Another of the great objections to people becoming Christians is the commonly stated view that Christians have been at the heart of great violence, war and suffering.
I really wish at this point I could simply say, 'it is not true! You are misreading history!' Rather, I admit this is the case and I apologise on behalf of such misguided so-called ‘Christians’.
One of the greatest tragedies of human history is the great truth that some ‘Christians’ have thought it best to fight wars and be violent. So we read of the Crusades, the Inquisition, Colonialism, WW1, Northern Ireland, Indonesia today and so on; situations where ‘Christians’ were at the heart of wars. I am sorry to all who read this for this tragedy. It is wrong and should not have happened.
Jesus repudiated all such violence. My reading of the essential teaching of Jesus is that he advocated non-violence and love of enemies. I would argue that Christians who are involved in war, violence and the use of the gun and sword have abrogated the essence of the teaching of Jesus in Mt 5. Some argue that Paul in Rom 13:1-4 supports the use of war. However, this is not the only way of interpreting this text. Rather, I would argue that he states that government hold the power to deal with wrongdoers. There is no indication of inter-nation or civil violence in this text. Indeed, in the previous verses Rom 12:19-21 he explicitly states Christians are not to take revenge but leave it to God. And even if Paul had supported Christians at war, a sound interpreter always goes first to the teaching of Jesus. Listen to what he says in Mt 5:38-47:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?
To me, despite the difficulties that this view presents, Jesus' calls Christians not to take up arms and violence despite the existence of evil; rather, to love others, pray for them, broker for peace with non-violent means, be agents of reconciliation and resist evil in all ways except using evil means. Hence, while it is true that 'Christians' have been involved in a great many wars, this does not invalidate Christianity or Christ as Lord, Son of God and Messiah; it merely states that these 'Christians' have been doing the wrong thing. These 'Christians' will face God in judgement and it is not for me to judge them. However, I find it disgraceful and shameful that supposed 'Christians' take up arms or endorse the taking up of arms!
Other Christians hold different views such as the view of just war. This holds that if war is to occur it must be just. While I believe the notion of pacifism lies closer to the heart of Jesus teaching than war in any sense, I would accept that if war is ever to occur it must be just. Hence it must be the final resort, it must be self-defence, it must be minimalistic, utilitarian in that it benefits the most people possible and it must be followed up by restoration and so on.
Any use of violence to extend the Christian faith against other cultures, religions and creeds is abhorrent. Crusade wars are completely unchristian and woe to any 'Christian' who engages in them.
So I do not accept the view that Christianity is invalidated and to be rejected because of Christian involvement in war. I would argue that the failure of ‘Christians’ in this regard does not invalidate the faith but the ‘Christians’ involved. We must not make the mistake of arguing that a bad Christian or group of Christians invalidates all Christians. After all if we find a newsreader has been taking drugs this does not invalidate all newsreaders or the news itself. The newsreader in question is the problem. Neither does a rugby player who tramples his opponent, gouges his eye and smashes the ref over invalidate rugby; it is the rugby player who is at fault and will be banned.
So I do not seek to defend the charge that Christians have been guilty of being involved in war. I am are sorry for this and believe Christians should be peacemakers rather than soldiers. They should be the medics, chaplains who care for both sides of a conflict. They are to practice forgiveness and reconciliation, however difficult. They are to be at the head of efforts for peace, working at every level of society from the political world to the school playground and family to model and encourage a different way, a way of forgiveness and reconciliation.
A couple more thoughts. While I cannot deny the role of 'Christians' in violence and war; we must be careful to read history with balance and see the many Christians who have modeled non-violence, reconciliation, peace and forgiveness. History is littered with many such people and without them, perhaps the world would have completely destroyed itself. Finally, when considering Christianity have a look at the first 300 years. It was not until the faith was caught up in the politics of the Roman Empire that the 'Christian' way took on violent means. This calls into question how Christian it really was. This is not for me to judge; but I believe the fusion of faith and politics is a dangerous mix for it leads to such things! In that 300 years Christians with a few exceptions lived out faith in line with Jesus' teachings and the result was a sensational spread of the faith through love, mercy and grace. It is time for Christians to recapture this heart and renounce violence and war as a means to an end and stand firm for forgiveness, non-retaliation, reconciliation, love and peace.