Three years ago, the polling firm YouGov asked Americans whether they thought it could ever be justified for their political party to use violence to advance its goals. The overwhelming response was no. Only 8 percent of people said anything other than “never.” This year, YouGov asked the same question — and the share of respondents saying that political violence could be somewhat justified roughly doubled.
It’s important to note that the problem of violence for political purposes is bipartisan, but that it is not equally bad on both sides as the president has indicated. The American right today has a far bigger violence problem than the American left. Of the 42 killings by political extremists last year, right-wing extremists committed 38.
Just last week thirteen men from two militia groups were charged with a violent plot that included storming the Michigan State Capitol, kidnapping Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and taking over the state government.
President Trump was no help the week before during the debates when he refused to denounce violent white supremacy and groups that perpetuate it. Instead of “Stand down!” as he was prompted to say by the moderator he said, “Stand back. Stand by,” and then was quick to claim that most of the violence he sees is from the left. Right wing hate groups heard the president’s words as a rallying cry, a call to action: “We’re STANDING BY, Mr. President,” they said.
So, if he won’t, I will say it, and direct my exhortation to my Christian brothers and sisters: STAND DOWN!
I say that because calls to violent action are now coming from another source, so-called Christian preachers! For instance, the well-known Pentecostal author and self-proclaimed “prophet,” Rick Joyner, who has recently been urging Americans to take up arms and join right-wing militia groups in a “civil war” against the Marxist tyranny of the radical left! I all but fell off my chair as I watched a video of him claiming to have had a dream and a “prophetic word” from God that Christians should arm themselves and get in the fight for the sake of the Gospel!
If you know me, you know that I don’t blithely throw out accusations like “false prophet,” but in this case the label fits like a glove. I’m not saying that Joyner has always been or always will be a false prophet. I read a book or two of his back in the day and found his writing to be edifying and helpful. But in this case what he’s “prophesying” is unbiblical and highly perilous, if not to human life in some sort of militia-driven violence, at least to the reputation of the Church of Jesus Christ.
For the record, I believe in the gift of prophecy and I understand there is a “spiritual battle” in which we’re engaged (Ephesians 6). But Joyner (and probably others I don’t know about) are talking about something altogether different, a battle with weapons that kill humans.
Paul wrote, “Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said” (1 Corinthians 14:29). I assume I’m one of “the others” and am therefore qualified to weigh the value of Joyner’s prophecy. The Apostle also wrote, “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:19). In putting this one to the test I find nothing good in it and reject the evil of it in hopes that my readers will do the same.
Joyner went on to say that God has “seeded” the U.S. with veterans of recent wars who “know how to fight in urban warfare.” He said that these “patriots” would “be a part of the leadership of these militias and help us in what’s about to unfold in our own country.” This has to be called out for what it is, a crazy and toxic concoction of extreme right-wing nationalism coupled with a wacky form of so-called “Christianity”!
Whatever your politics––right, left, or center––let’s agree that violent attacks on other Americans with whom we disagree is insane and not anywhere in the universe of a Christ-honoring faith!
This goes beyond crazy; it’s anti-Christ. On top of that, it’s shameful that any preacher of the Gospel would promote such drivel and shocking that any Christian would swallow it. Joyner holds regular conferences that people attend and he writes blogs and books that they read. Apparently there’s a critical mass of such undiscerning folk to go around.
He should be ashamed of himself for inciting violence on our own citizens. I hope that other prominent Christian leaders will have the courage to call him to repent and publicly retract his false prophecy. If I had his ear, I can only hope I’d have the audacity to do just that.
Here’s what God says of the false prophets in Jeremiah’s day:
“Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD… I did not send these prophets, yet they have run with their message; I did not speak to them, yet they have prophesied.
“I have heard what the prophets say who prophesy lies in my name. They say, ‘I had a dream! I had a dream!’ How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets, who prophesy the delusions of their own minds?.
“They tell them and lead my people astray with their reckless lies, yet I did not send or appoint them. They do not benefit these people in the least, declares the LORD.” Jeremiah 25:16, 21, 25, 26, 32
As for the call to a violent civil war, have we no memory of the Church’s pockmarked history of violence? From Constantine to the Crusades, the Inquisition to the Counter-Reformation, so-called Christians on a quest to torture and kill others. We’ve been trying to live these down ever since. Why would we vote for a repeat performance?
“Violent revolutionaries are involved in a contradiction that jeopardizes the very order they wish to establish,” says Theologian Walter Wink. “They plan to gain power by the very means that they will declare illegal when they gain power.”
Does Jesus have an opinion about taking up arms to wage war against our fellow citizens with whom we disagree? You bet your AR-15 he does.
In place of retributive eye-stabbing or tooth-pulling he prohibited violent* resistance to attack He promoted a creative non-violent alternative, the cheek-turning, enemy-loving third way. (Matthew 5) *The term he uses in verse 39 for “resistance” speaks of an armed revolution.
“My kingdom is not of this world,” he said to flummoxed Pilate. “If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36).
He said “Take up your cross,” not “Take out your sword.” In fact, he vetoed violence when he told Peter to “put away his sword” (Matthew 26:52) after he sliced off a guy’s ear who had come to take Jesus away. He went on to say that if he felt the need he could call “twelve legions of angels” to do what one lone sword couldn’t. (Make a brief perusal of the Hebrew Bible and you’ll se what even one lone angel can do if called upon by God.) But that wasn’t the Jesus way.
He required neither swords nor angels to accomplish his purposes. His was a plan that employed love as a “weapon” to overcome evil. “The cross is shock therapy for a world addicted to solving its problems through violence,” says Brian Zahnd.
So, don’t listen to false prophets or fuming politicians who call for violence between Americans. Go ahead and have your debates with others, Lord knows I have mine. Lobby your lobbyists. But if you’re going to follow Jesus’ example you must categorically reject and denounce the violence that Rick Joyner or anyone else espouses.
STAND DOWN, CHRISTIAN!
Next time we’ll take a look at one of Jesus’ prophetic performances that informs our imagination about how he confronts power and how, as his followers we are to do the same.