The Myth of a Christian Nation: Chapter Four

Chapter 4 (From Resident Aliens to Conquering Warlords) chronicles the rather depressing aspect of church history which involves Christians’ repeated use of violence to accomplish (supposedly) Godly ends.

During this chapter, Boyd examines Jesus’ temptation in the desert. He points out that Satan tried to get Jesus to agree to become a ruler of the kingdoms of the world without going to the cross, but Jesus refused. He then notes that “tragically, the history of the church has been largely a history of believers refusing to trust the way of the crucified Nazarene and instead giving in to the very temptation he resisted.”

Boyd then provides an overview of church history which points out how, beginning in the third century and continuing to the present, Christians have used violence in God’s name. It began with Augustine, who ultimately decided the church may use terror for the sake of the gospel, since God uses terror for the good of humans. This, in turn, justified the crimininalization and torture of suppoed heretics. During the Middle Ages, some macabre torturing devices were even inscribed with the words “Glory be only to God.”

Supposed witches were burned. During the crusades, terrible atrocities were committed against the Jews. Christians fought against Christians. Naitive Americans and Africans were slaughtered, displaced, and enslaved becuase it was thought that God had given Western Europeans a “manifest destiny.”

And, more recently, before his recent and untimely death, the late Jerry Falwell was quoted as saying that America should hunt down terrorists and “blow them away in the name of the Lord“! Likewise, Pat Robertson recently advocated the assasination of a foreign leader. Indeed, Boyd points out, much of the motivation for Islamic terrorists can be traced back to horrible violence that was initiated by Christians centuries ago.

Boyd pulls no punches here. He says that this entire array of behavior is nothing less than the church giving into a demonic tempation, and that the attempt to make the kingdom of God into a kingdom of the sword may be the worst version of the kingdom of the sword, becuase it acts under the alleged banner of Christ.

Here are some of his concluding thoughts:

One wonders why no one in church history has ever been considered a heretic for being unloving. People were anathematized and often torturned and killed for disagreeing on matters of doctrine or on the authority of the church. But no one on record has ever been so much rebuked for not loving as Christ loved.

His point, I think, is that the true heretics are those who committed these atrocities, and not those who were victimized by them. So how is it that, in light of this blatantly obvious misuse of God’s name, we continue to miss the point? He goes on:

While God uses the sword of governments to preserve law, order, and justice, as we have seen, there is a corrupting principality and power always at work. Much like the magical ring in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, the sword has a demonic power to decieve us. When we pick it up, we come under its power. It convinces us that our use of violence is a justified means to a noble end…. Most of the slaughtering done thorughout history has been done by people who sincerely believed they were promoting “the good.” Everyone thinks their wars are just, if not holy.

Having now set up his argument, Boyd’s next few chapters will systematically dismantle the powerful, widely held myth that America is somehow an exception to this rule.

Previous Posts:
Chapter One: The Kingdom of the Sword
Chapter Two: The Kingdom of the Cross
Chapter Three: Keeping the Kingdom Holy


5 Responses to The Myth of a Christian Nation: Chapter Four

  1. GKB says:

    Ah, the Constantine effect. It’s one of my favorite topics. It seems, though, that many folks can’t see this at work in Church history. I guess there are none so blind as those who would not see…

    My friend Dwayne, who comes from Ohio Amish stock originally (and now plants churches in the NW), has steered a recent discussion on my blog in that direction…

  2. Matt says:


    I think the problem is not that people disagree that things done in the PAST were bad things, but that somehow OUR generation and OUR country and OUR motivations are completely different. In other words, IMHO, American exceptionalism is the real issue, not whether – say – the Crusades were a Bad Thing. But, I think, Boyd’s argument is about to go like this: while America may be better, relatively speaking, than past kingdoms of the sword, it is not – in the end – qualitatively different. We simply cannot set ourselves up as exceptions to this rule or we risk all of the mistakes of the past.

    I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m reporting on the book as I read it, so I still don’t completely know how he’s going to come down on some issues (I note that the last chapter specifically deals with Christians and violence), but so far I’ve been really impressed by his frankness and courage.

  3. Just a point that the Crusades were preceded by three centuries of Islamic expansion into previously “Christian” or at least formerly European territories. Not expansion by prostelyzation or missionary work, but expansion of a militaristic nature not unlike the Crusades themselves. I’m only partway into “God’s War”, the latest history of the Crusades, but it’s evident from the first 100 pages that part of the genesis of the First Crusade was an intercine battle in the Catholic Church over which of the two Popes at the time was legitimate. It’s unfortunate that a debate between Christians became a cause to subjugate others, but the idea that the Muslim world was peacefully minding its business before the Crusaders fell on them is not entirely true.

    People can claim whatever issues they want to support what they do, Al Qaeda’s communications indicate that they’re still peeved about Al-Andalus, the loss of Spain over 500 years ago. It’s no excuse of our own behavior to point out the pathology of others, but I don’t feel any guilt about things that predated my existance by nearly a millennium. I’ll stick to my own actions if I need guilt. Islamic terrorists are more than welcome to try to legitimize their actions based on actions of the distant past, but they won’t succeed in that attempt in my book, and I have trouble seeing how they’ll succeed in God’s.

    I can only imagine the heavenly fury that accompanied the then-Pope’s granting of indulgences for participants in the Crusades, as if the Pope had sole claim on the dispensation of the redeeming blood of God’s Son. I can’t imagine he feels much different about the 21st Century version, a shahid walking into a pizza parlor with a bomb vest who feels sure the coming detonation will propel him to Paradise.

  4. […] Previous Posts: -Introduction-Chapter One: The Kingdom of the Sword-Chapter Two: The Kingdom of the Cross-Chapter Three: Keeping the Kingdom Holy-Chapter Four: From Resident Aliens to Conquering Warlords […]

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