Why are God and violence so easily mixed?
Let me explain my question a little more. I took in a small town parade a few weeks ago. I was there in the capacity of my job as a journalist taking pictures and notes for an upcoming article. I watched high school football players and little Cub Scouts toss jawbreakers and Tootsie Rolls to the crowd lined up along the road.
Living where I do, there was no shock seeing several church sponsored floats file past along with the fire trucks and riders from the local saddle club. All were Christian, mostly Baptist or some other evangelical denomination. Cheerful floats decorated flowers and littered with smiling children filed past, pulled slowly along by pick-up trucks decorated in a similar manner.
Adjusting the zoom for another shot, I caught a glimpse of a man standing on a short trailer while several small children sat on hay bales below a beautifully carved wooden cross. The man standing at the head of the display caused me to put down my camera and look with my own eyes. Could I be seeing this right? He was dressed in battle fatigues, holding a black semi-automatic rifle. A banner on the side of the float said “Going to Battle for what is Right”.
I held my breath and took the shot, thinking that this was the strangest paradox I had seen in a long time. At one end of the small float were small children at the feet of a cross draped in a deep purple cloth. Just a few feet away stood this G.I. Joe for Jesus.
After the parade I walked through the small fair and watched costumed battle re-enactors lay wreaths on memorial tombstones to honor the soldiers that had fallen in a long ago battle that played out on the very grass where we stood. One soldier stepped forward, recounting the battlefield history, lending due attention casualties suffered by both sides. He spoke articulately about the horrors of war and the need to remember the past in the hopes of letting it die in the history books. He said we remember the fallen and the realities of war in the hope for peace. I closed my eyes in reverence as he asked for moment of silence..
With my eyes closed I thought again of the soldier for God. Why is there such a close kinship between religion and war? The first scene of note in the Book of Mormon involves the violent beheading of a drunken man. The scriptures claim that it is better for one man to fall than for nations to descend into unbelief.
I want to know why. Why is killing and maiming superior to the possibility that an ideology might evolve over time?
Why does one part of the Bible read like a volume of the history of war on the earth, but another extols peace and love, the Golden Rule and turning the other cheek?
How can anyone who was ever touched by The Sermon on the Mount not recoil at the thought of harming another soul in the name of God?
Reflecting on the killing in the world in the name of God in just my own lifetime makes my head spin. Why is it so easy for people to take up arms in the name of the divine, feeling fully justified committing murder in the name of God? If this made sense to me once, it certainly does not now. It doesn’t even come close.
I read Under the Banner of Heaven a few years back. I was completely floored by the easy leap between the Church I loved and lived and the mentality of the Lafferty brothers that gave them enough reason to slit the throat of their tiny infant niece. The scripture they read that gave them the justification for two chilling murders is right there in black and white in the same triple combination that sits on my bookshelf. The same section of the Doctrine and Covenants has inspired many cut throat dissenters from the Church, down to the man who took Elizabeth Smart from her home.
Last week we published a fictional account inspired by the life of a participant of Mountain Meadows Massacre. Thinking of the justifications I have heard from apologists and true believers for the killings sends the same cold shivers down my spine that I felt seeing a man with an AK-47 so close to small children on that parade float.
Reason seems to demand that the more devoted one is to a religion, the more guns, death, war, and killing should repulse them. But the opposite seems to be true. Many of the wars in the history of this planet have begun in the name of religion. Maybe this is one of the reasons why organized religion has ceased to have a place in my life.
The God I believe in is not a sponsor of wars in his name. The God I know is about peace and love for all of mankind. Maybe I am missing something. Maybe the gospel really is violent and my peace loving heart is wicked and black and hard. I guess that’s a chance I am willing to take.
Never again will I march under a banner that so easily mixes a loving God with the sharp point of a sword.