The Church and the State: The Martyrological Demand and a Contrast in Moral Authority

American Christianity is being increasingly revealed to be a tribal, nationalistic religion. And much of this is due to how military service and sacrifice sacralizes the nation state. As we often say, service men and women are willing to make--and often do make--the "ultimate sacrifice." As there is no greater price one could pay than the "ultimate sacrifice," military service becomes our highest moral authority.

American Christianity gives allegiance to the nation state because the church makes no equivalent demands to those made by the military. To be a solider means being willing to make the "ultimate sacrifice" for the state. There is no similar demand made in order to become or be a Christian. Consequently, soldiers have greater moral and religious authority than Christians, in that they are willing to sacrifice more, and actually do sacrifice more. Moral and religious authority will always tip toward the blood of the martyrs, and military service is the only martyrological option available to Americans.

In America, the weight of blood tips the scales of sacred authority toward the state and away from the church. The nation state is elevated above the church by the sacred authority of the ultimate sacrifice. Lacking its own, countervailing martyrological option, being willing to die for refusing to kill, the church is impotent in thwarting the sacred pretensions of the nation state. Without martyrs, and failing to demand potential martyrdom as a requirement of membership, the church lacks the moral authority for potent and sustained prophetic rebuke of the state.

To be very clear, none of this is written to diminish or demean military service. Far from it! Military service, as I've said, is an example of the ultimate sacrifice, giving your life in the service of others. The point to be understood here is the failure of the church to make a similar, countervailing martyrolological demand for its membership.

Because without that martyrological requirement and demand, the church will perennially lack the moral and sacred authority to combat nationalistic idolatry.

Without a martyrological demand, the church will never win a sacred argument with the state. Let me be absolutely clear: Theology cannot combat nationalism. In the face of the sacralizing power of military sacrifice, sermons, books, and Twitter are wholly impotent. Theology is just words, and this debate will not be won or lost with words. The argument will be won in hearts and minds by those who claim greater moral and sacred authority.

And in that debate, the solider will crush--absolutely crush--the theologian.

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