There is frequently a cry of moral equivalency between Islam and Christianity. “Muslims have been violent, but so have Christians. Muslims are waging jihad, but what about the crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Conquistadors? The Quran teaches warfare, but so does the Bible.”
How do we respond? Is Christianity on par with Islam? Is Christianity a violent religion? Does the Bible cause a violent world?
It is not our aim to critically assess Islam or the Quran in this writing. Instead, we just want to examine whether the Bible and Christianity teach and promote wide scale violence. Does true Christianity use the sword to defend and promote truth?
Here is our response:
1. It is true that God instructed the cleansing of the Promised Land of the Canaanite people. He enjoined this on the Israelites of the Old Testament. Their moral depravity was “full” (Genesis 15:16). “They had slumped to such an immoral depraved state, with no hope of recovery, that their existence on this Earth had to be ended – just like in Noah’s day when God waited while Noah preached for years but was unable to turn the world’s population from its wickedness” (Dave Miller, The Quran Unveiled: Islam and New Testament Christianity in Conflict, p. 193). Now let it be pointed out that this was not an annihilation of all unbelievers, only these Canaanites whose society had become so corrupt. “Unless you happened to be a Hittite, Girgashite, Amorite, Canaanite, Perizzite, Hivite, or Jebusite these Biblical passages simply do not apply to you” (Robert Spencer, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam, p. 29).
2. The nation of Israel was a nation. “Since the nation of Israel was also a civil entity in its own right, the government was also charged with implementing civil retribution upon lawbreakers. However, with the arrival of New Testament Christianity – an international religion intended for all persons without regard to ethnicity or nationality – God has assigned to civil government (not the church or the individual) the responsibility of regulating secular behavior. God’s people who lived posterior to the cross of Christ… are not charged by God with the responsibility of inflicting punishment on the evildoers. Rather civil government is charged with the responsibility of maintaining order and punishing lawbreakers – Romans 13:1-7; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-14″ (Miller, ibid).
3. All was not fair in love and war, according to the Old Testament. The Israelites were given rules of engagement. Read Deuteronomy 20. Cities (with the exception of the Canaanites) were to be given opportunity in war to surrender (Deuteronomy 20:10-18). There was to be no scorched earth policies (Deuteronomy 20:19-20). Moreover, we know that unjust practices were frowned on (Genesis 34:6-30a cf. 49:5-7).
4. Another issue is imprecatory Psalms. Things to understand: (a) The Psalms are not narratives calmly recording history. They are poetry and the nature of oriental poetry is that it often contains strong emotion and flowery language. (b) These are prayers directed to God. God was petitioned but things were left in His hands. Steve Wiggins has written, “The imprecatory Psalms can be of tremendous assistance to the Christian. They teach us when we feel anger and hostility we should verbalize it in prayer to God rather than expressing it through actions” (Firm Foundation, Oct. 2003 article “A study of Imprecatory Psalms” by Steve Wiggins). We all need to vent from time to time. (c) We should understand who many of these enemies were. They were not just personal enemies, but enemies of God and justice. The Psalmist was not merely wanting vengeance on his personal enemies – but, in many cases, but upon God’s enemies and injustice (Psalm 5:10; 59:13; 109:13, 15, 16, 17). Steve Wiggins adds, “The key to solving this… seems to lie in understanding that the imprecations are grounded in the Abrahamic covenant in which God promised to curse those who cursed Abraham’s descendents. The Psalmist then, merely appealed for God to fulfill his covenant promise to Israel” (ibid).
5. The New Testament clearly, does not teach violence. It teaches things like: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). “Turn the other (cheek) also” (Matthew 5:39). “Repay no man evil for evil… if it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:17, 18). “Pursue peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
However, some have wrested some New Testament passages from their context in order to claim moral equivalency. (a) Luke 19:26-27. The fallacy here is that these words are about the coming judgement upon Jerusalem set forth in a parable, and are not Jesus instructions to wage jihad. (b) Matthew 10:34-35. Jesus is not saying that He wants such things to happen, but He is warning that they will happen. He is not instructing His disciples to wield the sword; He is warning of the cost of discipleship.
6. What about the crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Conquistadors? The only sword the Christian is authorized to use in the promotion and defense of the Gospel is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this word. If my kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight…” (John 18:36). True Christianity does not “wrestle against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12).
The crusades are a much misunderstood period of history. The crusades were not unprovoked attacks by Europe against the Islamic world. There were years of aggression, hardship, and persecution that had happened to the west by Muslims. Moreover, the crusades weren’t made to force Jews and Muslims to become Christians, it was over 100 years after the first Crusade that Europeans organized a missionary effort to convert the Muslims. A Spanish Muslim, Ibn Jubayr, wrote in the 12th century that the Muslims had it better in lands under control of Crusaders than in lands under Islamic control. True, there were many atrocities during these years of the crusades. It is true that much anti-Semitic violence existed in Germany and Hungary by Crusaders. It is worth noting that in spite of this, most Jews still chose to live in the west and not in Islamic land. [For a study of the Crusades, see The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades)].
The Inquisitions were brutal, torturous, and bloody. I would suggest that they did not get such from reading God’s instructions to the church. God has stated how false teachers, and heretics are to be handled (see Acts 20:28-32; Romans 16:17; 1 Timothy 6:3-5; Titus 1:7-11; 3:10; 2 John 10-11). We are in the market of ideas. We are to reason with people and try to change them. We are not to support false teachers. We need to mark and avoid them. There is a time to withdraw from such. But we are never told to torture and punish them physically.
The Conquistadors, I have read, justified their taking of land in the “New World” and their treatment of the natives by appealing to God’s giving the Promised Land to the Israelites, and by what the Israelites did (or were to do) with the Canaanites. If this is true this is a great misuse of scripture. There is a big difference: Israel was so instructed of God; the Conquistadors, nor we have been so instructed in the New Testament.
Some have appealed to Timothy McVeigh and others as an example of modern Christian terrorism. Now, I am not saying that one could not zealously do terrorist activities and try to defend them by appealing to the scriptures, but to my knowledge Timothy McVeigh never did this. I know of no scripture he ever appealed to, yet many want to classify him as a Christian terrorist and cry for moral equivalency. I guarantee you this if McVeigh, or any others, appealed to the New Testament to justify their terror – they took the passage out of its context. Read the New Testament It is not a book of violence.
7. Some have acted as if Christianity and religion in general would just go away then all violence would just disappear and there would be utopia on Earth (just ponder the words of John Lennon’s atheistic anthem “Imagine”).
Man is violent without religion. In truth, anti-Christian and atheistic governments have unquestionably murdered more people in the last hundred years than all other movements. Mao is responsible for the deaths of an estimated 40 million, Stalin 20 million, Hitler 15 million (figures go as high as 34 million if you count the war). Pol Pot killed about 2 million, almost one-third of his country. Which of these did their deeds due to their Christian beliefs? It is said that communist tyranny has killed a minimum of 94 million this last century and perhaps as high as 150 million (figures from Deliver Us From Evil, Sean Hannity; and surfing the internet). As Benjamin Franklin once said, “If men are so wicked with religion, what would they be without it?”! In a letter to the editor of The American Spectator, a Peter Skurkiss of Stow, Ohio well said, “Just as the former Soviet Union has been discredited, so has its religion of materialism. The experiment has been tried and has been a colossal failure. Instead of freeing man from God and being a route to utopia, atheism has brought unimagined grief to the world.” (Sept. 2007).
Christianity has done much to lift this world to a higher level (Recommended reading Wayne Jackson, Apologetics Press article, The Benevolent, “Leavening” Influence of Christianity by Wayne Jackson).
Whether a book be classified as violent or not must be determined by the book itself and not by what some associated with it may or may not do. The New Testament is a religion of peace.