Religion Snapshots is a feature with the Bulletin for the Study of Religion blog, where a number of contributors are asked to briefly comment on popular news items or pressing theoretical issues in the field, especially those topics relating to definitions, classification and method and theory in the study of religion more generally. For previous posts in this series, see here, here, here and here.
Editor’s note: The idea behind this series is that these “snapshots” resemble a conversation thread on a Facebook page. In this case, we follow an actual conversation that took place on Facebook, with contributors responding directly to one another, though with some modifications after the fact. Contributors were prompted with the following quote from a recent Huffington Post article that discusses former U.S. Lieutenant General William G. “Jerry” Boykin’s statement that Jesus will come back wielding an AR-15 assault rifle:
The Lord is a warrior and in Revelation 19 it says when he comes back, he’s coming back as what? A warrior. A mighty warrior leading a mighty army, riding a white horse with a blood-stained white robe … I believe that blood on that robe is the blood of his enemies ’cause he’s coming back as a warrior carrying a sword.
And I believe now – I’ve checked this out – I believe that sword he’ll be carrying when he comes back is an AR-15.
Carl J. Stoneham Boykin is *heavily* involved in all the anti-shari’a nonsense. George W. Bush had to more or less denounce Boykin’s anti-Muslim comments when the latter was an active-duty general. I don’t normally use the term, but Boykin is a good candidate for the label of “islamophobe” (though it seems to be less “fear” and more naked aggression). He’s in league with Frank Gaffney and the Center for Security Policy, and co-authored their Shariah: The Threat to America report. They’re all highly concerned with the application of shari’a in American courts (they make a fair point but blow it 1000x out of proportion and miss some of the more basic points of Constitutional law).
The AR-15 angle is too theological for me (I couldn’t care less what Christians think Jesus will or won’t do), but if someone picks this up, the “Crusader” angle is a mere Google search away.
Matt Sheedy One thing that interests me in the quotation from his speech (cited in italics above) is how he draws explicitly on scripture in order to legitimate a very contemporary version of strength through military might with echoes of the “clash of civilizations” paradigm. The reference to an AR-15 is a good example of projection through habitus and could have easily been another e.g., in Kat Daley-Bailey‘s post Jesus Remains: Teaching Multiple Jesi.
Kat Daley-Bailey Revelation 1:14-16 14 His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force.
This is the book of Revelation ‘Jesus’ and as far as I am aware, Revelation never cites him as carrying an AR-15. Producing a “sharp, two-edged sword” from his mouth, yes… armed with modern military grade weaponry, no. I am not necessarily surprised that an American military leader would have this particular view of Jesus but I am perplexed by his insistence on a ‘literal’ interpretation of biblical passages while at the same time he employs an image (that of Jesus wielding a gun) that is literally not in the Biblical text. Boykin cites a passage in the Gospel of Luke Chapter 22 verse 36 in which Jesus is presented as saying “if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” Boykin’s adamant refusal to read the passage from the Gospel of Luke as a metaphor is perplexing because in his statements right before this he willing to ‘read’ the image of Jesus in Revelation metaphorically or at least symbolically. An image of Jesus advising his followers to buy swords becomes Jesus from the book of Revelation wielding a sword (from his mouth) to Jesus (according to Boykin) returning to bring the end times armed with an AR-15. There are no AR-15s in the book of Revelation (or anywhere in the Bible for that matter) but Boykin is happy to approximate and bend the narrative when it suits him but not in other cases. Boykin is not alone, on either side of the aisle.
All reading in interpretation… it is a process, a skill, an act. The reader is actively involved in what the text ‘says.’ Daniel Helminiak writes poignantly here on how involved the reader is in the act of interpretation.
But interpretation simply means getting the meaning out of a text. In this sense, there is no reading the Bible or anything else without interpreting. Without a reader, a text is only words-markings on a page. In themselves these markings mean nothing. To have meaning, they have to pass through someone’s mind. Understanding the words, determining the meaning of the text, is interpretation. Any time people read anything, they are interpreting.
Karen de Vries While I’m aware that there’s no shortage of Christian history that is extremely militaristic, the last sentences (in the Huffington Post article) caught my attention as possibly pointing to something new or distinctive about current conservative Christian formations:
Boykin further elaborated on his impression of an aggressive, rough-and-ready Jesus during a Mens’ Prayer Breakfast at William Jessup University, declaring, ‘He was a man. He was a man’s man, but we feminized him in the church … He was a tough guy and that’s the Jesus that I want to be like. That’s the side that I want to be like.’
In my tracking of contemporary conservative Christian rhetoric, I’ve noticed that the “Biblical manhood” folks have increasingly been defining themselves against an effeminate view of Jesus. This points to some cleavages within the not-so-new religious right insofar as there are other movements (e.g. the hippie Christians of the Vineyard) who don’t do this. The production of this manly-man Jesus also requires a lot of work since historically, the figure of Jesus is not de facto hyper masculine. That hyper masculine stuff often gets attributed to the Angry God part of the Trinity rather than to the Suffering Servant Jesus. I’m not sure what specific trends are prompting this ratcheting up of the always latent misogyny of conservative Christian rhetoric, but I’d guess that they are defining themselves, at least in part, against perceived increasing mainstream tolerance of LGBT (feminized) bodies.
Stephen Young Karen, there’s been some research about changes in the discursive landscape of Evangelical “masculinity.” As you probably know, Boykin’s comments exemplify similar tropes to those seen in, for example, the early 2000s Evangelical best seller Wild at Heart (John Eldredge) and standard Marc Driscoll sermons and books. A 2005 article by Sally Gallagher and Sabrina Wood attempts to delineate and investigate this phenomenon, looking at the change to more “aggressive” and “dangerous” masculinity from prior sensitivities propounded by some Evangelicals that bound up masculinity more with ideals of servant and involved fathers (though, to be sure, still within patriarchalist ideologies).
And I agree with you that part of the explanation resides with “culture war” issues of self-definition amidst the supposed and perceived dangers of growing tolerance of LGBT and other people and practices that, to them, signal the demise of the hegemony of certain socially-conservative sexual and gender norms.
Carl J. Stoneham: I’d be interested to know if there’s a connection (beyond the one in my head) between this sort of hyper-masculine Jesus and the Islamic “threat” that Boykin sees. Muhammad is certainly a masculine figure, so I imagine an “effeminate” Jesus poses something of a problem for the General.