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Prince of Peace or God of War?

...the Greatest Warrior of Them All, Jesus Christ

Tom, e-mail


Onward Christian soldiers!
Did Jesus really want his followers to smite all his enemies? To convert them or, failing that, to kill them? Here's one man's opinion on the subject:

Rodriguez: The Christ I knew

Posted: August 20, 2004 -- 9:50am EST
by: Roberto Rodriguez / Syndicated columnist / Column of the Americas

Not a day goes by that someone on this planet isn't invoking God or a higher power for the purposes of war or some other self-enriching scam. When I was growing up, like most people on this continent, I was introduced to a Christ and his teachings about the sacredness of life. Today, I no longer recognize that same Christ nor those teachings.

Years ago, when I was taught by elders of different traditions to view and respect all life as sacred, I recognized that as part of the same teachings inculcated upon me by my own Catholic parents.

When one views all life as sacred, one's primary duty is to protect life, to honor it, and to live respectfully among one's neighbors. One does this by example, every day, not by simply making shrill pronouncements.

For many Native peoples, Christ as the Prince of Peace is completely compatible with this view. There is no contradiction. Belief in a creator and peacemakers throughout ancient indigenous America or Turtle Island abounds and lives on.

But another Christ has come along that I don't recognize ... Christ as God of War. These followers see him as leading a war against the forces of evil, demanding their complete eradication, demanding conversion or death. This is the Christ of the Crusades. The same one that drove out Muslims and Jews from Spain, and the same one that was brought over by Columbus, Cortez and Pizarro. Convert or be killed. Or just be killed.

I was taught that forced conversions and the annihilation of civilizations weren't part of Christ's philosophy, but rather, that of greedy and wayward conquistadors and overzealous men of the cloth. Just as Christ stood for justice and was the defender of the poor and the ostracized, he was also the symbol of peace. Of this I was assured, and his message was love ... even for his enemies.

Turn the other cheek.

And yet, I am once again hearing about this other Christ, sanctioning wars against evil, exposing entire nations to the very evils of war. To be truthful, I hear this about Allah also ... about sanctioning a jihad against the infidels, against the Great Satan.

Each side invokes God. It is said that invoking Allah in such a manner is a distortion. Perhaps. I don't really know, since I was not raised in that tradition. The tradition I was raised in, I do know. Or thought I knew.

Lately, bishops have been threatening to withhold communion from those who don't uphold Catholic teachings -- the tenet about the sacredness of all life. There's talk that Catholics who are pro-choice on abortion should be prohibited from receiving communion. Yet nothing is being said about those supporting the current war (which the pope has condemned as immoral) nor about death penalty supporters.

Is it Christ I no longer recognize, or is it the church? I would like to think it's but a few overzealous bishops.

Some doubt the sincerity of the president's faith ... whether his reborn Christianity is genuine. Who is in the position to render judgment regarding his beliefs -- regarding his belief that he's warring on behalf of "his Father above"?

Not I. I will, however, admit that anyone invoking God to go to war makes me nervous. Yet with this president specifically, I've also had uncomfortable thoughts that his beliefs are being manipulated (by non-believers), resulting in the promotion of a war of civilizations. Maybe not, but what I'm sure of is that I don't recognize the Christ he invokes. Others say that the president's Christ is undeniably recognizable, that he's always been invoked in war: Onward Christian soldiers.

Possibly. But just the same, it is said that for every Cortez, there was a Friar Bartolome de las Casas -- ready to defend the rights of Native peoples. Maybe so, though nowhere do I find a War Christ ... nowhere do I find an attraction to a War God. Because what is war? Ask any military chief and he readily admits that war is ugly -- that it is death and mass destruction, to be avoided at all costs, because it's the innocent who always pay the biggest price.

Maybe this other Christ does exist. But that would be the Christ of the medieval ages or of the generals of this past generation that carried out genocidal campaigns against Native peoples throughout the Americas. Yet most assuredly, that was not the work of Christ.

The Christ I was raised believing in was that of El Salvador's Archbishop Romero -- who was killed for defending not the rich, but the poor, for seeking political and economic justice for them. The Christ of Mother Teresa. Neither was silent. That's the Christ and those are the teachings that I recognize.

Along with Patrisia Gonzales, Roberto Rodriguez has been writing the syndicated Column of the Americas since 1994. Rodriguez is pursuing an advanced degree on the topic of origins/migrations and will co-teach, with Gonzales, a class on Indigenous Geography later this year at UW-Madison. He can be reached at: XColumn@aol.com. Copyright 2004 Universal Press Syndicate.

Related links
Turning the other cheek
A just war or just a war?
What Jesus said
Winning through nonviolence

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