Look! Christ in khaki, out in France thrusting his bayonet into a German workman. See! The Son of God with a machine gun ambushing a column of German infantry. …. That picture is impossible – and we all know it.It comes from a book by Alfred Salter, The Religion of the Conscientious Objector. Published in 1914, it sold over a million copies. Although I don't have the book I'm struck by the vision of the quote and the questions it raises.
Would Jesus have gone to a war like the Great War, WW2, Viet Nam, Iraq?
Would Jesus have stabbed a Roman who was mistreating a Hebrew? I think here of Moses who killed an Egyptian for the same reason.
Is it fair to say that because Jesus fashioned a whip to drive money lenders from the temple that he would use a machine gun to drive invaders out?
Would Jesus stand by and do nothing while an invader attacked civilians?
If we suggest that Jesus would take up arms "in the right circumstances" then we can imagine Jesus with the bayonet or the machine gun. But if we can't imagine Jesus with the bayonet or machine gun, can we say that there are ever "the right circumstances" for that kind of violence?
If we suggest that Jesus would not bear arms against the invader, we must imagine a way to be Christian in the midst of an oppressive regime. How would Jesus have lived if Capernaum had been invaded by the worst warlords in history? Choose whichever warlord you like for the exercise.
In the end we have to return to the biblical accounts of Jesus and his disciples who lived under Roman military occupation, albeit mostly benevolent, and who chose a path of non-violence on the way to his death at the hands of those same Romans. He chose a violent rebel, Simon the Zealot, to be one of his disciples and taught him to love the enemy, to pray for the persecutor, to go the extra mile for the oppressor.
Look! Christ in khaki, out in France thrusting his bayonet into a German workman. See! The Son of God with a machine gun ambushing a column of German infantry. …. That picture is impossible – and we all know it.Christ in khaki... an impossible picture.