If all goes according to plan, on July 4th, 2018, we Americans will have the great pleasure of seeing our fearless leader surveying his troops, tanks, jets, and missiles atop a grandstand in Washington, D.C. Prompted by the pomp of France’s Bastille Day last September, Trump has been hankering for a taste of American military pageantry ever since. It seems that he is finally measuring out the ticker tape.
As with everything Trump does, reactions have been quick and swift with partisan groups on both sides equally lambasting and praising the idea. Surprisingly, however, there does seem to be a note of bi-partisanship sprinkled through the op-ed biosphere. Politico has featured several articles boosting the idea, and even the Atlantic has noticed the simple fact that “America still holds military parades. Regularly.” So, all in all, what’s the big deal?
To be sure, there are many political and nationalistic reasons one could cite to support or not support this particular parade. Even retired military officials seem split on the matter, but those reasons are not what I am concerned about. As someone who (bunglingly) tries to base my life around the ethic of Jesus, I am more concerned about whether or not Jesus wants a military parade, and to the dismay of our fearless leader, I can’t find any reason in the Bible to think he does.
Sure, violence is a part of the Bible, and God even seems to condone it at times. However, there is also a clear line of Scriptural evidence that suggests that any use of force to harm another person is an unfortunate by-product of human brokenness, i.e. something not worth celebrating.
Let’s consider three of the clearest examples of parades in the Bible.
In 2 Samuel 6, we get perhaps the only example in the Bible of what is recognizably a military parade. Israel has just defeated their enemies and recovered the ark of the covenant. To celebrate, they process the ark (and most likely key military leaders) through the gates of Jerusalem. To top it off, David dances before the ark at the front of the parade. How could this not provide support for military parades? Well, if one follows along in the story of David, you would find the telling story of 1 Chronicles 28. David, with the ark in his possession, wants to build a permanent Temple in Jerusalem where he can worship, but God tells him, “No,” saying “You are not to build a house for my Name, because you are a warrior and have shed blood.” The ark needed to come back to Jerusalem, but God doesn’t want anyone to confuse military might for God’s kingdom. The take-away? God might use military victories to accomplish his promises, but shedding blood is not how God prefers to build.
Contrast this to one of the only other examples of a parade-like procession in the Bible, Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem in Mark 11. Here, the parade is consists of Jesus, riding in on a donkey, and his disciples following behind. People are throwing their cloaks on the ground in front of him, waving palm branches, and shouting praises alongside his parade route. They are celebrating him as a Messiah, the one who will usher in the “coming kingdom of our father David.” But if they thought Jesus would achieve his victory in the way of David by defeating their Roman oppressors, they were in for a rude shock.
His parade had no swords, no shields, no spears, no battle horses. This coming king, riding on a donkey would not overthrow the bonds of Roman oppression; he would not even lift a finger to defend himself. He would ultimately let his enemies capture him, beat him, and put him to death. It turns out, when up shows up to claim victory and build God’s kingdom, God prefers to suffer violence rather than commit it.
Finally, let’s turn to our fearless leader’s favorite book, Two Corinthians. Throughout the letter, Paul seems to find the need to defend his apostleship to the Corinthians church. Apparently, they don’t think he looks the part of an apostle. Justifying his travels and his relative impoverishment, he uses the image of a triumphal parade. 2 Corinthians 2:14 exclaims, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.” This triumphal victory parade is full of Christ’s captives, but they are not people he has defeated in battle; they are people who follow him in his self-giving, radically peace-filled life of love.
All in all, parades in the Bible, even when connected to military metaphors seem to turn the whole idea of a victory parade on its head. Violence might bring some momentary victories, but the ultimate victory and power of God is that found in peace and self-giving love.
Now, let’s be clear. This is not a denouncement of the military or a call to radical pacifism. Romans 13 clearly sets aside a roll for the state, and even the coercive use of force by the state. On this side of the God’s kingdom, human brokenness necessitates something that holds together human society from a descent into anarchy. At the same time, Romans 13 (and the rest of Scripture) do not call us to celebrate that use of force.
Here again, this is not an attack on the military (though I suspect many Christ followers love it a bit too much). The women and men who put their lives on the line to provide stability and protect important human freedoms deserve honor. We should thank them for their sacrifices and respect their willingness to give themselves to a greater ideal. We should not, however, celebrate that such sacrifices are necessary, that the Unites States has what is unarguably the largest military apparatus the world has ever seen, or that our concern for sustaining this apparatus has led us into a new arms race.
Still, I suspect that these are not the thoughts that our fearless leader will be thinking of as he surveys our military might. It’s hard to notice the grandeur of the self-giving, peace-loving God when a M1 Abrams is rolling down the street.
Note from the Editorial Team: Engaged Pentecostalism is a community that values open dialogue and respectful engagement from different perspectives. The views expressed above are the author's own and do not reflect those of every part of the community.