By Sierra Beilby
“I am a conqueror.”
“No weapon formed against me shall remain.”
“Every war he wages he will win.”
“You’re a consuming fire. In victory you reign.”
“All nations rise, and they will fall.”
“I call the earth and every scum to come and try to fight me.”
Now you might be wondering, Sierra, why are quoting lines from Zach Synder movies? Why are you quoting Alexander the Great? Every single one of these lines is actually pulled from Christian worship songs, featuring popular bands such as Elevation Worship, Hillsong UNITED, and my personal favorite, a band called “Demon Hunters.”
I feel, as Christians, we don’t talk about this weird dynamic that pops up in Christian culture in the form victory-speech. Yet, in our music, churches and rhetoric, there is a prevalent image of a conquering God, a conquering Jesus, and subsequently, a victorious community of Christians.
Let’s break this down: There are ways this language could be understood that aligns with Christian theology and scripture. Other aspects of this trend are incredibly insidious, and used to promote nationalist and supremacist ideas. The line between sound biblical teaching and absolute lunacy have apparently become a thin veil — so let’s jump right into it.
Historically, Christians have engaged in religious warfare, the most famous example being the Crusades. In order to discuss this directly, let’s try a little thing I learned on TikTok. POV: You’re a knight living in the 11th century.
If you’re a European Christian who is also a knight during this era, that probably means you’ve got some money. Imagine some gray armor, maybe a shield with a cross on it. Another thing that being a knight would ensure is that you have been educated. A knightly education looks less like taking the knight ACT, and more like learning to be wholeheartedly aligned with things like duty, honor, and commitment to your religion. This is very important because you’re about to go to battle.
The goal? Take back Jerusalem, of course. Why? Because you’ve been told that God wants “his people” to possess the Holy Land. You tell yourself you are fighting for victory in the name of God. Yet, this victory comes at a human cost. Sure, you’ve been told Muslims are not God’s chosen people so all this Crusading is OK, but as you ride your horse into Jerusalem you could’ve swore you saw some dead women and children along the road. Good thing you’ve been trained to put duty and honor before your emotions.
Most Chrisitians likely recognize how religion was used to carry out political agendas during this time of history. “Taking back the Holy Land” was economically and politically advantageous for Western Christians, and also led to some religiously beneficial otherization of Muslims in order to instill the concept of Christians supremacy throughout Europe.
Read those song lyrics again. Imagine they’re being sung by a band of Crusaders on their way to Jerusalem. The dialogue still fits this context. So, as Christians, how do we reconcile our history with this contemporary context, where religious warfare no longer exists?
In this Trumpian Era, one thing I fear is the impact of Christian Nationalism. As a white, male, Christian President, Donald Trump has often proclaimed himself a President representing Evangelicals. I am terrified of the intermingling of religious and political doctrine under Trump. If Trump wins, does God win? Is God’s battle against Democrats and Trump’s “fake news media?” The alignment of church and politics is dangerous when it comes to empowering violent speech, action and ideology in the name of a conquering God. Liberty University in Virginia is still open because evidently, God’s power is all it takes to be “victorious” over COVID-19. I think somebody needs to tell Jerry Fallwell Jr. and Evangelical pastors that this is just not how victory works.
Let me circle back to what is biblically and theologically justifiable about this rhetoric. During Easter weekend, there is an emphasis on Jesus conquering the grave, his victory over death. I would assert that this is a victory worth celebrating.
But is “victory” even the right word?
Victory implies triumph over an opponent or foe, usually through a battle or competition. The crucifixion does not strike me as a battle, nor does the resurrection seem a traditional victory. Call it sacrifice, call it grace. Jesus defeated an entity for the hope of all humans — the only loser was death itself. Maybe that’s still technically a victory, but I see it more as an undeserved blessing. It’s a model for what victory in the name of God should look like. It does not involve violence against the other.
The problem with singing praise in church to the tune of “all nations rise, and they will fall,” or “I call the earth and every scum to come and try to fight me,” is — who are we talking about? Perhaps we are being theologically conscientious, and simply thinking about non-human entities God can help us overcome: anxiety, death, fear, hopelessness. Which definitely makes sense. But what about those who also buy into the politicization of this language? Are we conquering other humans? Are we Crusading again, in our evangelism, in our mission-work, in our voting? Are we once again taking back holy land in the name of God?
If I believe in a God that wishes me to be victorious over my fellow humans, let me have no part in that Christianity. If the Christian God himself needs to enact violence upon humans who oppose him, then perhaps I do not believe in a Christian God. And if anyone tries to make the whole “what about the Canaanites in the OT” argument to me, I might lose my mind. I don’t understand why God would endorse any sort of religious warfare. I have only stepped into the shallow end of answering these theological questions, and perhaps at the end of the day I am all wrong.
But let me be wrong in the name of love, grace, and undeserved blessings, and never in the name of religious violence justified by victory.