The “Armor of Light”?
The way I feel about Paul’s directive to “put on the armor of light” is similar to how I feel about calling those who participated in the January 6 insurrection of the U.S. Capitol “terrorists.” In the days and weeks following the Jan. 6 insurrection, leaders in various BIPOC communities across the country called for those who opposed the insurrection to not use the label “terrorist” when describing the insurrectionists. At the time, many liberals and progressives wanted to label them terrorists because doing so seemed like a helpful way to delegitimize far-right extremism in a country whose security is system laser-focused on uprooting terrorism. January 6 was the largest and most visible moment such a label could clearly be used against white American men, who are so often able to avoid being so stigmatized, despite their violent acts. Calling them “terrorist” seemed like a productive way of delegitimizing their cause and forcing the political right to grapple with the reality of what they had produced.
But many BIPOC leaders across the country advised against it, and their reasoning was simple: the more we use the term “terrorist,” no matter whom we are labeling as such, the more it will come back to harm black and brown folx in the end. Because in the end, that term always gets weaponized and used against black and brown folx across the globe, and not only within the United States. So a short-term gain labeling the white men who participated in the insurrection as “terrorist,” would inevitably be a long-term loss for communities of color, both domestically and internationally.
That’s exactly how I feel about the militaristic language Paul uses in writing to the Romans. Yes, he is encouraging the believers in Rome to hold true to the faith during trying times. He is telling them that they need to stay strong, for the time is coming when they will see the Lord. He is telling them to amend their lives and repent and come to Jesus. Yet, even though the militaristic language might convey what he is trying to say in the short-term, what about the long-term effects of using such language?
We’ve seen how this language and theology plays out in the long term over the course of the past two thousand years. Far too often, Christian soldiers have taken these metaphors literally, and used them to validate their use of violence, force, and the abuse of power. From the medieval European Crusades to the American imperial project of Manifest Destiny, we’ve colonized and captured and laid waste other civilizations, thinking of ourselves as Christian soldiers who have the responsibility of “civilizing” and bringing our way of life to other parts of the world. That last point rings especially hollow in the wake of this week’s news out of Afghanistan.
Instead, though I find Paul’s language misses the mark of what our Christian vocation is truly about, I turn to the Gospels and find hope in Jesus’ message. This Sunday’s message makes it clear that the life lived while following Jesus is not one of militaristic force and power, but rather one that is freely given, and freely accepted. Yes, there are many who will be turned off and choose to go another way. Jesus does not concern himself with that; he proclaims the truth, and leaves us to decide for ourselves, without any threat of coercion or force. As we continue to share the Good News of the Gospel in our own lives with others, let us remember, and strive to emulate, the way that Jesus lays out for us.