Government Need Not Wash the Terrorists’ Feet


Jesus, Osama bin laden, George Bush, washing feetBy Josh Lowery, Guest Contributor

On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, remembrance took many forms around the country and even the world. For my own part, 9/11/11 was more emotional than 9/11/01.

Ten years ago, the most lasting image came from sitting in an over-crowded student lounge where I watched the events live, along with about one hundred other people, on a big screen TV. As the first of the two towers began to actually fall, it was surreal, and as a self-absorbed, 20-year-old college junior who had a small world view and a very small frame of reference for tragedy, I watched in stunned numbness.

Ten years later, at about the same time in the morning as when the second plane hit, I found myself rehearsing music for my church’s 10:00 a.m. service. During a brief break on stage, the media guy played about 10 seconds of a video to test the sound. The video was a roughly 2-minute-long audio montage of distress calls, media reaction and on-the-street sound bites from that terrible day, coupled with a stream of quotes from world leaders and dignitaries encapsulating the unity, resolve and general “oneness” that we all experienced in the immediate aftermath. After hearing a mere five seconds worth of audio, I found myself cascading quickly into a visible emotional state. I began nervously pacing around in a 5-foot radius of where I was standing (I was wearing a guitar that was plugged in at the time). I’d been caught off-guard by those sudden, interrupting sound bites and had a much more emotional reaction in a very short period of time than I did on 9/11/01 when the tragedy itself was unfolding. 

What followed throughout the rest of that morning at church was a time of reflection ranging from inspirational to downright uncomfortable. There was an open mic (which is all you need know in order to imagine the possibilities), but all in all, the morning was memorable and served a good and proper purpose.

I then came home and was treated, courtesy of Facebook, to a host of 9/11 “reflection” articles representing an array of political persuasions. One in particular came from Tony Campolo’s blog, in which Kurt Willems, a self-identified Anabaptist, discusses the Last Supper.

Willems notes that despite Jesus’ “intel” on what Judas had already done (and was soon to do), Jesus nonetheless washed his feet along with those of the other disciples. Willems’ marveling of this as one of the most profound enactments by Jesus of his command that we love our enemies is something I absolutely resonate with. I would even go so far as to say that, short of perhaps the Crucifixion itself, this act stands above all other Gospel anecdotes in this regard. 

But after this point, the writer and I sharply diverge. Willems takes what is a beautiful, practical, spiritual lesson from the life of Jesus and uses it as a political springboard. It surpasses the ironic that this would come from someone who belongs to a community of writers and activists who sanctimoniously criticize the “religious right” for its uneasy marriage of faith and patriotism. According to Willems, we should view Jesus Christ Himself as equal parts God and policy wonk. We are to look on Jesus’ washing of Judas’ feet as an all-encompassing metaphor for how national foreign policy should be executed.

After conceding that “this humble act was contextual in its application for people in the First Century,” Willems abruptly changes his tone, ambiguously chastising a myriad of nameless American churches for supposedly taking the occasion of 9/11′s tenth anniversary to celebrate militarism in the wake of the tragedy. He then goes on to make 1-to-1 comparisons between Judas and Islamic terrorists and Jesus and the American presidency while passively holding Evangelicals writ-large culpable for the so-called militarism of George W. Bush. He does all of this very tritely and hurriedly.

There is no space dedicated to Romans 13, which inconveniently makes the distinction between the Church (Jesus’ actual audience) and the government (the ruling authorities). Despite at one point conceding that the commission of mass murder on 9/11 was “evil,” Willems has no time for theologizing about what it may look like for the government to be ”an avenger who executes wrath on him who practices evil.”

To say the least, using the teachings of Jesus as an indirect model for the U.S. government’s foreign policy is horrendous, opportunistic theology. The sad fact is that there is a fairly significant chorus of influential voices on the Web and elsewhere who thrive on applying the “Jesus-as-policy-wonk” gambit as an in-road to propagating already-held political sentiments within the Church.

Josh Lowery

Josh Lowery, Guest Contributor

I don’t profess to be a theologian or a policy wonk, nor do I “celebrate militarism” per se, but as a thoughtful, engaged Christian, I take issue with any viewpoint which is so demonstrably built upon lies and willful blindness. Thus, in this time of reflection, I will leave you with the sober words of Mark Tooley, who, in an article critiquing a 9/11 “remembrance” event hosted by Shane Claiborne (another Red Letter Christians contributor), offers this perspective:

Unlike rigid pacifism, mainstream Christianity has always readily admitted that evil pervasively stalks the world, and that legitimate governments must defend the innocent, even if always with flawed instruments and tragic aspects. There’s nothing about 9-11 that is circus-like. Claiborne should set aside his jugglers and confections in favor of sober reflection about a potential world in which 9-11’s perpetrators prevail.

 The full, unapologetic article by Tooley can be found here.

Josh Lowery works in the Seattle area and received his B.A in Christian Education from Bryan College. Josh plans to pursue a masters in political science at the University of Texas at Dallas in spring 2012.

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  • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

    Thanks for this response but you certainly don’t understand my view.  I don’t care what government does in a sense and NEVER say that the USA ought to wash feet.  I care what Christians promote to government and how Christians participate with the empire.  Christians are NEVER given permission to do anything but bless our enemies.  My point has to do with how Christians glorify militarism when we ourselves are banned from EVER picking up the sword.  Governments will operate after the spirit of this age, but Christians are called to operate for a radically different Kingdom that functions fully under the power of the Spirit of Christ.  Under such a Spirit, Christians are invited to lay down the weapons of this world, put on the armor of God, and call the principalities and powers to their biblical responsibility: the reduction of violence.  I don’t expect America to be Nonviolent (although they better wield the sword with restraint) but I do think Christians ought to be distinguished from all forms of violence.  Jesus modeled this for us, clearly.  So, insofar that Christians are involved in the affairs of Empire, they are called to act in and promote nonviolence.

    Also, with all due respect… Tooley is more of a Conservative Values driven person than a Biblical Theology driven person (based on what he writes).  Nice guy but allows presuppositions about America dominate the conversation. 

    Finally, here is what I’ve written on Romans 13: “Submit to the Sword, But Do Not Carry One!” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/2011/02/14/nonviolence-101-submit-to-the-sword-but-do-not-carry-one-romans-12-13-part-5/

    This post is part of a biblical theology exploration of the issue of Nonviolence in the Scriptures called “Nonviolence 101″ http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/category/nonviolence-101-series/

    Thanks for engaging with me here, but you completely missed the aim of my article…

    Peace to you friend!

    PS – sorry for any typos or mistakes, I wrote this quickly and on the go :-)

  • http://twitter.com/remnantculture/status/114395676250603523 Remnant Culture

    Jesus might have washed Osama bin Laden's feet, but that doesn't mean the U.S. government should. From @loweryfinds: http://t.co/GLfBF3iB

  • http://twitter.com/qlovejoy/status/114397069850062848 qlovejoy

    Nice read into the shameful reflections on 9/11 by liberal theologians. // Gov't Need Not Wash the Terrorists' Feet http://t.co/6zajnnHV #fb

  • http://twitter.com/remnantculture/status/114397106738954240 Remnant Culture

    Guest contributor Josh Lowery argues that many pacifists twist the teachings of Jesus into being a political… http://t.co/mEKjhOFD

  • http://twitter.com/loweryfinds/status/114399317141368832 Josh Lowery

    Jesus might have washed Osama bin Laden's feet, but that doesn't mean the U.S. government should. From @loweryfinds: http://t.co/GLfBF3iB

  • http://twitter.com/vplowery/status/114401874010046464 Vanny

    Jesus might have washed Osama bin Laden's feet, but that doesn't mean the U.S. government should. From @loweryfinds: http://t.co/GLfBF3iB

  • http://twitter.com/vplowery/status/114402319621300224 Vanny

    Guest contributor Josh Lowery argues that many pacifists twist the teachings of Jesus into being a political… http://t.co/mEKjhOFD

  • http://twitter.com/loweryfinds/status/114427747312484353 Josh Lowery

    Today in a guest post at @RemnantCulture, I respond to a #redletterchristians piece by @KurtWillems reflecting on 9/11 http://t.co/JzaMpyCd

  • http://twitter.com/remnantculture/status/114439921737015296 Remnant Culture

    .@KurtWillems responds to @loweryfinds's critique (w/ a poke at @markdtooley): http://t.co/UD0iKFuE

  • http://twitter.com/markdtooley/status/114441354830036992 Mark Tooley

    .@KurtWillems responds to @loweryfinds's critique (w/ a poke at @markdtooley): http://t.co/UD0iKFuE

  • Ronald Exum

    Thoughtful Josh! But when I pull back from politics toward the individual, our church, and our faith practice then I find few souls who actually pray for our enemies, their families, and their best outcome.

    I find even fewer souls who who look to the saving gospel of Jesus and the salvific and life changing work of missionaries who with God’s presence are over and above armed soldiers to overcome this evil [i.e. not the touted  bombs (which is a form of the the myth of redemptive violence) nor the "ice cream story"  (which seems to reflect the myth of making nice?)]. 

    Finally, while government has a serious role in dealing with evil doers as per Romans 13 the gov in power at that time was Rome ( the same one that helped nail Jesus to the cross) and which is cycle of violence sorta like God sending the wicked Chaldeans to punish fallen Israel only to be later on themselves destroyed for their wickedness (cf. Hab). 

    The role of gov seems up for more discussion but in the Bible gov was never offered as the ultimate savior (where as Christians seem to be deeply moved to post quotes like ” a soldier died for me like Jesus did”).  Maybe we need to let Him repay!

    Meanwhile, I myself am a vet. I served and came home. After my war I found mine was no “Just” war, and the gov of my day had lied and covered up so truth could not be revealed just so it could make war in Viet Nam. 

    Finally, and on the other hand Rom. 14 makes clear I don’t have the final answers for everyone in this matter, — except I should love every man and pray for my enemies (Rom 13). Blessings

  • Josh Lowery

    Thanks for taking the time to engage, Kurt.  I think I’ll just quote from a few points in your response and attempt to further respond.

    “…you certainly don’t understand my view.”– In my humble defense, the depth and width of your views on Biblical nonviolence was not accessible in the singular RLC post I have responded to, nor do I believe you would seriously expect a non-frequent reader of RLC to discern so much.  That being said (and as I’ll explain in a moment), I think I understand more than you give me credit for.

    “I…NEVER say that the USA should wash feet.”–  After re-reading your post through the lens of the Patheos article you linked to above, I can see now more of a “Here’s what churches should be focusing on” angle than a “Government should return acts of terrorism with water basins” angle.  That being said, your underlying assertion–that Christians should not ADVOCATE that their ruling authorities be the very “Ministers of Wrath” God would have them be–simply necessitates one of only two rational alternatives: either a) a silent ambivalence to any act of violent retribution (i.e., declarations of war, executing murderers, etc.) on the part of the ruling authorities, or b) outright pacifist activism.  Five minutes at RLC will make clear to anyone that the former is not what your “movement” has opted for.  Besides, you follow the last quoted statement with this one: “I care about what Christians promote to government.”  Since you would have Christians “promoting water basins,” it would seem you’re attempting to have your cake and eat it, too.

    “…and how Christians participate with the Empire.”– This is verrry problematic because of our system of government.  In a representative republic, your views would essentially require the Christian to only ever cast his or her vote for an anti-death penalty pacifist (the exact opposite of what God expects of the ruling authorities).  And additionally paradoxical, they would also require that virtually all positions in state and federal gov’t you wish to influence be restricted to non-believers.  Is this a recipe for effectively promoting non-violence to the gov’t or isn’t it?  It seems to me that whatever the recipe is for, it is incomplete and inside-out.

    “Christians are NEVER given permission to do anything but bless our enemies.”– This ties in with your Patheos article.  As far as that’s concerned, what you’re doing there is sowing a moral equivalence seed, and your doing it by reading something into the Romans 13 text that simply isn’t there.  Firstly, just because Romans 12 and 13 were not intended to be divided as such does not permit the expositor to, ipso facto, myopically overlay the contents of 12 over that of 13.  Chapter 13 very distinctly–if not solely–permits violent repercussions by “God’s Ministers of Wrath” against ANYONE who does evil, not merely the VICTIMS of evil who would be tempted to “privately” pursue vigilante justice.  Such a reading of the text is hopeful at best.  Secondly, as you stated there, the Roman soldiers were not just the police, they were military.  In light of this very context, I do not see how chapter 12′s so-called pertinence to only “domestic” evil NECESSARILY forbids the same ruling authorities from delivering wrath (in the form of war or otherwise) against those who would invade our domesticity from without and do us evil.As you aptly put it at Patheos, “Romans 13:1-7 is a problematic text…”  I believe that short of sheer will power to the contrary, it will persist in being so for your movement as it continues its habit of blurring New Testament distinctions between the Church and Government.P.S.  I’m sure Mark Tooley can fend for himself, but it’s simply uncouth to dismiss a person’s credibility out of hand if you don’t have the time or inclination to do so substantively.  Besides, your dismissal sort of precludes the possibility that “conservative values” and “Biblical Theology” are compatible.  Rather a discrediting point of origin itself, wouldn’t you say?

  • Josh Lowery

    Thanks for taking the time to engage, Kurt.  I think I’ll just quote from a few points in your response and attempt to further respond.

    “…you certainly don’t understand my view.”– In my humble defense, the depth and width of your views on Biblical nonviolence was not accessible in the singular RLC post I have responded to, nor do I believe you would seriously expect a non-frequent reader of RLC to discern so much.  That being said (and as I’ll explain in a moment), I think I understand more than you give me credit for.

    “I…NEVER say that the USA should wash feet.”–  After re-reading your post through the lens of the Patheos article you linked to above, I can see now more of a “Here’s what churches should be focusing on” angle than a “Government should return acts of terrorism with water basins” angle.  That being said, your underlying assertion–that Christians should not ADVOCATE that their ruling authorities be the very “Ministers of Wrath” God would have them be–simply necessitates one of only two rational alternatives: either a) a silent ambivalence to any act of violent retribution (i.e., declarations of war, executing murderers, etc.) on the part of the ruling authorities, or b) outright pacifist activism.  Five minutes at RLC will make clear to anyone that the former is not what your “movement” has opted for.  Besides, you follow the last quoted statement with this one: “I care about what Christians promote to government.”  Since you would have Christians “promoting water basins,” it would seem you’re attempting to have your cake and eat it, too.

    “…and how Christians participate with the Empire.”– This is verrry problematic because of our system of government.  In a representative republic, your views would essentially require the Christian to only ever cast his or her vote for an anti-death penalty pacifist (the exact opposite of what God expects of the ruling authorities).  And additionally paradoxical, they would also require that virtually all positions in state and federal gov’t you wish to influence be restricted to non-believers.  Is this a recipe for effectively promoting non-violence to the gov’t or isn’t it?  It seems to me that whatever the recipe is for, it is incomplete and inside-out.

    “Christians are NEVER given permission to do anything but bless our enemies.”– This ties in with your Patheos article.  As far as that’s concerned, what you’re doing there is sowing a moral equivalence seed, and your doing it by reading something into the Romans 13 text that simply isn’t there.  Firstly, just because Romans 12 and 13 were not intended to be divided as such does not permit the expositor to, ipso facto, myopically overlay the contents of 12 over that of 13.  Chapter 13 very distinctly–if not solely–permits violent repercussions by “God’s Ministers of Wrath” against ANYONE who does evil, not merely the VICTIMS of evil who would be tempted to “privately” pursue vigilante justice.  Such a reading of the text is hopeful at best.  Secondly, as you stated there, the Roman soldiers were not just the police, they were military.  In light of this very context, I do not see how chapter 12′s so-called pertinence to only “domestic” evil NECESSARILY forbids the same ruling authorities from delivering wrath (in the form of war or otherwise) against those who would invade our domesticity from without and do us evil.As you aptly put it at Patheos, “Romans 13:1-7 is a problematic text…”  I believe that short of sheer will power to the contrary, it will persist in being so for your movement as it continues its habit of blurring New Testament distinctions between the Church and Government.P.S.  I’m sure Mark Tooley can fend for himself, but it’s simply uncouth to dismiss a person’s credibility out of hand if you don’t have the time or inclination to do so substantively.  Besides, your dismissal sort of precludes the possibility that “conservative values” and “Biblical Theology” are compatible.  Rather a discrediting point of origin itself, wouldn’t you say?

  • Guest

    I think a Christian understanding of Rom 13:1-8 begins with asking the right questions. To whom was it written? What were the circumstances in which the Romans found themselves? The answer to these questions sheds light on the authorial intent of the passage. The Christians were at risk of upsetting the Roman apple-cart. New religions were simply not tolerated by a highly religious Roman people. The Jews were permitted to worship, but only because, second to their own gods, the Romans valued antiquity. The Jewish God was an ancient God, and therefore worthy of some level of respect. The Christians were viewed as a new, atheistic, cannibalistic, and even infanticidal cult (all accusations made due to a misunderstanding of their monotheistic/Trinitarian God, the incarnate Christ as a baby, the Christian practice of bringing abandoned babies into their homes, and the Christian sacrament, Eucharist). 

    Paul wrote Romans 13 to instruct the Christians to maintain the utmost respect of their governing bodies, to submit to them in all things morally and doctrinally acceptable. His concern was ultimately for the welfare of the Church in Rome and the spread of the gospel. Paul had no intention of writing a treatise on the responsibilities of government. His aim was singularly to implore Christians to submit to the governing bodies of their times as unto God for there own safety, welfare and for the integrity of the gospel. Paul wrote the book of Romans in a time when Christians participating in the government was hardly the question. To place that question in the minds of Paul and his readers is anachronistic. Rather, a Christians response to the governing body was entirely the question of Romans 13 and is still today. 

    Therefore, a Christian application of Rom 13 would be to simply obey the speed-limit, for instance. In doing so you are submitting to God as much as to the government. I think we err when we emphasize portions of scripture that were not intended by the author of that scripture to be the emphasis of his writing.

    Emphasize a Christian response to 9/11 in your churches and trust God to sovereignly work through the governmental bodies that He has instituted. Scripture is to be obeyed by the people of God. We do well to the extent that we write its words on the tablets of our hearts, and do not wave it under the noses of our governments. The Church and the government are separate bodies, as well they should be… 

  • http://twitter.com/remnantculture/status/114726957429686272 Remnant Culture

    .@loweryfinds responds to @KurtWillems on the roles of Christians & government in foreign policy. http://t.co/arKSjwQy

  • http://twitter.com/justitia_mt/status/114729644971921408 tlelam

    RT @RemnantCulture: .@loweryfinds responds 2 @KurtWillems on the roles of Christians & government in foreign policy. http://t.co/NnwMZqJn

  • http://twitter.com/vplowery/status/114743132050030592 Vanny

    .@loweryfinds responds to @KurtWillems on the roles of Christians & government in foreign policy. http://t.co/arKSjwQy

  • http://twitter.com/loweryfinds/status/114769461285879808 Josh Lowery

    At @RemnantCulture, I respond to @KurtWillems' response to my reflection on his reflection. http://t.co/LX5nscL5 #itscomplicated

  • http://twitter.com/remnantculture/status/114802728202547200 Remnant Culture

    Does Judas = Islamic terrorists? Does Jesus = the American presidency? @loweryfinds examines: http://t.co/6P1PGUNF

  • http://twitter.com/loweryfinds Josh Lowery

    Very much appreciated comments.  I recognize and value the historical/grammatical approach to hermeneutics.  Your observations provide a welcome opportunity for me to clarify the original intent of my post.
    I may not have succeeded as well as I would’ve liked, but my primary aim in this discussion has not, per se, been to use Romans 13 as a basis for establishing a theology of government, nor of the modern Christian’s role IN it.  In fact, the question of Christians operating in gov’t (whether merely as a voter or running for president) is to me an altogether separate and unsettled (in my mind at least) issue.  No, your last sentence, “The Church and the gov’t are separate bodies, as well they should be,” is precisely the core point I’d hoped to convey.  It was specifically a blurring of that distinction as well as a “placing of a particular question in the mind of JESUS” that I was attempting to challenge.  I suppose I may have wandered a degree or two from these objectives in the ensuing exchange, but I hope my core point has not been lost.Thanks again for the perspective.  And as an aside, your comments were very MereOrthodoxy.com-esque.  You wouldn’t happen to be Matt Lee Anderson, would you?  If not, please take it as a compliment.  Mere-O is one of the more insightful things going in the Christian blogosphere right now, IMO.

  • Ronexum

    Jesus
    prayed for God’s kingdom: “Thy rule on Earth be as it is in heaven”

    Rome’s
    empire rested on 1. All its power was from the gods. 2 The emperor was divinely
    chosen and was the human manifestation of divine protection & power over
    the civilized world. “Peace on Earth” [Pax Roma] was a gift via Rome!
    Many still look to Empire/government for peace

    .

    “Jesus
    is Lord” flies in the face of that and Christians were hunted as traitors.

     

    The
    Christian gospel Vs the gospel of Rome became a political battle for the
    empire. The end was predicted: God wins! Christ rules!

     

    Modern
    Political Science continues to pursue rule and peace without God and Christ

     

    Ah
    then there are those that actually advocate that the US is a nation
    (empire/government) “chosen by God*” to bring “Pax
    Americana”. (* American Exceptionalism) These see US as “the new
    Israel” … as if God has cast off the old Israel.

     

    At
    his birth angels sang the “Good news” “Peace on Earth, Goodwill
    toward men” God rules and has come in His Christ!.

     

    Jesus
    has come to restore creation from its fall. All things are summed up in Christ.
    He is our peace. We are blessed when we follow him as a peacemaker.

     

    Jesus is the answer…. God with us Immanuel!

  • Guest

    I suppose I ought to be forthcoming. I understood your original article and agreed with it entirely in principle. I posted a reply in an effort to both support your original aims and to bring the discussion full circle. Thanks for your reply.

    As an aside, I also respect your hesitancy with regard to Christians operating in government. It somewhat reminds me of “The Tale of the Bunny Picnic”…

  • Ronexum