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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

If the Sermon on the Mount Doesn’t Apply Then We Are Not a Christian Nation

It is true that I identify as a pacifist (but not passive) and that I try (though struggle sometimes) to live up to that identification. It is true that I believe non-violence to be the ideal and find that ideal described in the teachings of Jesus. I believe that the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 – 7) enjoins us to forgo retaliation, to set aside vengeance and anger, and to practice a radical, extravagant mercy toward our enemies – personally, communally, and even nationally.

But I know that this issue is not clear. The Bible is rarely as clear and unambiguous as we might like it to be.

It is often pointed out to me that Jesus’ words are applicable only to the individual; “it belongs to the sphere of personal behavior (Bruce 70.)” And I recognize the truth of this observation. Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” was not addressed to political groups, or national entities – it wasn’t even given to the crowds at large, it was given to his disciples, which at this point in Matthew’s narrative numbered about four (Matthew 5: 1)

But IF it is the case that these instructions (and, by extension of the argument, all of Jesus’ instructions) apply only to the individual and not to communities, or nations – which are composed of individuals – then there can be no “Christian nation.” If Jesus’ instruction to “turn the other cheek” and to “love your enemies” are not in any way applicable to nation states, then we must stop attempting to say that America is a Christian nation. 

Bruce, F. F. Hard Sayings of Jesus. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1983. Print.

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