How seriously do we, and should we, take the ethical guidance and commands of Christ? This is a question that has long interested me as a Christian. Christ is fairly explicit throughout the Gospels, and especially in the Sermon on the Mount, that an ethic of nonviolence, mercy, and compassion is required of those who would be disciples. Jesus instructs in his sermon that we are to love our enemies, give quietly and without great fanfare to the needy, refrain from judging, and, most famously, to turn the other cheek.
These commands are key points of contention between realist and pacifist Christians arguing in the political and social realm. Should an ethic of nonresistance and even submission guide a Christian’s engagement in politics? While the more Niebuhrian will clearly answer no, they almost never go so far as to disparage these words of Christ; rather, their opposition is grounded in a realpolitik approach to social engagement, in which hard realities must be met, even if that means that we at times, like all sinners, fall short of our calling. (It is here that I think Niebuhr’s grounding in Reformed theology really shines through most clearly.) Christ’s words are the ultimate good, in this view, but our own sin, and the sin of the world, often prevents us from living up to them.
Jerry Falwell Jr’s new Falkirk Center at Liberty University, however, takes things in a completely anti-Christian direction in its mission statement. Apparently, the very words of Christ are just simply unacceptable to Donald Trump’s favorite court evangelical. According to Falwell, the specter of “leftism”, and the driving urge he feels to defend America first and foremost, takes precedence over the words of Christ:
Bemoaning the rise of leftism is no longer enough. Turning the other cheek in our personal relationships with our neighbors as Jesus taught, while abdicating our responsibilities on the cultural battlefield is not sufficient. There is too much at stake in the battle for the soul of our nation.
“There is too much at stake” for us to take the words of Christ seriously any longer. Being a follower of the Crucified God is all well and good, but winning the culture is much, much more important. God and Country, after all, right?
This is disgusting, frankly, and it really strains the bounds of what can really be considered Christianity. It’s one thing to grapple with these commands and come down on the side that they are sometimes simply unrealistic in the face of realities today. I don’t personally subscribe to this view – I am quite confident that the example of Christ is never deficient; it may sometimes result in our own personal discomfort, deprivation or even death, but such is the price we pay for following the One who offered himself up to death. But it’s another thing indeed to just declare, as a Christian, that the words of Christ just simply aren’t good enough anymore.
It’s enough to make me think that, if Christ were here today giving his Sermon, living his life of nonresistance and peace, that there would be large swaths of the American church who would label him a “snowflake” – or worse.
The words of Christ are never deficient. Are they sometimes inconvenient, hard, or unpopular? Will they sometimes ostracize us, separate, or even put us in bodily danger? Absolutely. But they serve a greater good than immediate political victory and support of conservative political causes. It seems like Jerry Falwell Jr – and many conservative Christians – seem to have forgotten this. Political achievement has replaced Christian principles.