“Preparing for the end time battles to keep the testimony of Jesus Christ alive” – Hutaree.com
We all have our crazy opinions about things. I find Beyonce Knowles’ dancing so bizarre that it would seem no stranger to me if she sprouted a third arm from her forehead. Most of the rest of you seem to like it. For that reason, I think my distaste for her seisures dancing is mostly my problem. If someone (even charismatic and crazy, say, Tom Cruise) decided one morning that an arboreal lifestyle is the only moral one, I would not expect that anyone would take to the trees without first pausing to consider why it is that virtually every human being in recorded history has lived on terra firma. And yet, in a chillingly real way, this is exactly the kind of thing that has happened yet again in the States with the ‘Hutaree‘ cult.
Reports such as the one in the Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/mar/30/militia-members-police-death-plot) explain that a militant, right-wing group was arrested for plotting to murder a policeman, so that they could bomb his funeral and spark a war against the government. They claim to be a group of Christian warriors, defending the gospel truth, and preparing to meet the Anti-Christ on the battlefield. You would think that at some point, someone would ask himself, ‘Hey how come this is entirely unlike the testimony of Christ in the Bible, or everywhere else in the Christian world?’
Individuality + Conspiracy + Bible = Lunacy
Hutaree faith and doctrine is patently ignorant, and devotees must surely have to work hard at cultivating this ignorance, given the degree to which it conflicts with the behaviour of Christians throughout the world, and indeed the behaviour and teaching of the Christ under whose name they claim to be operating. How does this happen?
America is unfortunately perfectly schooled in the thinking that makes these groups inevitable.* America prizes individuality and freedom (and rightly so). However, the mentality that happily changed ‘S’ to ‘Z’, just to stick it to the Queen (and perhaps to cheat at Scrabble), is also that mentality that sees nothing wrong with creating new religions when the current brand isn’t serving you so well. In Christian history, theological differences prompted international councils that aimed at providing theological solutions, agreement, and Church unity. By contrast, American Christian history sees disagreement leading to splintering, bequeathing us Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses and any number of lesser known variations on the Christian theme.
Secondly, America loves a good conspiracy. Elvis lives. JFK was assassinated by Jewish-Nazi CIA agents. Aliens crashed at Roswell. Bottled water is worth paying for. Maybe it has to do with being big and wealthy and bored, but pockets of people within America seem to crave any opportunity to know something that the rest of the country doesn’t know; to stand out from the deceived masses. And so, there is a steady stream of groups waging semi-private war against devils of their own making, and the more everyone else disagrees with them, the more they feel their exclusive ‘insights’ validated.
Thirdly, America is culturally Christian and saturated with Biblical detritus, but frequently shallow. There is, if you like, a superficial faith in Biblical authority, but without a deep grasp of Biblical theology. Hutaree seems fond of using a narrow set of proof texts to justify murdering policemen in ‘defence’ of the faith. One of these texts is worth examining more closely, because I have seen it used by right-wing Christians here in South Africa with equal lack of analysis.
Associated Press quotes Hutaree.com as saying:
“We believe that one day, as prophecy says, there will be an Anti-Christ. … Jesus wanted us to be ready to defend ourselves using the sword and stay alive using equipment.”
The mention of the sword is an allusion to events shortly before Jesus’ arrest, as told in Luke 22:35ff.
Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?’ ‘Nothing,” they answered. He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.”
This is the Bible verse that usually gets cited to support the idea that we are to defend ourselves using the ‘sword’ in the ‘last days’. I’ve heard it used to support gun ownership and self-defence. It is the go-to spot in the Bible for those who argue for Christian militancy in the literal sense. Unfortunately, it completely misreads the story data and misses the point.
Jesus is speaking metaphorically. How do we know this? Because in the very next verse, Jesus explains what he means (as is usually the role of sentences beginning with ‘for’). The explanation is that he is about to be ‘numbered among the transgressors’, by which he means to say that the hour of his crucifixion is at hand (that paradoxical event in which Jesus wins the ultimate victory by getting himself killed). However, this is ripe for misunderstanding, seeing as the disciples are clearly still anticipating a kingship preceded by a literal war. So they take him literally about the swords and get it wrong. It’s one of those frequent instances in which the disciples are shown to be some steps behind the pace. They say, ‘See, Lord, here are two swords’ (i.e. about 10 short for a 12-man army). In the context of Jesus’ insistence that they ‘sell their shirts’ to get hold of battle equipment, two swords against the Roman army was not enough. Yet Jesus says that it is, no doubt with more than a hint of resignation.
From our standpoint, it is shameful that we should still misunderstand Jesus’ explanation. How can the idea that we need to get hold of a sword because Jesus is about to be crucified have anything to do with literal war? How can a king who dies at the hands of his enemies in order to love and serve them precipitate followers who want to physically kill? It is preposterous.
The swords make one final appearance in the story, in v49, when the arresting party arrives, and the disciples ask, ‘Lord, shall we strike with our swords?’. Without waiting for the answer, one of them charges in and ridiculously attacks the (probably unarmed) servant of the High Priest. Jesus puts an immediate stop to this behaviour, and instead of initiating war, heals the wound of his enemy, demonstrating that his purposes aim at peace and reconciliation with God, not the physical cutting down of physical enemies. Any waging of war that day would take place in the spiritual realms.
And so, the one place at which Jesus encourages the taking up of arms is actually teaching the stupidity of understanding that call literally. Jesus was urging his disciples to be solemnly prepared for spiritually hard times. It was the inability of the disciples at that point to understand the cross that led them to take up actual weapons against perceived enemies. As his healing of the servant demonstrates, Jesus’ weapon was love, and his call to battle was, ‘Take up your cross and follow me’.
Ignorance is Stupid
So, disagreeable ‘Christians’ once again fall foul of their own scriptures, ironically in this case, because they purport to be the protectors of Jesus’ testimony. The stupidity of it all is compounded, because none of this is hidden in a corner. The Bible has been read for millennia. I’m not the first person to ever read Luke 22 all the way to the end. If the Hutaree folk wanted to understand this passage, they could open a book and have it explained to them. But ignorance is bliss, I suppose.
Except for the families of dead policemen.
*Mark Noll’s study, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, outlines similar issues, and so I’ll claim his authority for my otherwise unfounded generalisations.