was the Samaritans who did everything they could to stop the building projects, including letters to the king of Persia and threats of violence. This deepened the antagonism between Jews and Samaritans. But there is more.
In about 170 BC, Palestine was controlled by a ruthless Syrian king known as Antiochus Epiphanes. Antiochus is said to have killed or enslaved 80,000 Jews, outlawed circumcision and possession of Scriptures, and sacrificed a pig to a foreign god in the Jewish temple! He then sent soldiers into the countryside to force villagers to sacrifice to foreign gods…or die. This was undoubtedly one of the worst nightmares imaginable to godly Jewish people! While this was going on, however, the Samaritans not only willingly agreed to sacrifice to Antiochus’ god, they “cheered him on”, so to speak, in the slaughter of Jews!! Whatever antagonism there had been before, undoubtedly turned to bitter hatred.
Finally, just a few years before Jesus began His ministry, a group of Samaritans actually sneaked up to the temple in Jerusalem and laid dead carcasses on the grounds, defiling the Temple area! While some today may consider such actions “gross” or cruel, godly Jews would have considered the defilement of their temple a nightmare which would have undoubtedly reminded them of the days of Antiochus. The flames of their hatred toward Samaritans were undoubtedly fueled to new heights.
This background brings us to the issue of hatred in militia groups. Militias are often permeated with racial or other hatred. If asked, militia members could undoubtedly give a dozen reasons why they think their hatred is justified. But if any group of people ever thought they had good reasons to hate another group of people, it was the Jews against Samaritans. Yet even though He was a full-blooded Jew, Jesus did not hate Samaritans! He did not even hate immoral Samaritans, like the woman at the well. He was not violent toward them. He did not insult or verbally abuse them. He did not even talk down to them. Instead, he accepted their invitation to eat and stay with them, which in ancient Jewish societies had much more significance than it does today. As a result, Jesus won many Samaritans to Himself. If we would follow Jesus, we must do likewise, that is, to reach out to others in kindness and love, never from a heart of hatred, bigotry, or racism.
This does not mean, however, that we accept sin. Jesus did not accept the sin of the woman at the well. He tactfully, yet uncompromisingly, confronted her about her immorality. But confronting sin does not mean resorting to intimidation, hatred, or violence. As Paul said, we need to “speak the truth in love.”
Not all militias, however, are necessarily hate-based. Some may just be very concerned about the state of our society in general and government in particular. Many of us may even agree with some militia members’ concerns about governmental corruption, societal immorality, the erosion of personal and religious freedoms, and the movement toward one-world government. How are we as Christians to react to this?
It may be helpful to look at the Roman world in which Jesus lived. Homosexuality, incest, child abuse, spouse abuse, suicide, abortion, and infant exposure were often accepted in various parts of the empire. Corruption, extortion, robbery, and murder were not uncommon. Taxes were often very high, and the Roman government often used the money to support such things as military expansion or the building of pagan temples. Palestine was controlled by Roman appointees, and the temple in Jerusalem was frequently run by corrupt priests. Jews were also under the rule of a genuine one-world government…at least throughout the Mediterranean world.
While not all of this was common to Palestine, Greco-Roman culture had made significant inroads in Jesus’ home region of Galilee in the first century. Jews in Jesus’ day responded to this in several ways. Some, known as Essenes, tried to isolate themselves, withdrawing from the sin and corruption of the world. For example, it may have been the Essenes who retreated to the isolated commune along the Dead Sea and produced the Dead Sea Scrolls. Others, known as the Zealots, took a more militant approach. In their view, Israel was God’s country and the Romans had no right to rule there. The Zealots wanted to take their country back by force if necessary. Still other welcomed the Hellenistic ways of Greco-Roman culture, including some of its more sinful aspects.
It is notable that, though all of these options were open to Jesus, He did not choose any of them. Neither did Jesus withdraw from the world to barricade Himself inside the walls of a commune. He did not take up arms to fight against the world, and He certainly did not give in and adopt the ways of the world. Instead, He went out into world to change hearts and lives and to draw people to Himself. He commissioned His people to do likewise, that is to go into the world and make disciples.
The day may come when persecution for Christians in America becomes intense, as it has in other countries. If so, God’s people may need to flee, following the example of Paul, who fled from cities such as Damascus or Thessalonica to avoid persecution; or Peter who fled from Jerusalem. But in the meantime, our Lord calls us not to hate nor to respond with violence, but to do something much harder: to love even our enemies, and to go into all the world and make disciples. Membership in hate-based, or potentially violent organizations, is not an option Jesus has left open to those who choose to follow Him.