Jesus proclaimed and embodied the Kingdom of God. In contrast to the violence and force employed by the Roman Empire, Jesus advocated for the non-violent path of enemy love. This principle is articulated in Matthew 5:43–48 (ESV):
'You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.'
Jesus' message is clear: we are called to love our enemies. To follow Jesus, the Bringer of the Kingdom, is to love our enemies, presumably this includes that we shouldn’t kill them!
Some may dismiss this as impractical, arguing that Jesus didn't understand the harsh realities of the real world, where violence and the threat of violence are often seen as necessary to maintain civilization and nation-states. However, from a historical perspective, this assertion does not hold true. Jesus lived in a world marked by violence, especially in a colonized environment where the Roman Empire maintained control through coercion and force. When Jesus spoke of loving one's enemies, He had Roman soldiers in mind as well.
Jesus practiced what He preached, even in the face of extreme violence. When He was executed by trained killers at the behest of political authorities, He responded with remarkable words of forgiveness: 'Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.' This act of forgiveness, directed even at those responsible for His crucifixion, exemplified His unwavering commitment to non-violence and the love of enemies. He could have called down a legion of angels to come to his defence, he could have encouraged Peter in his use of the sword, He didn’t, rather Jesus chose they way on non-violence.
In our own day the church is or or less silent about the radical nature of Jesus’ teaching especially if we see that love of enemy cannot include deliberately killing them or threatening to kill them through the use of lethal force. The teaching if Jesus calls into the question the use of weapons that are deliberately designed to kill.
Furthermore, if we look at the modern warfare we are not simply talking about weapons that kill individual combatants but rather weapons, costing millions, that kill millions and are more or less indiscriminate regarding the deaths of combatants or civilians, for we have weaponry that can flatten cities in seconds.
In the UK we pay for, produce and maintain Trident. Trident represents the United Kingdom's formidable nuclear armament. Comprising a fleet of four nuclear submarines, each vessel is capable of carrying a maximum of eight missiles on board. Within the warheads of each missile reside up to five nuclear bombs, or warheads, each possessing a destructive power approximately eight times greater than the devastating bomb that laid waste to Hiroshima in 1945, resulting in the tragic loss of over 140,000 civilian lives. It's a solemn fact that one of these Trident submarines maintains a continuous presence patrolling the world's oceans.
What does it mean to consider Jesus' command to love enemies when contemplating nuclear weapons?
Yet, the church remains silent not only about Jesus' teaching but also about weaponry, paid for by taxpayers, which has the potential to kill millions.
When was the last time you heard a sermon or preaching about Jesus and loving one's enemies? When was the last time you heard teaching in a Christian context about Christianity and nuclear weapons?
For more information about christian responses to nuclear weapons see Christian CND.
A year ago, as part of a course called ‘Justice, Peace, & Reconciliation’ I was able to sit down with Christian CND for a conversation about nuclear weaspons.