Tag Archives: peace

Long Past Time for Christians to Stand Up

Something very sick, creepy, and evil has taken over the Republican party. It makes one’s flesh crawl. A GOP congressional candidate body slams a reporter, then gets elected. GOP lawmakers at the Texas state house call ICE on peaceful protesters, who just happen to have brown skin. One lawmaker threatens to “put a bullet” through his Democratic opponent’s head. A grisly hate crime is perpetrated in Portland and the present administration has to be vehemently coaxed to make a statement denouncing such acts. The violence, intolerance, racism, misogyny, and lack of respect for the poor and suffering are reaching fever pitch, empowering the sickest elements of our society, and one gets the impression from their silence that many of our elected officials actually find it refreshing. Many Christians helped vote these people into office; they are thus partly responsible. If what calls itself “the church” in this country does not stand up and denounce this brand of behavior, one can only assume it is because they approve.

In the U.S., white supremacy and fascist movements have a long history of Christian support. In the 1930s fascism grew apace here, largely with the help of Christians who believed in an America for whites only. It was only WWII (when Hitler and Mussolini became the enemy) that put a stop to their advancement. But they have never entirely disappeared, just gone underground, waiting for the right moment and the right person to empower their voices. Sadly, such support merely demonstrates the complete lack of Christianity in those who call themselves Christians.

Let’s face it, for a significant percentage of Christians (is it a majority? I don’t know. I hope not), things like democracy, free speech, human rights, and the free practice of  religion are sacrosanct when it comes to themselves. When it comes to others’ exercising those same rights, however, many Christians are not so enthusiastic. Nor, really when it comes down to it, are they that committed to democratic ideals. It seems they would much rather have an iron-willed, jack-booted dictator to kick them in the ass and promote “law and order,” (i.e., silence dissent, show minorities their place, and make other undesirables disappear), than to live in a free society where tolerance is required.

Let’s put it simply. Those who call themselves Christians, yet despise everything Jesus stands for (such as mercy, tolerance, kindness, peace, generosity, love for the poorest and weakest, including immigrants), are deeply mistaken. They actually have nothing in common with Jesus, except that they try to use his name to justify their putrid hate and ignorance. To be a follower of Jesus Christ, one must follow his teachings and walk in his ways. The apostle John makes that clear in his first epistle (1 Jn 1:5,6; 2;3,4; 3:16,17).

It is long past time for Christians to stand up and denounce what is being done in their name. If they will not separate themselves from this movement, then they must be prepared to share in its judgment. For “it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God” ( 1 Ptr 4:17).




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How to FINALLY make America Great: Author and pastor has 11 ways to stop the rhetoric and live a Christian life

[The following interview appeared in the Feb 6th edition of Spark Magazine, a quarterly publication of the Winston Salem Journal.]

By Jodi Stephenson Sarver

Feb 6, 2017

The Rev. S.J. Munson’s name might be familiar to readers of the Winston-Salem Journal’s Opinion pages as an occasional letter writer. Writing is one of his passions, and he is the author of two books, Christ Held Hostage and The Treasure of Israel, as well as plays, theological articles and fiction.         

          His other passion is ministry, and for three decades he has been an outspoken activist with a deep concern for the issues of poverty and justice. After years of identifying as a conservative, Munson had what he calls a “political epiphany” during the 2000 presidential election. He discerned that issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and prayer in school became the hot-button topics that politicians kept using every two to four years to hijack Christianity, exploit voters and win elections, he says. He checked into liberal candidates, and he found similar problems in how their platforms meshed with biblical principles. He looked to independent candidates, and felt that they fared no better. Like Goldilocks in search of the right bed, Munson felt as if none of the political parties fit “just right” with Christ’s teachings.
          “Jesus is neither Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal. You can’t classify him,” Munson explains. “I can safely say that Jesus never conceived that the church would be joined at the hip with one political party or another.”

          In his book Christ Held Hostage, Munson explains that political campaigns and the corporations that fund them politicize issues that “point a finger at others for being the source of our nation’s problems” and never make most Americans face their own complicity in a corrupt and unjust system.

          He decided it was time to focus on the issues that are most prevalent in the gospels: poverty, injustice and caring for the weakest members of society and then support the behaviors, policies and candidates in line with those teachings, regardless of party affiliation. What follows are Munson’s ideas about how Americans can challenge their biases and start the process of making this country great.

          Don’t Tolerate Intolerance. More than 85 percent of American churches are still mostly segregated, according to a 2014 study by LifeWay Research and corroborated by the Brookings Institute. It’s a passive form of racism when we segregate to worship, and it’s not reflective of how heaven will be, Munson explains.

          “The church looks all the more out of touch when it doesn’t reflect its community,” he says. In Acts 7, the ancient church was also confronted with the problem of cultural intolerance. A committee was formed, and church leaders decided that the best way to defeat intolerance was to transfer power from the current ruling church group to the outsiders.

          “A great way to diffuse racism is by transferring power to the powerless. The church has to be proactive and promote people of different races to power positions,” Munson says. “The church should not be a haven for racism, misogyny or xenophobia. It should be a place where our bigotries are exposed, not massaged.”

           Work for Peace Not War. How to treat other people … our enemies, immigrants, refugees, the poor … is all covered in Old Testament law and New Testament gospels, where compassion and mercy are foundational elements.

          “We have to disenthrall ourselves of violence, hate, greed and empire,” Munson says. As a country, he believes that Americans have become desensitized to what’s done in our name around the world by our leaders.

          “We must realize that those dots on a map are real people crying out for food, jobs and life. Isn’t being concerned about the victims of war a family value? If we don’t hear them, how do we expect that God will hear our cries?” Munson asks. “How can we want food, jobs and life for our family but not for others? Sabre-rattling is not Christianity. It’s not conservative versus liberal. It’s right versus wrong.”

          Build Bridges Not Walls. Many people know the parable of the Samaritan helping the Jew, but the cultural significance of this act can be lost today. He got him to a safe place and paid for his medical care, despite harboring deep-seated dislike and distrust.

“It’s a radical teaching,” Munson says. “Not only is our enemy our neighbor, but he is also the example of how to behave.” When Jesus talks about loving your enemies, he’s talking about people who may want to hurt you, he says. “That may seem unpatriotic, but we’re Christians first. Our citizenship is not of this world. We have to choose our heavenly citizenship.”

          Be an Involved Citizen. Have you seen Finding Nemo? At the end of the film, Nemo and Marlin are reunited, but Dory and other fish are caught in a trawler’s fishing net. Nemo and Marlin mobilize the fish to swim down, and the combined pressure of all their fins swimming in the same direction snaps the net.

          “Swimming together is how change happens. Voting every two to four years is not enough to make positive change happen,” Munson says, adding that as citizens we have to get involved. “Positive change happens when like-minded people band together and demand change,” he adds. Throughout this country’s history, Christians have banded together to take on issues including workers’ rights during the industrial revolution, women’s suffrage and child labor. “It’s not up to our president to change the country. It’s up to us to step up and work together to change something,” he says.

          Another civic duty citizens have is to ensure that the information they’re reading is coming from reputable sources. Using reliable and vetted sources from ethical journalists helps ensure people aren’t hearing propaganda, Munson says. “Don’t just believe what you see, hear or read. Check it out. Truth isn’t relative.”

          Ditch the Partisan Politics. When President George Washington left office, he gave a farewell address that is amazingly prophetic. In it he says that partisan politics has the ability to destroy a republic, serving as a distraction for leaders and agitator of the public, and it “opens the door to foreign influence and corruption” and causes men to “seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual” who in turn brings about the end of the republic.

          “Bailing out of the political party system is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’m not invested in the party. I’m invested in the truth and what’s best for our country,” he says.

          Rediscover Humility. Humility should be an important aspect of Christian life, but there seems to be an idea among Christians in America that they need to be in control to effect change, but this is not a biblical concept, Munson explains.

“Jesus said the greatest among you will be the servant. He led by example, and that example is to be servant.” History shows that change isn’t effective when it comes from top down by edict, he says.

          “Christianity is much more effective when we live scripture and become a moral influence than a political power. Political power just makes us hated.” Munson believes that atheism and disillusionment are on the rise in U.S., and it’s mostly due to political partisanship.

          Become an Ethical Consumer. Many Americans love discounts, inexpensive products and finding the best deal. But what’s behind the “sale” sign is likely the product of child labor, sweatshops or even slavery.

          “We have a discount culture, and we want to get the most for our money, but we need to keep justice in mind. Is what we’re buying the fruit of injustice?” Munson asks. Although fair trade clothing is expensive compared to going to discount stores, thrift stores and garage sales are good shopping options, he says.

           “Every purchase we make is a blow for or against justice, so be informed where products come from,” he advises. A good website to refer to is greenamerica.org. Another area of financial responsibility for Christians is in retirement choices. “It’s important to do business with companies that are trying to take a stand against bad practices,” he says, and he lists ussif.org as a resource for people to use to find socially responsible investments or SRIs. “They’re not perfect, but they’re companies that are trying to be ethical and take a stand.”

          Care for God’s Creation. “From page one of the Bible we’re told to take care of the environment. It should be a no-brainer for Christians,” Munson says. “And how do you take care of something that’s not yours? You take special care of it because you have to give it back.”

          Educating ourselves about the cost of what we consume and, for example, purchasing grass-fed local beef, would have a huge effect on reducing greenhouse gases. “In Revelations 11:18, God says he will destroy those who destroy the earth. If our interpretation of the scripture causes us to disrespect people or the Earth, then we need a new interpretation because it’s not following the spirit of Christ,” he explains.

Stand up to Corporate Greed. Have you seen the bumper sticker that quotes part of 2 Chronicles 7:14? “If my people will humble themselves and pray …”

          The ellipses replace an essential part of the verse, Munson says. It’s “turn from their wicked ways,” so what are our wicked ways, he asks? They are the corporate sins that we participate in because we’re part of a system, Munson explains.

          “Greed is the most serious threat to our survival as a species, and it permeates society at every level,” he says. The Bible has a lot to say about greed, and Munson refers to James 5 where Jesus’ brother chastises the rich for cheating workers and fattening themselves at the expense of the poor.

          Greed is also the main reason that Sodom was destroyed; its citizens were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned about the needy, he says. “We need to reread scriptures with new eyes and discover what’s important to God and why. We have cultural, political and religious filters that we need to remove and discover God’s priorities.”

          We’re in This Together. Another area where political leaders have hijacked Christianity, Munson notes, is by painting America as “the city on the hill,” a metaphor from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

          The phrase comes from a sermon delivered by Gov. Jonathan Winthrop to Puritans sailing to the New World, except he said that in order to become a shining city on a hill, its people had to be governed by justice and mercy, by love and generosity in their relationships and commerce, Munson says. Instead, to Americans it’s come to mean that the U.S. has a God-given destiny to enforce its will around the world and that its policies are supported by God, he explains.

          Relying on Isaiah 58, Winthrop did not envision a society where each member could pull himself up by his own bootstraps, Munson says. “His vision could be achieved only if all worked together, sacrificed, shared with and cared for one another. But I have faith that when the word is preached that the Holy Spirit is present, and people can be transformed,” Munson says.


S.J. Munson’s book Christ Held Hostage is designed for group or individual study and is available in paperback and Kindle versions on amazon.com.


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Christ on the Battlefield: Thomas Ince’s Civilization

These past two weeks I’ve been flat on my back recuperating from Civilizationone of those viruses that just won’t leave. That means I’ve had plenty of time to catch up on some reading and movies I’ve been meaning to see. One of the films is Thomas H. Ince’s Civilization (1916). With a nearly century-old movie on my to-see list, I may seem a bit behind the times, but hold on, there’s method in my madness.

Ince was an innovative movie-maker whose creativity and drive rivaled those of his better-known contemporary D.W. Griffith. If his life had not been cut short tragically at age 42, Ince might have become one of the industry’s most powerful figures. Sadly, in film classes, Civilization is often eclipsed by Griffith’s Intolerance, released the same year. Both films share a similar pacifist theme, exposing the evils of war, as well as the greed and religious hypocrisy that make it all possible.

In 1916 war in Europe was entering its second bloody year, and America was glad to remain well out of it. Popular sentiment was still against entering the great conflict. That year Woodrow Wilson campaigned for re-election and won on the slogan “He kept us out of war.” The hit song the previous year was “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier.”

With many Americans still making up their minds about the war, filmmakers seemed to be in a race to back either the non-interventionist or war horses—the former showing their audiences the grimmest realities of modern warfare; the latter, the necessity of all civilized people to fight against tyrants. One film, calling for peace through preparedness (The Battle Cry of Peace–1915), even brought to the screen a terrifying scenario depicting what would happen if America herself were invaded—millions fleeing New York City, the US capital in ruins. Meanwhile, Ince’s and Griffith’s films depict  war as the greatest visitation of man’s inhumanity to man.

Most early cinema suffers from an acutely 19th-century form of pantomime that makes contemporary audiences giggle. Civilization is no different in that respect. (Fans of the Authorized Version of the Bible will also be glad to know that in the film Jesus speaks perfect King James English—a habit filmmakers would not be able to break for the next 50 years.)

Yet the film is notable for its many technical achievements, lavish spectacle, and artistic set designs (many have likened its bucolic scenes and characters to the paintings of 19th-century French artist Jean-François Millet). Even more significant for today, however, is the film’s courageous pacifist theme, which makes Civilization as powerful as it was nearly a century ago. For it addresses the question, What if? What would happen if Christians really took their Master’s teaching of non-violence and peacemaking seriously and rose up en masse to pray and demand an end to wars? What if soldiers found they could no longer follow their king’s commands because of their allegiance to a Greater King?

The work is also compelling for another reason, a bit shocking, even today: It was the first to depict Jesus Christ, not merely as the main figure in the dramatization of the Gospel narrative, as others would do after him, but as a central character who actually advances the plot in a modern, albeit allegorical, drama.

The story takes place in a peaceful Ruritanian kingdom (Wredpryd), ruled by a Kaiser-like monarch. War hawks in the parliament pressure the king to declare war, bringing indescribable misery and disaster upon the poor populace. An organization of Christians, mostly mothers of drafted soldiers, is formed to protest the war and pray for peace. Their identifying badge is a simple sash bearing the symbol of a cross.

The young Count Ferdinand, the inventor of a new kind of submarine, is ordered by the king to command this vessel in the service of his country. Before he goes to sea, however, his fiancée reveals that she has just joined the new Christian order and she warns him that he, too, must choose which master he will serve. At first he chooses patriotism. Yet once aboard his sub, the first order he receives is to sink an enemy passenger liner believed to be carrying military contraband. Although normally passenger vessels would be off-limits, the Count is commanded to “reject sentiment” because of the military cargo. (The situation is meant to be reminiscent of the Lusitania, a British liner sunk by a German U-boat in 1915, with great loss of life.)

Ferdinand sees a vision of what will happen if he carries out this order—chaos aboard the passenger liner, women and children scrambling for the few lifeboats, with disastrous consequences. He finds he cannot obey the order and, now a Christian, he must follow the commands of a “Higher Power.” When his crew threatens to mutiny, he manages momentarily to hold them at bay but quickly sees the only option open to him is to sink the sub with all hands on board.

As the war continues to go badly for Wredpryd, the army is ordered to comb the countryside for new conscripts; even shepherds, the elderly, the very young, and the only son of an infirm mother are impressed into service. “But he belongs to me!” protests one mother as she clings to her boy. “He belongs to his country!” the soldiers shout as they shove her aside. The scene reminds us of the lyrics to the popular song:

I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier,

I brought him up to be my pride and joy.

Who dares to place a musket on his shoulder,

To shoot some other mother’s darling boy?

Let nations arbitrate their future troubles,

It’s time to lay the sword and gun away.

There’d be no war today,

If mothers all would say,

“I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier.”

What victory can cheer a mother’s heart,

When she looks at her blighted home?

What victory can bring her back

All she cared to call her own?

Let each mother answer

In the years to be,

Remember that my boy belongs to me!

Meanwhile, the Count, the sole survivor, has been found floating amid the wreckage of the sub and brought barely alive to the king’s palace. At this point the film takes a remarkable turn. On the brink of death, Ferdinand finds himself in a kind of purgatory, amid the other wretched casualties of civilization. Christ visits him there and tells him, “In your love for humanity lies your salvation.” “Many evils are being done in my name,” says the Lord. The Count must return to earth and with Christ’s Spirit within him, preach the gospel of peace and repentance. Through trick photography we see Jesus actually entering the man’s body.

Now miraculously recovered, Count Ferdinand begins preaching boldly in the streets against murder and bloodshed. His activities are brought to the attention of the king, who outraged, demands his arrest. The subsequent scenes are meant to track with the biblical Passion Narrative, as the preacher is first stoned by a patriotic mob, then arrested and beaten, and brought before the king. He is found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. While praying in his cell, a Bethlehem-like star shines upon the Count, and the heavenly phenomenon acts like a call to thousands of Christians to gather at the palace to pray and demand peace. Thus surrounded, like a lion in a sea of Daniels, the king is at a loss what to do.

The next morning, however, guards inform him that the Count has died in his cell before the execution could be carried out. Wondering and afraid, the king goes to see for himself. As he approaches the body, Christ’s Spirit emerges from it and confronts the frightened monarch, taking him on a Scrooge-like journey, where he sees the evil he has wrought: corpses littering the streets and battlefields, houses burning, women and children starving. At last, Christ shows him the Book of Judgment, where the king’s sins are listed. Grief-stricken and terrified, the king repents, and returning to his palace, signs a peace treaty, declaring that from now on, under his reign, all his people will enjoy peace. News of the peace spreads through the streets and countryside, where all the people, young and old, rejoice.

Reaction to the film was mostly enthusiastic, not surprising given the largely isolationist climate of the country at the time. The Democrats credited the film with almost single-handedly winning re-election for Wilson. Ince was even invited to the White House to shake the President’s hand. (Unfortunately, after only one month into his second term, Wilson signed a declaration of war against Germany.) Critics who panned the film cited its shocking “poor taste” in daring to use the Lord as a character in a photoplay. If the idea of Christ touring a modern battlefield was intended to make people uncomfortable, it certainly did.

Ince’s film was released in June 1916; Griffith’s in September. Intolerance runs a notorious 197 minutes, compared to Civilization’s 86. Both films broke records for production costs (Griffith’s ran over 2 million; Ince’s over 1 million), with the erection of huge sets and battle sequences.

Although today hailed as one of the greatest films ever made, Intolerance did not receive the same immediate acclaim as Civilization. While they praised Ince,* critics complained of Griffith’s overly ambitious plot, which interwove four stories, cross-cutting back and forth over 2,500 years. Audiences could not keep up. By January 1917 war sentiment had also begun to change, so that Intolerance’s pacifist message did not click as well with the American public.

Ironically, as his project grew, Griffith had probably not intended his to be an anti-war film as much as a personal vindication, after his earlier film The Birth of a Nation (1915) had sparked outrage and riots over its racist portrayal of African-Americans (ironically, “intolerance” over Griffith’s intolerance gave birth to Intolerance). (Birth is rightly blamed for reviving the then defunct Ku Klux Klan.) Since D.W. had spent twice as much on his film, he could not recoup his losses fast enough and went bankrupt. Genius or no genius, timing is everything in Hollywood, where money is king.

By 1919 Griffith was up and running again, although he would never again achieve his previous success. By 1924 Ince was dead. Sadly, the scandalous rumors surrounding his death, none of which has ever been substantiated, have cast a shadow over his significant accomplishments as an actor, writer, director and producer. Ince was the first to use a shooting script and to develop what we know today as the assembly-line studio structure for making films.

Though it may suffer in comparison with Griffith’s more monumental epic (what film wouldn’t?), Civilization is nonetheless a remarkable achievement in both film technique and propaganda. Yet for followers of Christ, it holds much more. It remains a question, a challenge, and even an aspiration. What if?

Have we become so cozy with the thought of war, and with the greed and goals of empire, that we cannot hear the Master’s voice calling us to a higher, though thornier, path? Some, like St. Augustine, would argue that there is such a thing as a “just war.” President Wilson endeavored to enlist Christian support in WWI, claiming that this would be an opportunity, in H.G. Wells’ words, a “war to end wars.” Since then America has engaged in numerous wars, turning Wells’ phrase into a cynical platitude. How many of these wars could be called “justifiable”?

So-called “good people” may find themselves on different sides of this issue, but until those who claim to follow the words of Christ become obedient to the same, realizing who we are and the awesome power with which we have been entrusted, we shall continue to have even more wars—most of them unjust, bloody, and sadly unnecessary, but sacrilegiously blessed by holy water from the sacred font. Thus it has always been when church and empire unite.

But what if?

(To view Civilization on video)

*While Ince oversaw the production, he used a band of directors to achieve his vision. The original story was by C. Gardiner Sullivan, who conceived the idea on Easter morning 1915.

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