Sunday, August 26, 2007

Christian Jihad?

"Reaching the world for Christ"
...and breaching it, too?
(Image from Wikipedia)

Over at Ambivablog, Annie -- who calls herself Amba (but she's ambivalent about that) -- has posted an blog entry on imprecatory prayer.

That means praying God's curses down upon someone.

This has become a political issue because Rev. Wiley Drake, who pastors the First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, California and was formerly the vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention, supports Arkansawyer Mike Huckabee for president and has called for "the children of God" to call down God's curse upon "the enemies of God." Here's how he puts it:
In light of the recent attack from the enemies of God I ask the children of God to go into action with Imprecatory Prayer. Especially against Americans United for Separation of Church and State. I made an attempt to go to them via Matt 18:15 but they refused to talk to me. Specifically target Joe Conn or Jeremy Learing. They are those who lead the attack. ("Pastor Wiley Drake Calls for Imprecatory Prayer against So-Called Religious Liberty Watchdog Group," Christian News Wire, August 14, 2007)
I wonder if Pastor Drake conceives of ever taking this beyond mere prayer to direct action. I'm just asking, mind you, not accusing, and I'm asking because I had thought that -- at the very least -- the "New Covenant" espoused by Christians forbade imprecatory prayer and that Christians held that imprecatory prayers belonged to the "Old Covenant."

Apparently, Drake doesn't think this way, for he states, "Imprecatory prayer, is now our duty," and he does some prooftexting:
Now that all efforts have been exhausted, we must begin our Imprecatory Prayer, at the key points of the parliamentary role in the earth where we live.

John Calvin gave the church its marching orders from Scripture. The righteous have dominion, but only through imprecatory prayer against the ungodly.

David as our Old Testament shepherd gives us many Imprecatory prayers, and can be found to be in best focus in Psalm 109. Also chapters 55, 58, 68, 69, and 83

Pray these back to God and He will answer.

Jesus in Matthew 23: 13, 15, 16, 23, 24, 27, and 29 gave us our New Testament marching orders as well.

Let us join Paul and declare anathema upon anyone" who loves not the Lord Jesus." I Cor 16:22

Church father Martin Luther, led us by saying . . . "If any of the enemies of God's people belong to God's election, the church's prayer against them giveth way to their conversion, and seeketh no more than that the judgment should follow them, only until they acknowledge their sin, turn, and seek God." ("Pastor Wiley Drake Calls for Imprecatory Prayer")
That last part, from Martin Luther, is a right strawy quote! "If any of the enemies of God's people belong to God's election..."? A bit obscure, no? Well, I think that Drake quotes this to balance his Calvin quote about the dominion of the righteous over the ungodly. The Luther citation is intended to soften the effect a bit by emphasizing that imprecatory prayer is yet another way of winning souls for Christ because it will bring conviction to the hearts of those enemies of God whom God has already selected for salvation but hasn't yet followed through on by converting them. Cursing them will bring that about ... apparently.

I'm guessing that Reverend Drake believes in predestination, not freely accepted grace.

Anyway, noted above, I had thought that Christians were forbidden from uttering imprecatory prayers, which I understood had been excluded by such New Testament verses as those calling upon Christians to "love your enemies" (Matthew 5:44) and to "bless and not curse" (Romans 12:14). However, I've discovered that the issue, unfortunately, is not quite so clear. Here are some lines from the opening of a dissertation devoted to the issue:
I will seek to establish that the sentiment expressed in the Imprecatory Psalms is consistent with the ethics both of the Old and New Testaments, while at the same time recognizing that the New Testament evidences a certain progress in the outworking of that essentially equivalent ethic. This I will do by plausibly demonstrating that the Imprecatory Psalms root their theology of cursing and crying out for God's vengeance in the Torah -- principally the Song of Moses (Deut 32), the lex talionis (e.g., Deut 19), and the covenant of God with his people (e.g., Gen 12) -- and that this theology is carried essentially unchanged through the expanse of the canon to the end of the New Testament (e.g., Rev 15:2-4; 18:20). (John N. Day, "The Imprecatory Pslams and Christian Ethics," PhD Thesis, Department of Old Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary)
I've not read this thesis and probably won't have time, but the mere fact of the document's existence provides evidence of a problem that I had thought behind us. I'm not shooting the messenger here. John Day may be right -- for all I know -- in his reading of the Bible on this issue.

For the record, I should note that Mike Huckabee would perhaps disagree with this sort of interpretation, for the Huckabee campaign has disavowed Reverend Wiley Drake's views as "evil comments." A campaign, however, is one thing, and biblical hermeneutics is another. I've not yet heard if the Southern Baptist Convention has distanced itself from Drake's hermeneutic.

And this is troubling, for if imprecatory prayer is legitimate, would martial cherem itself also legitimate? Can Christians also declare jihad? And who decides?

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18 Comments:

At 12:10 PM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

That the Creator of the Universe might be a sort of supernatural Rottweiler, waiting only for Pastor Wiley Drake to say "sic 'im!", seems, if I may say so, quite ridiculous. Pray away, Reverend; do your worst.

"The dog barks, the caravan passes."

 
At 2:27 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

So long as he sticks to praying and doesn't attempt to force God's hand...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:26 PM, Anonymous kapok said...

How far is 2020 Pennsylvania Avenue from 1600 Pennsylvania? And didn't a fellow named Abramoff have a residence about midway between? K-Street and Penn is midway right?

This has to be some kind of well, "lunatic fringe" comes easiest.I guess I see conspiracy at every turn but how is it possible that an address of "20-20" Pennsylvania Avenue might even be legitimate? For that matter isn't there a statute forbidding 2020 as any DC street address?

I did link to Pastor? Wiley via Gypsy and read it at the bottom of the page. 2020? This has to be a joke.

JK

 
At 3:44 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

JK, at first, I was baffled by your query, but I finally understood you. Here's the answer:

"CCN's mailing address is 2020 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, in Washington, DC., which is a private mailbox at an office operated by Mailboxes Etc./UPS."

You were right to be suspicious, but the CNN is a real organization even if its 'address' is a subterfuge.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:53 PM, Anonymous Charles said...

How disturbing.

I have to agree with Malcolm's insightful comment.

In that light, we have to ask this: what is the point of imprecatory prayer? Intercessory prayer is ultimately an expression of love for one's fellow man or woman. No matter what the outcome, it shows that you care about the person you are praying for. But imprecatory prayer is an expression of what? Righteous indignation at best, hate at worst. As a Christian I don't see the point.

 
At 4:05 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I don't know either, Charles, so perhaps I ought to read that PhD thesis just to understand what the 'real' issue is.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:37 PM, Anonymous kapok said...

JK just read the entire page. Sorry for being elliptical. Just hope that this imprecatory prayer thing doesn't take off as a way to navigate ones' differences of opinion with ones' fellow man.

I personally have never found the answers or results from my Creator so well, convenient.

JK

 
At 5:47 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, "convenient" is the right word for it, JK.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:45 AM, Anonymous Nathan B. said...

A fascinating post.

Your questions near the end were rhetorical, I guess, but Christians have declared jihad, or "crusade" often--against heretics like the Albigenses and Cathars, to say nothing of the Muslims in Palestine under the Sultans, or of the pogroms and expulsions and forced conversions of Jews all over Europe. Christians have also exterminated (or tried to) aboriginals America, using the Old Testament texts ordering the slaughter of the Canaanites as religious justification.

I myself think that vengeful anger and the desire for vengeance are quite natural (if not particularly good), and not totally left out of the New Testament or the tradition of the Christian churches, and Pastor Drake is not quite so much outside the mainstream of tradition as one might think...

 
At 11:53 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Nathan, my questions weren't entirely rhetorical (though I am, as you note, aware of Christian 'holy' war).

I meant to ask if Christian 'jihad' can rightly be construed as legitimate on the basis of scripture.

It's a more complex question than I'd like to think ... or so it seems.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:23 PM, Anonymous Nathan B. said...

Hi Jeffery,

Thanks for the answer. I do know that you know this history, of course--I just wanted to see what you would say.
--
I think that it all depends on the hermeneutic one uses to interpret one's scriptures, and as different hermeneutics have been used, different interpretations have been made.

I'm curious: from a purely historical-literary (i.e. non-religious) standpoint, do you think it might be impossible to speak of a "legitimate interpretation" of the Bible with respect to this issue in terms of what one should do? If so, would the issue ultimately come down to "my interpretation is better than yours" (not with respect to you and me, of course, but one religious proponent and another)?

 
At 1:30 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well, I don't really know, not having studied this, but I would have thought that the Sermon on the Mount precluded legitimate Holy War.

The militant parts of the New Testament seem to refer more to spiritual warfare or to eschatological battle led by Christ against Satan rather than to humans battling on earth over territory and religion.

Still, I haven't studied this...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Time to declare moral equivalency! Lets apply some atheist logic, shall we?

A deeply religious Christian cleric has called for holy war. Therefore all/most/90% of really staunch Christians agree with him. Therefore deeply believing Christians are as likely to support terrorism as deeply faithful Muslims. Both groups are "fundamentalists." Evangelical Christianity today has as much potential for terrorist violence as Wahabbist Islam. Q.E.D.

Extra evidence: Just in case you were wondering, lack of high-death count Christian-inspired terrorist attacks does not disprove this brilliant atheist logic! Hey remember the guy who shot an abortion doctor - he was an evangelical Christian. Therefore evangelical Christians are just as prone to terrorism as Wahabbist muslims, if not more so. QEDQEDQED!

 
At 3:44 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, I realize that you're being facetious, but there's obviously very little terrorism, violence, or warfare that can be clearly attributed to explicitly Christian motives.

My questions are of a different order, namely, whether or not such things could be legitimately based upon scripture. I would have argued that imprecatory prayer could not be grounded in a Christian reading of scripture, but lo and behold, a doctoral thesis by an evangelical says that it can. Hence my questions...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:15 PM, Anonymous Nathan B. said...

Hi Jeffery, I hope I haven't worn out my welcome quite yet--may I add one more thought?

I agree with you about the Sermon on the Mount in this respect. My own position is that the words of Jesus are impossible to follow without each one of us dying on our own crosses. I don't think it's so much a noble ideal as an impossible one, an ideal carried to an impossible extreme.

I think everything depends on the hermeneutic with which one approaches scripture: if the Sermon on the Mount is given predominance, then one has to be a pacifist. If it's "contextualized" away to nothingness, then other parts will take its place. (I always find it funny how, in the Baptist churches I grew up in, we rarely heard sermons from Gospel texts or OT texts--only sermons from Pauline ones.) Since the Bible has many contradictory parts, I feel it is impossible to speak of just one Christian reading of it.

I would respectfully disagree with your response to Anonymous inasmuch as I understood it: the Crusades, during which thousands died, were attributable to explicitly Christian motives (one could argue that they functioned as a sort of counter-attack, but that's another matter). Also, the persecution of the Jews throughout history after the time of Christ has been supported by biblical documents and motivations. There are other examples, e.g. the parallels drawn by some early Americans between Israel's invasion of Canaan and the genocide of the North American Indians. Today around the world things have mellowed somewhat from a Christian perspective, but perhaps now should not be considered totally representative of church history.

I agree with you, though, that the spirit of much of Jesus's words militates against militarism.

 
At 2:54 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Nathan, my response to Anonymous was focusing more on contemporary events.

However, I'm not sure that the Sermon on the Mount would necessarily lead to pacifism, given other verses in the Bible, but its ethical teachings should be predominant in any Christian ethic. As you note, everything depends upon one's hermeneutical approach.

But that's why things become complicated, for deciding at what point an interpretation has become illegitimate can require a very refined sense of judgement.

And good exegetes do disagree.

I'd like to think that the pogroms, the Crusades, and the genocide of American Indians were not motivated by legitimate Christian readings, but since I can't easily come up with clear guidelines on legitimate interpretation, I'd best fall silent.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:04 PM, Anonymous Nathan B. said...

"I'd best fall silent."

That's one thing I hope you don't do, Jeffery!

Cheers,
Nathan

 
At 3:46 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Nathan. No worries, for I won't fall into a general silence.

Jeffery Hodges

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