22 Years a Murder: My Journey from Patriot to Pacifist

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Well, I’ve finally done it. I’ve bit the bullet. Given in. Joined the crowd. As the parental guardian of the atomic bomb guy Robert Oppenheimer1 said when he was quoting Chris Isherwood’s translation of the Hindu bible, “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds”.

I’ve started a blog.2 Typical millennial, thinks we all need to hear what he has to say. His parents probably told him he’s sooooo important and everything he said is right as a kid.

That’s not the point of this thing. If only one person reads anything here, it’s fine by me. Heck, even if nobody reads it. Writing has been something I’ve enjoyed and (I’d like to think) am rather skilled in. It’s always provided an avenue for putting together my jumbled thoughts on paper/the picture of a piece of paper on a computer screen. Add to it my hobby of studying apologetics and theology, along with the insight that some of my wise friends will provide at various times, and this blog serves the purpose of challenging, enlightening, discussing, and reflecting, for both myself and hopefully the reader.

If your attention span tops at 300 words, here’s an edgy-but-not-just-for-the-sake-of-being-edgy summary of the following sea of apologetic ramblings: Friends, I believe that in this present time, the American church4 (that is, each individual person not institutions themselves) has reached a crossroad that it has been approaching for 350 years. One path leads to a new era of radical, counter-cultural pursuit of the Prince of Peace as He intended for us to see Him. The other path leads to a twisted, mutated version of something that was once the Gospel but is now simply a tool of “ends justify the means” in order to satisfy the natural desire of the sinful human soul in its insatiable quest for more power and more wealth. I assure you, I would not put it this way if I didn’t truly believe it.

People who know me would probably know I am naturally a contrarian kind of guy. I love that I enjoy different types of music, movies, jokes, conversation, beer, hobbies, and entertainment than probably 95% of the people around me. Heck, I’m a diehard fan of two the most consistently heartbreaking sports teams–the Houston Rockets and Fightin’ Texas Aggie football–in the entire country, yet I come back for more year after year. Is there a bit of an elitist element to it? Perhaps. I think it’s just how I am. All of this is to say that I recognize my quirks and strong opinions, but as someone who has been given the spiritual gift of wisdom, I can’t help but seek different ways of thinking.

I was raised with nothing to complain about. God gave me two hardworking, loving parents that showed me the Gospel from birth. He also picked my soul to reside in a home where I needed nothing, growing up in private school in safe, WASPy5 neighborhood in Houston, where I was fed a nice piece of American pie by everything around me: America, the glowing, capitalist city on a hill looking over the void nations below as the nation hand-picked by God himself to spread the American Dream in hopes of ridding the world of the most detestable qualities imaginable: socialism and a lack of money. “Evangelism” meant the spreading of words like ‘patriotism’, ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’ and right to spread those words to every country in the world, even if it meant forcing it on them through legislation or bombs or both. After all, Republican politics and capitalist economics were what Jesus meant when he told us to go tell all the nations in Acts 1:8. An eye for an eye. Kill or be killed. The ends justify the means.6

In the last few months, the Lord started, through His Word to us and the prophetic men mentioned previously, unlocking the truth of scripture I had read many times to my naturally skeptical mind. The values and ideals I had based my entire life on, what Dr. Stanley Hauerwas refers to as American Protestantism7, suddenly didn’t make any sense.

American Protestantism says to walk the capitalist line with a Bible and a three-figure job. Jesus says that he who has two tunics should give one away (Luke 3:11), and material possession is merely a distraction (Matthew 16:26, Matthew 6:19-21).

American Protestantism says you have a right to bear arms and protect yourself from death. Jesus says that he who lives by the sword will die by the sword (Matthew 26:52), the one who tries to save his life will lose it (Luke 17:33), we should love our enemy unconditionally (Matthew 5:44), and more is gained by death than anything this life can offer (Philippians 1:21).

American Protestantism says being a good American Christian means supporting capitalism and voting for the Republican party without question. Jesus says he doesn’t much care about the political games we’ve invented for ourselves in order to feel significant (Mark 12:17), and the early church determined that “socialism” is the most righteous response to having much or having little (Act 4:32-37).

American Protestantism says it is your right to deny safety to unfamiliar people in order to protect your own safety. Jesus says we are to welcome ALL as insiders by sharing in their suffering (Matthew 11:28, Galatians 6:2).

American Protestantism says freedom is the most desirable thing. Jesus says through Paul that being a slave to Jesus is the most desirable thing (1 Corinthians 7:22, Romans 1:1).

American Protestantism says freedom9 is not free, and we must be the ones to bring lethal justice on those who threaten the God-given rights to life, liberty, and happiness. Jesus says through King David and Paul that none are free, and being a servant to Christ is the only desirable thing (Psalms 116:16, 1 Corinthians 7:22, Romans 6:18).

American Protestantism says we have been ordained by God to fight persecution by whatever means necessary. Jesus says through the prophet Daniel that He is all-powerful (Daniel 4:35), yet he willfully lived a life on the run from persecution (John 6:15, John 10:39), and the early church’s immediate response to persecution was to run, preaching the Gospel on the way (Acts 8:1-4).

See friends, I believe the root of the problem is perspective. The justification of things like the Vietnam War, the War on Terror, and the red-faced Republican candidates promising hellfire from the sky on the ISIS insurgents8 all stems from the notion that they are worse than we are, so walk this logical progression with me.

Premise: Paul says that all have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), and Jesus says that no one is good except the Heavenly Father (Luke 18:19). So…

  1. If no person is truly good, then all people are bad or sinful.
  2. If all people are bad or sinful, then all are morally and metaphysically equal.
  3. If all are morally and metaphysically equal, in the eyes of God, all are worthy of death (Romans 6:23, Luke 13:3).
  4. If all are worthy of death, the basis of moral superiority that a man harnesses to justify killing another man is false.

As Piper has beautifully articulated, Peter tells us to always be able to give a reason for the hope that is within you, and “The world isn’t looking for the hope in your holster.” Shane Claiborne muses on, “How ironic is it to see a bumper sticker that says ‘Jesus is the answer’ next to a bumper sticker supporting the war in Iraq, as if to say ‘Jesus is the answer – but not in the real world.’” And again, “It is a dangerous day when we can take the cross out of the church more easily than the flag. No wonder it is hard for seekers to find God nowadays.”

However, I think Voddie Baucham explains it best when he says, “The question is not ‘how can an all-powerful God allow bad things to happen to good people?’ The right way to ask that question is ‘how can an all-knowing, perfect God know what I said and what I thought yesterday and not kill me where I stand today?’” He expounds on this even more:

“If we refuse to forgive, we have stepped into dangerous waters. First, refusing to forgive is to put ourselves in the place of God, as though vengeance were our prerogative, not his. Second, unforgiveness says God’s wrath is insufficient. For the unbeliever, we are saying that an eternity in hell is not enough; they need our slap in the face or cold shoulder to “even the scales” of justice. For the believer, we are saying that Christ’s humiliation and death are not enough. In other words, we shake our fists at God and say, “Your standards may have been satisfied, but my standard is higher!” Finally, refusing to forgive is the highest form of arrogance. Here we stand forgiven. And as we bask in the forgiveness of a perfectly holy and righteous God, we turn to our brother and say, “My sins are forgivable, but yours are not.” In other words, we act as though the sins of others are too significant to forgive while simultaneously believing that ours are not significant enough to matter.”

Here is my fear. If you’re like me, you’ve been part of this “ends justify the means” approach to violence for a long time, and from the very depths of my soul I BEG that you would not just hear these things, but prayerfully and open-mindedly consider how this stance would look in your own life, because it genuinely could change your life. I know how it goes with these blog posts as they get passed around. People read them and perhaps get something out of it, but it is instantly forgotten. Like “oh Chase found something that changed his life, good for him.” Brothers & sisters in Christ, this is for you; the time is now, not later, to truly ask yourself if you have been following the Prince of Peace or the American god of war as I have been for 22 years. Jesus and John both say that if we have ever hated someone in our heart, we are guilty of murder in the eyes of the Lord (Matthew 5:21-30, 1 John 3:15). Thus, if you believe that murders are unredeemable and must be killed by war or by the death penalty, then you must also kill me, for I have been guilty of murder in my heart for 22 years. BUT, because the endless grace poured out for us on the cross, there is NO condemnation for those whose hope is in Christ, the Prince of Peace. 10

I feel I should wrap this up. If you would not call yourself a Christian and have read this far, I am honored to have been heard out by you, and I pray sincerely that perhaps some parts of all this have brought you clarity as to what the Gospel actually is, as opposed to this hybrid of the American Dream and Protestantism that the United States has created. To my Christian brothers & sisters, I pray that you would see all of this as earnestness rather than anger. As Dr. Hauerwas says, every 100 years or so, the Christian church undergoes a major period of reassessment, and I believe that time is upon us. Paul says that we are to lovingly rebuke each other when we believe another has stepped outside the boundaries of the Gospel (Ephesians 4:25). As my high school apologetics teacher Dr. David Pendergrass instructed his closed-minded private schoolers, “he who asks questions shifts the burden of proof onto the other person.” So I will leave you with questions.

“I wondered if there were other restless people asking the question with me: What if Jesus meant the stuff he said?” -Shane Claiborne

Are you secure enough in your own salvation to die so that the person holding the gun may live, giving them more time to hear the good news of Christ?11

What is it that your own moral compass is based on?12

Is the saving of my own life or the lives of other believers worth sending another person to enteral separation from Jesus over?

 

“Peace to the brothers, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.”13

Chase Burns


Footnotes:

1Hopefully you caught the intentional irony here of Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb, making a cameo is a largely pacifist writing. If not, here’s your sign *Bill Engvall voice*.
2Yeah, I’m using footnotes. I’m a Liberal Arts major, what do you want from me?
3Hopefully some do read this. I do want it to be clear that I am not writing this in hopes becoming this viral share piece on Facebook. If only one person got something out of all this, it was worth it.
4No, I am not saying that EVERY church institution is preaching a fake Gospel. I am saying that it is time to start asking questions.
5WASP = White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, try to keep up
6I want to make it extremely clear that this is not what I learned from my own home or home church, but rather from the Christian fundamentalist South as a whole.
7http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2013/07/02/3794561.htm
8How do you declare war on an idea? This is not World War II, there is no tangible good and tangible bad. It’s like declaring war on an ocean current.
9America’s definition of freedom, according to Hauerwas: “The institutions that constitute the disciplinary forms of that project are liberal democracy and capitalism. Thus the presumption that if you get to choose between a Sony or Panasonic television, you have had a ‘free choice.’”
10 Read the story of Pastor Billy Neal Moore, a convicted murder on death row who was released from prison because the murder victim’s family, a Christian family, fought for his forgiveness in court: http://www1.cbn.com/700club/billy-moore-living-death-row
11“I am not questioning your salvation. I am trying to make you question your salvation.” -Dr. Voddie Baucham.
12The American desire to use medicine in an attempt to get out of life alive is but the domestic form of American foreign policy. 11 September 2001 gave America exactly what she so desperately needed after the end of the cold war, for it is unclear if America can live without a war. Otherwise, what would give us a moral compass? So we got a “war against terrorism,” which is a war without end.” -Dr. Stanley Hauerwas
13Ephesians 6:23-24
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