Rand Paul: Jesus was ‘Anti-War’

Posted on June 13, 2013 by

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U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) gave a speech today at the Ronald Reagan Building, a monstrous governmental complex that sits adjacent to the White House. (Put aside, at least for a moment, the great irony of a massive government building named after an apostle for small government.) Paul, an emerging voice in the G.O.P., appears to be considering a presidential run in 2016.

Paul is generally libertarian in his ideological leanings, which gives him several sets of commitments that both fit into and conflict with traditional Republican constituents. Libertarians are ascendant now due to the exploding costs of government, seeming fatigue with armed conflicts abroad, and what might be a growing distrust of government’s power as manifested in scandals involving the IRS and the NSA. Historically, libertarians have had difficulty reaching the socially conservative aspect of the G.O.P. There has always been a moral element to conservatism (see Burke or Kirk as examples), a desire to maintain accumulated wisdom and to recognize both the limits and possibilities of human nature. Libertarians, however, have tended to divorce government from moral concerns, and they value individual freedom, including the freedom from governmental coercion of all types, including both moral and economic.

Given this, libertarians have had difficulty appealing to religious conservatives, who often view the government as a positive moral agent that can either model or induce virtuous behavior. Rand Paul seeks to balance these elements with both his own Christianity, and, apparently, by using religious rhetoric to appeal to socially conservative voters. This makes Paul, potentially, a viable presidential threat in 2016.

Today, he added a wrinkle to his argument (at least a wrinkle I have not seen before, but I cannot claim to have followed Paul’s rhetoric very closely), when he linked his general opposition to U.S. military intervention abroad to a particular view of Christ. Invoking the Sermon on the Mount (“blessed are the peacemakers”), Paul argues that Christ is ‘anti-war’ and that “I simply can’t imagine Jesus at the head of any army…” Though he is not a pacifist, he believes in a robust self-defense, Paul strikes a much more restrained note on national defense, and the use of military force, when compared to the vast majority of his Republican colleagues.

While there is so much to like about Paul’s speech, I must disagree with this particular interpretation of Christ. There are a few basic problems. First, Christ’s language in Matt. 5 is not directed at governmental actors or policy-makers. His words are directed to how Christians ought to interact socially and ethically. Put a little differently, as Christians fulfill their roles as citizens, and as agents of God’s Kingdom, they are to be peacemakers. They are to turn the other cheek and walk the extra mile when in conflict. This has no bearing on how government ought to treat citizens. Obviously, government, as an agent of justice, is not to always be a peacemaker. Nor will government walk the extra mile as it deals with criminals and others.

Second, Rand Paul makes a standard error in his analysis. He relies on a ‘canon within a canon’ to elevate Christ’s words above other elements of Scripture. Orthodox Christians have historically attempted to treat ALL of Scripture as authoritative. As such, we are obligated to consolidate all the Bible’s teaching so that we might get a clear picture of what it demands. We see, for example, that in the Old Testament (Deut. 20:16-20 is one example), God is willing to use war to achieve Israel’s ends. While we should always be careful when using God’s dealings with Israel as a model, we can at least conclude that war is not, by definition, opposed to God’s holiness or other characteristics. Additionally, the Apostle Paul, in Romans 13, acknowledges that not only is government instituted by God, but that it wields the power of the sword, to reward the good and punish the evil. In the same passage, Paul refers to those who govern us as ‘ministers.’ All of these things at least should cause us to question Sen. Paul’s immediate assertion that taking a couple of passages, largely out of context, settles the matter simply for Christians.

Third, and finally, Sen. Paul’s statement about being unable to imagine Christ at the head of an army is especially unfortunate. In Revelation 19, we see the following passage:

11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

Granted, we can argue about how this ought to be interpreted–literally, figuratively, or allegorically–but what we cannot do is pretend it does not exist. This is a clear depiction of Christ actually leading an army and striking down the nations that rise against him. If not Rand Paul, at least someone, namely the Apostle John, was able to imagine Christ at the head of an army.

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