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Seed of war

Self-idolatry roils cities from Pyongyang to Charlottesville

Seed of war

North Korean women in Pyongyang demonstrate against UN sanctions on the country. (Kyodo/AP)

What do the two cities of Pyongyang, North Korea, and Charlottesville, Va., have in common?

Most days, it seems very little. But during the waning days of summer, a virulent thread connected the otherwise distant cities. In a word: idolatry.

In Pyongyang, enslaved North Korean citizens bowed to a tyrannical dictator demanding devotion and threatening to terrorize the world to retain his own kingdom. In Charlottesville, throngs of demonstrators worshipped another god that exalts self and brings death: the notion of racial superiority.

The scope of the conflicts is different, but the seed of war is the same—whether it’s idolatry on a global, national, or local scale.

As world leaders grappled with a belligerent North Korea, citizens of Charlottesville, Va., reeled from the fallout of a violent weekend of demonstrations that included white nationalists and Nazi sympathizers.

Police say 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. plowed a car into a group of counterdemonstrators, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. Fields reportedly had neo-Nazi sympathies.

Nazis once gloried in Adolf Hitler’s maniacal notions of a superior race and aided his bloodthirsty push to kill millions and spark a global war that enveloped whole continents.

During World War II, some German churchgoers remained silent in the face of the unfolding tragedy. Their complicity offers a lesson to Christians of any era: speak when you witness the idolatrous seeds of racism.

Indeed, the only Biblical answer to racism is a Christ-exalting message and lifestyle that recognizes every person as an image-bearer of God. Christ came to save sinners from every tribe, nation, and tongue. To exalt one race or pit one race against another is to trample the gospel.

North Korean defectors say dictator Kim Jong Un has trampled the gospel by forbidding the open practice of Christianity and building up military strength for his own kingdom at the expense of his languishing citizens. Dissent invites death.

As U.S. officials considered Kim’s bellicose quest to develop nuclear weapons that could reach the United States, some Christian leaders weighed in: Texas pastor Robert Jeffress said God had given President Donald Trump “authority to take out Kim Jong Un.” The pastor of First Baptist Dallas drew his argument from Romans 13.

While the New Testament passage does give the power of the sword to civil authorities, the authority comes with accountability: It’s not a blank check for leaders to wage war as they see fit.

Christian thinkers as far back as Augustine grappled with how Biblical teaching applies to war, and they developed principles of “just war theory.” Among the most basic: A war should be inherently defensive, it should aim to protect human life, and it should ultimately promote peace.

Evelyn Hockstein/The Washington Post/Getty Images

White supremacists march through the University of Virginia campus. (Evelyn Hockstein/The Washington Post/Getty Images)

The theory could be twisted in the wrong hands—or misapplied by the well-meaning—but the principles have helped Christians think about complicated conflicts, even when clear answers aren’t obvious.

Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, noted that while war is horrible, it is “sometimes, horrifyingly enough, justified when doing anything else is an even worse option.”

Chuck Currie—a minister in the United Church of Christ and a supporter of former President Barack Obama—responded to Jeffress’ remarks by saying the pastor endorsed a theology of war “in direct contradiction to the teachings of Jesus, the prince of peace.”

Like others, Currie rightly wants to avoid war, but Christians must confront the grim task of dealing with the effects of sin in a fallen world. Sadly, Currie skirts the one ultimate remedy for the sinfulness that leads to war and racism and every other human conflict: the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ for sins.

In an Easter sermon in 2009, Currie quoted a Princeton dean denying the substitutionary atonement of Christ, and Currie added, “Jesus did not go to the cross as part of some vengeful God’s need for a sacrifice.”

He also said whether Jesus literally rose from the dead doesn’t matter—a theological stance the Apostle Paul directly rejects in 1 Corinthians 15: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”

Magistrates must deal with complex questions of civil order both at home and abroad, but Jesus’ followers know His sacrificial death for sinners and His literal resurrection from the dead remain the only lasting hope. It’s a message Christians can offer their neighbors, as fears of war and flares of racism continue.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a pastor who preached in Britain through the darkest days of World War II, reminded Christians not to abuse the blessings of peace while we still have them. When peace is threatened or fraying, we have a far greater sense of its blessing.

But Lloyd-Jones pointed out the Bible teaches the purpose of peace isn’t merely for us to live comfortable lives, but to use our lives for the glory of God and the good of others. In days of fragile peace, those opportunities abound.

Jamie Dean

Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the political beat and other topics as national editor for WORLD Magazine. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.