Robert Jeffress , a member of President Trump’s evangelical advisory board, recently claimed that God has given the president of the United States the power and the authority to launch a nuclear attack on North Korea. Jeffress told the Washington Post that Biblical teachings clearly point to the unarguable fact that governments are established by God and are “agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” (Romans 13:4) He went on to say that God gives governments the authority to do whatever they want to do, and that governments can promote assassinations, capital punishment, or other deeds “to quell the actions of evildoers like Kim Jong Un .”
What are we, as people of faith, supposed to think about that?
Many people have been taught that the United States was created to be an agent of God. John Winthrop, a Puritan leader who came to America in 1630 said: “We must consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us; so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword though the world.” Henry Wilson, Ulysses S. Grant’s Vice President, once said: “Remember ever, and always, that your country was founded by the stern, old Puritans who made the deck of the Mayflower an altar of the living God, and whose first act on touching the soil of the New World was to offer on bended knee thanksgiving to Almighty God.” Abraham Lincoln said: “My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.” Americans have been taught that the relationship between God and the United States runs deep and that God continues to use the United States, as a nation, to accomplish His purposes in the world. But, American history is also the story of a nation where patriotism has given way to a cancerous type of radical nationalism that breeds contempt for other nations in the world. Radical American nationalism teaches us to believe that God blesses America – right or wrong. Radical American nationalism teaches us that even when our government is promoting assassinations, capital punishment, and other deeds “to quell the actions of evildoers like Kim Jong Un” we are only fulfilling God’s will and plan for our nation. And that type of thinking is what has emboldened Robert Jeffress to proclaim that our president has the “God-given power and authority” to escalate the confrontation between the United States and North Korea, and to even launch a nuclear attack that would, most certainly, have devastating consequences.
Radical nationalism insists that “patriotic” citizens should always agree with the nation’s government, and with the government’s choices and decisions. Radical nationalism claims that people should love their own country because it is the best nation in the world. But, nationalism quickly crosses the line into exclusive superiority; and, even worse, can violate the First Commandment and be a mask for idolatry. (Exodus 20:3) Pope John Paul II once said: “Pervading nationalism imposes dominion on man today in many different forms and with an aggressiveness that spares no one.”
There are several roads forward that we need to consider as people of faith:
- First, we need to realize that nationalism, even in the United States, is a threat to God-created human community. The Bible clearly tells us that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14) and we were created to live in “community” with others. (Genesis 2:18) We also read in the Holy Scriptures that the distinctions that we are inclined to draw between people are insignificant when they are placed at the foot of the Cross. (Galatians 3:28) The masked idolatry of nationalism implies a type of exclusive superiority which must be both challenged and confronted by people of faith. The people who are killed and disfigured by government-promoted assassinations, capital punishment and other deeds to quell the actions of evildoers like Kim Jong Un are precious in God’s eyes, too. God’s clearly demonstrated desire to create human community unequivocally denounces the types of radical militant nationalism that are being promoted by the Christian evangelical movement in the United States. The nationalism that’s spreading across America must be clearly and openly denounced by the Church.
- Second, the flames of radical nationalism are fanned when the leaders of our world are not able to control their angry outbursts. Inflammatory rhetoric squashes productive dialogue and discourages cooperation between leaders. People of faith in the United States need to clearly and unequivocally demand an instant return to civility and calm in the dialogue between President Trump and Kim Jong Un. Tweets that are both threatening and provocative need to immediately stop. President Trump must immediately stop tightening the ratchet that is threatening to create a devastating nuclear confrontation between the United States and North Korea. An aging, wise man (my father) once told me: “Never get into a pissing contest with a skunk – because, in the end, you’ll both come-out smelling bad and the skunk will love every minute of it.” Two fighting skunks can create even worse results.
- Third, as people of faith, we must fully realize that even though the president of the United States has the power and the authority to launch an attack on North Korea, a decision to do that will bring both devastating and irreparable consequences. We, the people of faith in America, must call Robert Jeffress to confess the sin that he has committed in his efforts to promote a nuclear confrontation. “The tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness.” (James 3:6) “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” (James 3:5b) We, as people of faith, must also challenge the members of the First Baptist Dallas Megachurch to reign-in their senior leader, and to demand that he both personally and publicly recant his belligerent beliefs and teachings.
- Fourth and lastly, as people of faith, we must continue to pray for our president and for the leaders of North Korea. We must pray, together, for a return to civility and respectful communication. We must pray for an end to threatening and belligerent rhetoric. And we must pray for leaders who must continue to realize the destruction that nationalism can unleash, and who have the insights and the abilities to intervene and promote a productive resolution of this ongoing conflict.
The American Court Jester