National freedom comes at a cost. Service men and women have lost their lives for freedom, mothers and fathers lose sons and daughters, and many civilians have perished as collateral damage in wars throughout the centuries.
Hospitals have been bombed. Schools have been destroyed. Churches have been used as garrisons. All in the name of freedom.
In my nation’s history, others have lost their freedoms for the sake of ours like in any other nation. Indigenous peoples have been labeled as savages to justify their slaughter, enslavement, and exile in events like the Trail of Tears. Conquistadors were given authority by the church under the Discovery Doctrine to take lands and lives from those who didn’t believe in Jesus.
African Americans were kidnapped, packed like cattle in ships, and enslaved. Their enslavement meant all kinds of freedoms and wealth for their masters and others who profited from such a system.
Hundreds of millions of others throughout history have lost their lives, lost their lands, or were enslaved by other superpowers or empires in the name of freedom and peace.
Often, these conquests were justified by using terms like barbarians and savages (or pagans/ infidels) to dehumanize their opponents. The idea being that whatever empire was in power at the time could justify their atrocities by bringing law and order to their lands.
Jesus told a different story. He said that those whom he would set free would be “free indeed.” He also talked about how the kind of peace he offers as King and Lord is different from what the world gives (see John 8:36; John 14:27). That is, the peace and freedom that come from Jesus do not require the death, conquest, or enslavement of the other, but it requires self-denial, self-sacrifice, and a relentless love of one’s enemies.
The sayings of Jesus leading up to his death reveal the type of kingdom Jesus came to offer. In response to Peter’s violence, he said that he could inflict destruction upon his enemies by calling legions of angels to his side, but that he he instead chose to be lifted up on the cross (Matthew 26:53).
When confronted with direct questions from Pilate, Jesus claimed that his kingdom is heavenly, and that it does not require his servants to fight (John 18:36) .
Recently, I heard a politician say that Jesus was killed by his government because he didn’t have an assault rifle. Regardless of the context of this statement, it totally misses the point: Jesus would rather die than take the life of someone else.
Unfortunately, the church has a history of holding hands with the empire. Beginning with Constantine, going down to the crusades, and continuing to the use of the Bible to justify slavery and segregation, we as the church have a poor record of following Jesus’s examples of non-violence and love for our enemies.
Communion, one of our most beloved traditions, has been observed for centuries, but the challenge has often been missed. Communion challenges us to turn our weapons into tools of agriculture. It challenges us to sit at the table with the other. It challenges us to tear down barriers of race, class, and gender that have divided us for so long.
Communion challenges us as the body of Christ to take up our cross, lay down our lives for each other, and live a life of love. Like Jesus, we should pray for the forgiveness of our enemies, and we should call those who may betray us our friends. Communion challenges any religion that holds hands with the empire. Unfortunately, Christians in many cases have not followed Jesus; instead they have followed the chief priests and people of Jesus’s day who cried out, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15).
While we can be proud of our country, we should remember that we are first and foremost citizens of a greater country. This calls us to renounce anything about our country that actively goes against the work of the kingdom even if it means being called names, mocked, or excluded from certain social groups.
While we honor the brave men and women who fought for our country at the expense of their lives, mental heath, and in many cases their conscience, we pray for a day when all will throw down their weapons and learn war no more. National freedom comes at a cost. But a greater freedom and a greater peace is possible. It doesn’t come through might, boots on the ground, swords, guns, or violence of any kind; it comes through the good news of Jesus which calls us to take up our crosses, lay down our arms, and follow Jesus in a life of love for our enemies. That is freedom indeed.