God's Nonviolent Conversion

06/05/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"Thus says the LORD of hosts: 'I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he ambushed him on the way when he came up from Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.'"

"Jesus opened his mouth and taught them ... 'You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.'"

I raised my hand in our freshman Bible class at Abilene Christian College. "God seems to be very different in the Old Testament than in the New Testament," I said. "Did God change? Did God evolve over time?"

Dr. Brecheen answered calmly and reliably. "Oh no," he said. "Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever."

I was just a 17-year-old kid without a doctor's degree, but it seemed like there was some Olympian religious gymnastics going on here. First of all, the text says, "Jesus Christ is the same."

Now, I was willing to make the Gospel of John leap: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

But beyond that, my professor's response, though sincere, lacked basic candor or authenticity. In one scripture God is ordering revenge and genocide, but later his Son is teaching us to love and pray for our enemies so that we can be like God! Jesus wouldn't be the first son to rebel against his father, but from all I read they seemed to have a pretty tight oneness.

At this point I committed myself to reading the Bible from cover to cover, making every effort to forget what the Church and my fundamentalist preacher Father had told me it said.

I still have that worn-out Harper's Study Bible, a holy artifact of my spiritual pilgrimage. Before I ever heard of Jung, Campbell, or process theology, it became clear to me that either God or humanity had evolved along the way. I have come to believe that we have essentially created God in our own image.

Ever since Emperor Constantine's dream in which he envisioned a symbol of Christ on his victorious soldier's shields, Jesus Christ became a warrior God like his Old Testament father. He became the God of Empire.

In more contemporary western history this Christ-God imbued and blessed the British and American Empires. The American creed is Manifest Destiny.

So how did God's nonviolent conversion come about?

In 1846 a Universalist preacher named Adin Ballou wrote a book titled Christian Non-Resistance. Thoreau read it and penned an essay, "Civil Disobedience." Gandhi read Thoreau and was inspired to employ nonviolence to bring down the British Empire in India. A Christian minister named King emulated Gandhi and brought nonviolence to the American Empire.

Thus, an American Universalist influenced a New England Unitarian Transcendentalist, who in turn invigorated an Indian Hindu to set the captive Christ-God free from Empire. The zealous Hindu served as a model for an African-American Christian to call his nation to conscience through the liberated Jesus.

Here at home the urgent necessity for an evolved nonviolent God comes to mind as riled-up "Christian nation patriots" throw bricks through windows, spit on elected leaders, hurl vile epithets, and threaten lives, and as "Christian" militiamen are arrested for plotting to murder police officers.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has documented a 244-percent increase in the number of active patriot groups in 2009. Militias, the paramilitary arm of the patriot movement, were a major part of the increase, growing from 42 militias in 2008 to 127 in 2009.

Meanwhile, our president makes a Sunday surprise visit to Afghanistan with an impassioned defense of the war, exhuming the old, putrefied argument, "We were attacked viciously on 9/11 ... this is the region where the perpetrators of that crime, al Qaeda, still base their leadership."

Gandhi declared and then admonished, "Jesus was the most active resister known perhaps to history. His was non-violence par excellence ... I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ."

The Bagram tent revival closed with the ritual presidential altar call: "God bless you. God bless the United States Armed Forces. And God bless the United States of America."

Which God will we pledge our allegiance to: the tribal warrior Father or his "converted" risen Son?