R (graphic images) | Amazon.com | 1h 33m
Released in February 2020
SUMMARY: Occasionally you think a documentary is going to be about one thing, but it completely surprises you. Sometimes that is good thing and sometimes it completely fails. In the case of J.E.S.U.S.A. it is the former. While the trailer, the marketing material, and the first 13 minutes of the film all point to exploring the conflation of American nationalism and Christianity the core question that the film truly attempts to answer is whether Christians should engage or abstain from violence.
The documentary leans heavily on non-violence voices with a bevy of pastors, theologians and professors bolstering their theological argument for non-violence with references to scripture while providing cultural context for why the early church was so radical in regards to non-violent behavior.
The history of Christianity within the context of the ancient world is one of the keys to understanding how revolutionary the early church was. Most ancient creation mythologies revolved around violence and pain. The Judeo-Christian creation story is the first where humans are not created out of violence. Another aspect that makes Christianity unique is when God takes the side of the victim in the story of Cain versus Abel – this was revolutionary. In most ancient stories the powerful prevail as the gods reward strength and ruthlessness.
Most historians agree that the pivot for the Christian church happened in 312 A.D. when emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire. Instead of the church being on the margins, it became front and center. The lure of power and influence caused ancient theologians such as Augustine to come up with Just War theory to appease the demands of the state. This view came with the cost of ignoring the commands of the Sermon on the Mount. Those decisions are still being felt today.
The biggest take away is that the church is called to be distinct and unique which we are currently failing at. We believe it is safe to say right now in 2021 that America is equivalent to the Roman Empire and most Christians are complicit with the empire.
KEY QUOTES: “A big social political point to understand is that Christians were operating from the perspective of a persecuted minority – they were suffering, they weren’t intertwined with the government. But if you look at the New Testament that is kind of how New Testament ethics is designed to operate. The New Testament is not meant to empower Christians in places of power and authority and governmental positions. It’s not designed that way.” Preston Sprinkle
“We are called to exercise a fundamentally different kind of power…It is the power of the cross. It is the power of self-sacrificial love. Changing people by showing them what they are worth by what you are willing to sacrifice for them. That’s the power that Jesus displayed. That is the power that runs the kingdom and it is fundamentally antithetical to the power of the this world where you try to control, manipulate and kill if necessary.” Greg Boyd
“My main concern is with the deep-seated, militaristic spirit that celebrates our military might, that puts our faith in America’s military power in order to ward off all the refugees and terrorists or whatever…Look you can go to the New Testament or the Old Testament and say that is not characteristic of God’s people. I think American Christianity has missed that and I think that is really the fundamental problem that we’re dealing with.” Preston Sprinkle
“The God who expressed himself in the form of a suffering slave is not the God who shapes the American religious experience. The only real religion in America has always been America.” David Bentley Hart
BONUS: Don’t want to watch the movie? Listen to Kevin Miller talk about his film on the Non-Partisan Evangelical Podcast.
More curated resources on nationalism:
Hope in Jesus. Trust in Jesus. Most Christians would unequivocally agree that those two statements are an important part of being a Christ follower. Therefore it is sobering that a large part of Scandalous Witness takes aim at patriotism being conflated as a Christian orthodox principle.Read more
The church, specifically the American church in the context of Postcards from Babylon, has been seduced by the allure of power and influence. This is not a new phenomenon, but has been going on for hundreds of years. The intertwining of faith and empire has blinded our eyes to the teachings of the Bible that calls the church to be a counter-cultural, prophetic voice against violence.Read more