Jesus and the American Sniper

The recent blockbuster movie, American Sniper, has already earned more than $253 million around the world since its release just a few weeks ago. The movie tells the story of Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL sniper, who is considered to be the most deadly sniper in U.S. history. The film, directed by Clint Eastwood, is graphic in its depiction of the violence of war, but it also sheds light on the struggles of the man who became known as “Legend” on the battlefield.

Given its massive success at the box office, it comes as no surprise that American Sniper has generated quite a bit of controversy as well. What struck me as interesting (and saddening) was a recent back-and-forth between producer Michael Moore and Fox News commentator Todd Starnes, both of whom invoked the name of Jesus to defend their respective positions.

Michael Moore has openly opposed the film and stated via Twitter:

In these tweets, Moore implies that Chris Kyle participated in sinful, unbiblical, and un-Christian behavior by serving as a sniper in the American military during his four tours in Iraq. For those of you who recognize Moore’s work, such statements are probably expected in light of his political views.

On the other side of the spectrum, Todd Starnes responded to Moore’s tweets by focusing one of his “American Dispatch” commentaries on Moore’s views. In the middle of his commentary (starting at the 48 second mark), Starnes invoked the name of Jesus as well as he stated:

Well, I’m not theologian, but I suspect Jesus would tell that God-fearing, red-blooded American sniper, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant for dispatching another Godless jihadist to the lake of fire.’ But then again, I’m no theologian.

In stark contrast to the thoughts of Moore, Starnes concludes that Jesus would actually applaud Kyle for his work in the war and welcome him to heaven on the basis that he had personally ensured Islamic jihadists would end up in hell.

From a political perspective, I’d really have to hunt for a while to find much of anything to agree with Moore about. I’m probably going to line up with Starnes about 80–85% politically (although I often have problems with his rhetoric). However, in this case I think they both missed the point about Jesus.

I think Moore is asking the wrong questions for the most part. Would Jesus have participated in a war during his 30+ years on earth? Probably not. We have no record that he did and no reason to even speculate about it. However, Moore should be asking whether or not a legitimate government has the biblical authority to participate in war. On that question, the text of Scripture speaks fairly clearly. In Romans 13:1–4, Paul writes:

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.

This passage has typically been interpreted to include a government’s right to take up arms and defend its citizens and the innocent. This authority is granted to the government by God. In Chris Kyle’s situation, he was acting as an agent of the government in an official capacity as a soldier. From the best we know, he only engaged enemy combatants in his role as a sniper. Thus, his actions seem to fall within the scope of the authority granted to government in Romans 13.

In his attempt to rush to Kyle’s defense, Starnes crosses the line by declaring that God is pleased with the fact that Kyle ushered unbelievers into a fiery judgment. The problem is that Starnes missed the point of the passage he quoted. Invoking the praise of the master from Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14–30), Starnes states that Kyle must have received a hero’s welcome in heaven upon his untimely death.

The problem here is that God does not rejoice in the death and judgment of those who do not trust in him. In 2 Peter 3:9 we read, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” God does not rejoice in the condemnation of “another Godless jihadist to the lake of fire.” Instead, he is grieved that such a one never came to faith in Christ alone for salvation.

The fact of the matter is that war is a tragic consequence of the fall of mankind. War should never be pursued for its own sake. It should always be a last resort and a tragic necessity for the sake of restoring peace. Even though I believe waging just war is within the authority of the government, we should long for the day when there will be no more war. We learn about that day in Micah 4:3 where the prophet describes the last days as a time when “they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they train for war.” This is an eschatological reality, but it will only be realized after Christ returns. Until then, war will continue to be a part of this fallen world.

Finally, I want to address a point that Starnes made twice—he said he is not a theologian. By academic and professional standards, I guess you could say that I am a theologian. But so are you, and so is Mr. Starnes, and so is Mr. Moore. We are all theologians in one sense. When we approach the text of Scripture or declare what we believe (or don’t believe) about God, we are doing theology. Mr. Starnes may not have formally studied theology, and his theology in this particular commentary is weak in my opinion, but it is still theology.

Therefore, I would like to encourage us all to be careful when we apply the thoughts, words, or actions of Jesus to a particular situation. We need to make sure our theology is sound before we proclaim what Jesus would do or say.

24 comments

  1. Having followed Starnes for a long time I’ll say that Starnes is just as dangerous as Moore from the other direction. He has for years reported half-truths to write a narrative that has built him a platform. Though there has been truth to a lot of what he has reported it does not reflect the totality of the situation causing more fear and reaction than sound warning.

    1. Mike, thanks for stopping by. While I have a tendency to agree with Starnes’ basic ideas fairly often, his tendency to overreact and underreport is problematic. His rhetoric is over the top and actually ends up viewing jihadists as they do others.

  2. Although I will say that Moore Was likely in the wrong with his mindset(he seems to be attacking Mr. Kyle and the fans of the movie), I have to agree that this is not what Christ would want.

    Yes, Romans 13:1-4 supports the government’s authority and the right to wield the sword. What it does not do, is support the idea that Christians can do the same. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 says, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” – ESV. The government DOES have the God-given right to wield the sword to help keep people from becoming too lawless, but that in no way indicates that it is alright for the children of God to participate. It is not our way. We are agents of mercy, not judgement. We are agents of peace, not conflict.

    In addition to the fact that we are not to wage war bodily, we also have no cause to support our nation going to war since it is ruled by Satan(1 John 5:19). Why be patriotic and praise a nation ruled by the enemy? Not to say that we shouldn’t support it, after a fashion at least. Paul does tell us to pray for those in power(1 Timothy 1:2-4), but this does not equate to approval of taking part in it.

    In conclusion, followers of the Way shouldn’t take life in any capacity, but neither should we be upstarts and rail against our government and curse the leaders for their decisions(be that in war or civil matters). We should obey all that we are commanded by our ruling power, unless it conflicts with a command from the LORD. In case you couldn’t tell, I am certainly Anabaptist. Sorry if this starts a debate you didn’t intend or anything of that nature, but I genuinely feel that this is a subject that the church in privileged nations(lack of physical persecution) has been quite wrong on since the church gained protection in Rome. I fear that it has had/has/will have horrific consequences for the Kingdom, based on the message we send when one of our number ends a life.

    1. Terrence, thanks for the comment. The subject of your comment isn’t exactly the point of my post, but let me offer a couple of thoughts in reply. First, Jesus had the perfect opportunity to tell his followers to stay out of the military, but he does not do so in Luke 3:14. Instead, he tells them to serve justly (not take money by force, nor accuse falsely, but be content with their wages). The alternative to Christians serving in the military would be an entirely pagan army and government. By extension, it seems that you would exclude Christians from all forms of government roles that could include violence–police, sheriff, FBI, CIA, Secret Service, etc. Since presidents, legislatures, and governors could potentially call for military intervention, it seems that you would exclude Christians from those roles as well. I a m curious to know if Christians could be public servants in any capacity in your opinion.

      Second, I am not certain how you get from 1 John 5:19 to your conclusion that our nation is ruled by Satan. John says that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one, but I don’t think he specifically implies that a nation is ruled by Satan there. The entire world is under his influence, certainly–that’s the result of the fall.

      Third, how should we pray for our government in light of 1 Tim 2:1-4 (not 1:2-4)? If our nation is ruled by Satan and we cannot approve of anything that hints of violence, what do we pray for?

      Interestingly, Paul wrote Romans 13 as Nero reigned in Rome. All of his commentary about God-ordained government and praying for leaders came during times of great persecution against the church.

      I do believe you are right in noting that believers in privileged nations not facing persecution need to step back and look at things from a different perspective. I also choose not to call the pushback/ill-will we receive at times in America “persecution.” To do so would be to trivialize what is happening to Christians in China, Iran, and other places of real persecution.

      1. I understand that the point of the post was about both Mr. Moore and Mr. Starnes’ statements on the issue while bringing up God, but I feel that this is a topic that isn’t addressed enough within the church, especially here where the church has a tendency to be so watered down by luxuries in one form or another. Again, I apologize if this brings the discussion too off track.

        You are correct in Luke 3:14, Jesus would have had the perfect opportunity to tell the soldiers to leave the military, but that isn’t Jesus speaking there. It’s John. John is most likely not aware of what all is involved in the new covenant. He prepared the way, not started it.

        In my point of view, there’s no need for us to serve in any political/military/judicial capacity. I don’t necessarily feel that we CAN’T, so long as there is nothing about the vocation that would contradict Christ. Obviously I think killing would, but I also feel that swearing an oath would and most of those positions involve an oath.

        To address the second issue, I do not believe that John specifically implied that a nation is ruled by Satan in 1 John 5:19. But the vast majority of people are unsaved, that is the nature of the gospel. It offends and is overall rejected which is why Jesus says, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” in Matthew 7:14. The government is run by and composed of people. Surely it is obvious that this is no “Christian nation”. There will never be a nation that places God’s will over all else. If this nation is not a Christian nation, and the legislation pumped out doesn’t offer the scent of Christ at its passing, it is reasonable to assume that those in charge(at least mostly) in the government are not operating under the will of God. That only leaves one other will that they would be operating under. Satan’s. I don’t necessarily prescribe to the idea that he is literally and personally tempting all of us at all times, but it would be naive to think that a being as devious and surely as intelligent as he doesn’t have his hands dipped thoroughly into the honeypots that are the governmental powers.

        How do we pray for the government when it is ruled by Satan? The same way that you pray for those lost in the world who are still slaves to sin. Just because they do not serve Christ and do things that oppose him, doesn’t mean you no longer have a way to pray for them. We pray for those in positions of power as we pray for any others. For their salvation, and that they make decisions that are in line with God’s will(whether that is their intent or not). Also, thank you for the correction on the verse. I suppose I got the numbers backwards.

        The fact that Paul wrote about such a topic in that context is perfectly in line with his character. It’s natural for us to rebel at being mistreated. He was teaching them differently. If the “founding fathers” had followed this command, they wouldn’t have fought a war for separation. It’s about obeying the structures in place by God’s will and loving them no matter the mistreatment they offer up to you. We are adopted heirs with Christ and as such are lambs such as he. The image this always brings up is a lamb being slaughtered and that is the intent. We will suffer as He did, and we should suffer in love without violence as He did. We are intended to be wise as serpents(which always entails a fear of, a love for, and an obedience to the LORD), and as harmless as doves. “Harmless” being my favorite word here.

        I agree with you wholeheartedly on this last thing. I only use the word to keep from unnecessarily offending brothers/sisters that believe that is real persecution. There’s a better way to discuss that with them.

        I firmly believe it is the fact that we do not face persecution that has led to the belief that “just war”, self-defense, and any other such matter are permissible. Most believers from dangerous nations that I have spoken with and read articles of adhere lovingly to Jesus’ call to non-violence where-as we who do not face such things vehemently argue the point. Our luxury has led to a sense of self-entitlement that doesn’t do Christ justice. We look for every little possible loophole in the text to reaffirm our support for violence even though we have blatant commands not to harm others in Exodus 20:13, Romans 12:17-21, and Matthew 5:38-48.

        How is it possible to love someone while killing them to defend yourself or a plot of land? It is not. You are choosing your life over theirs and your land over their life. We are to seek everyone else’s good before our own. That includes those who would war with the nation we live in, and would seek to personally harm us. My allegiance is with the Kingdom of God and no other. There is no kingdom on the planet that seeks the good of the real Kingdom, and therefore I owe it nothing that my Lord does not command me to give to it.

        1. Terrence, you are correct in that I misapplied John’s words to Jesus. However, I would assume you believe that John the Baptist was ministering under the power of the Holy Spirit and that the Spirit could have led him to give different instructions to the soldiers, but he didn’t. In addition, the Spirit inspired Luke to record that pericope. Neither of those can be dismissed with John not being aware of what all was involved with the new covenant.

          We’ll have to stand in disagreement regarding oaths. There are verses that people take on both sides. Matt 5:33-37 and James 5:12 against. But you also have Paul calling on God as his witness for his testimony (Rom 1:9 and 2 Cor 1:23)–this would seem to be an oath taken in God’s name (typically the reason people have a problem with oath-taking). God is also reported to have taken an oath in Acts 2:30 and Heb 6:16-18. I believe it is important to be salt and light in thsi world and serving in various government capacities in one way to do that. For example, I serve on the Ethics Review Commission for the City of Fort Worth, and yes, I took an oath of office.

          I don’t think entitlement is necessarily the rationale for self-defense (and wow, have we moved far afield of the topic of the post). However, I would also like you to consider whether you would defend someone you love. If someone were trying to kill your wife or child, would you use violence to stop them or would you stand back and watch them take a life? I could not do that. I would be compelled to act out of love for those God has called me to serve and care for.

          1. I have arguments for these, but as you’ve pointed out, I’ve taken this far too off-topic. I will retreat from the discussion and respond no longer.

  3. I understand the point your trying to make regarding Christians and war but you missed the nail on the head by not regarding that the war in Iraq was an unjust/unnecessary war, initiated under a false pretext, that enrich the political elites and their affiliates who have stakes in the military industrial complex that profited from such activities. Let me ask you this:

    In what way is 9/11 connected to Iraq?

    Would you say that Iraq as it is today, in it’s fragmented state with Isis controlling a portion of the northern region, is better off than it was under the rule of Saddam?

    As a Christian, I find it troubling when faith is wrecklessly intertwined with patriotism/politics… In those circumstances, which is plentiful in this nation, the former is not the vehicle for how we live our lives, as it should be, but only the fuel for the latter.

    1. Kratos, the point of my post was not to discuss the necessity or justness of the war in Iraq. War is complicated, and neither of us were in the Pentagon or White House when those decisions were being made. You could get 10 people around a table to discuss the nature of that particular war and get 12 opinions. Thanks for stopping by, though.

  4. Jesus and the American Sniper — good article! This movie does prompt hard questions about the nature of war (including it’s cost for soldiers facing the front lines and the sacrifice of their families on the home front) … And perhaps more importantly, it ought to prompt Americans (especially Christians) to come to grips with any misconceptions we may have about military action and it’s politics, and even freshly consider our theological views in order to engage culture with truth — not ours, but God’s truth!

    Yes, we are ALL theologians in one sense. When we bring Jesus and biblical references into the discussion and then declare what we believe or don’t believe about God, we are doing theology. Romans 13:1-4 is a very helpful text here and I agree with the eschatological views presented. Tragically, war will continue to be a part of this fallen world and, therefore, the realities of EVIL in the world must be dealt with theologically — doing our best to make sure our theology is sound biblically before we proclaim what Jesus would do or say.

    What Jesus would do or say is central, so let’s probe our Christology a bit. A pacifist theology and view of Jesus as peacemaker espouses nonviolence. Peace-making is one clear aspect of Jesus’ teachings … But let’s also consider the clear warrior-like image of Jesus revealed in the New Testament — in the book of Revelation. Here Jesus has a burning sword coming out of his mouth and unleashes judgment in a very violent manner on the earth. A balanced and wholistic view of Jesus makes for a healthy Christology that can effectively inform and even determine our political views. Fellow theologians all, Jesus is central to all — and He is Lord of all (case in point, Revelation 1-3)

    I can understand and respect one’s with a pacifist theology, and I’m not saying that the Iraqi war was a just war, or espousing blind nationalism. Certainly, God’s kingdom trumps any nation — “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.” (Psalm 103:19 ESV) and Jesus was clear that His kingdom was not of this world (see John 18:36). I’m simply espousing a submission to Jesus as Savior AND Lord/King from a wholistic Christology!

  5. Evan, I really want to address this Chris Kyle situation because I feel like a lot of Christians are missing the boat on this truth. In my opinion, Chris Kyle was a hero because he (and others in our armed forces) put his life on the line to keep me and my family safe from those who would seek to kill and oppress us. I believe that he deserves great honor for the physical and emotional sacrifices he has made on our behalf. But does this mean that Chris is innocent? Unfortunately, no. Chris is responsible for the taking of human life. God’s Word says that this is sin. We can justify it by saying that he was a soldier, he was fighting for his life, he was acting under orders, or he was protecting his country… but the fact remains that blood was on his hands. The same was true of King David. He was a man after God’s own heart, but the Lord held him responsible for the wars (though justified) he had commanded against Israel’s enemies. Blood was on his hands… and the same is true of you and me. We are all responsible for our sin. Justifying our actions in light of legal or political or situational terminology only makes us feel better about sin; it doesn’t make it go away. I’m afraid for those who have been told, “You haven’t done anything wrong.” That kind of thinking only keeps us from seeking forgiveness and finding God’s help. How much better is it to confront our sin, and to confess it and find peace in knowing God has forgiven us of it through Christ! Someone has to pay the price for Chris Kyle’s sin (and for yours and mine). God does not overlook our sin in light of medals, awards, or the recognition we may have received. It is my sincere hope that Chris had asked Jesus to pay the price for his sin before his time ran out and he was left to pay the price himself. Thank you, Evan, for your stance for God’s truth.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Justin. You are correct, we are all responsible for our sin, and only through Christ can the penalty be paid.

      I wasn’t trying to make a judgment on Chris Kyle’s innocence or guilt before God on this, and it appears that he struggled with the fact that he had taken human life (no matter how he described the struggle–taking life or his desire to save others).

      Thanks for the reminder that salvation comes only through Christ. I also hope that all who read this will recognize their own sin and surrender themselves to Christ.

      1. Thanks for the response, old friend. I thought you treated the topic very fairly. As I said, I see the guy as a hero. I have a close friend who served as a US Army sniper. His position is that he took on the guilt of killing so that other soldiers wouldn’t have to and so that those he killed wouldn’t have the chance to kill innocents. His motives were sacrificial and I believe that Chris Kyle’s were, too. However good our motives, though, there is always a price to be paid for sin… both in the temporal and in the eternal. Every soldier who has taken lives struggles with the emotional toll and they do it so you and I don’t have to. We should thank them and applaud them, but we should pray for them even more.

  6. Seems that most can’t hear Jesus without first going through Paul…Jesus said call none father, because there is one heavenly father…Paul says, I am your father…Jesus says, don’t boast…Paul says, I boast in Jesus…but enough about the obliviously obvious, let’s not define what Jesus says or does by quoting Paul…He also says you can’t serve God and Mammon, but money is the strength of every government…Jesus is Word, that is something said, truth…the flaw with law is writ, and will never be truth, only a graven image…Jesus says that Moses is an accuser…

    1. Nicholas, you’re creating a false division between Jesus and Paul by pulling quotes out of their context. I believe all of Scripture is inspired by God (2 Tim 3:16), so the words of Jesus and the letters of Paul are all part of the overall unity of Scripture.

      1. You couldn’t respond without Paul?…varifying him with him’s self. .yep, con text…Word is something said…66 is the biblical number for idol worship…there’s a list a mile long, but not many seem to see it, and will immediately guard Paul’s “authority”…when viewed from roots and mechanical translation, Paul is quite the different gospel…

        1. Word is something said, not something written…it was in the beginning, then become a set of lips from which to be heard…Jesus said My Kingdom is now, not from hence (root, either side)…dry land is between the waters, that’s where to cross…yes, scripture has an image of truth, to a summit…

        1. Nicholas, I appreciate you taking the time to read the post, but your false distinction between Jesus and Paul is not remotely close to the topic of the post. Thus, I will ask you to comment on the topic of the post.

          I don’t have a problem quoting Jesus, Paul, Peter, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, or any other Scripture. But I am not going to engage in this conversation on a post about something entirely different.

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