Kill ’em All and Let God Sort ’em Out. Redux.
I grew up hearing this Vietnam-era slogan a lot. It was popularized during the war, but survived well into the 80’s. From t-shirts to heavy metal, it was a crass and flippant way to deal with or dismiss the intricately divided political, military and socioeconomic landscape of the time.
Has anything changed? Our landscape is no less divided, and unlike a t-shirt or bumper sticker to display your slogan, we have the internet and social media to pollute the world with our opinions. And as these issues are becoming more and more complex, impacting more and more people, and coming at us faster and faster, I’ve seen far worse sentiments than “kill ’em all.” And after a year like 2020, there’s been a lot of casualties. So it’s ironic, that I think revisiting a violent Vietnam-era slogan, with a four-letter word swap here and pronoun tweak there, could save us all.
So while “Kill ’em all” gained traction during the Vietnam war, the phrase can actually be traced back to Pope Innocent III in 1209 — which doesn’t surprise me based on the theme of this piece. He used the phrase in response to cracking down on a religious sect gaining popularity in Southern France. But no matter who says it, or in what century, the sentiment is the same — just kill everyone (except me and “my kind”) and let a higher power sort them out. The ultimate, violent cop-out to dealing with people who may think, act, live, love, or believe different than you do.
Which sounds a lot like 21st Century America to me. God is being used to bless death on whoever doesn’t agree with us. It’s a repeating pattern of weaponizing God that has been around as long as, well, God. Over and over and over again. Jesus Christ! This has to stop!
Oh wait. He tried. Whether you believe Jesus is a deity or not, it’s of no importance in this equation. What’s important is we agree he was a real man, a disruptive and anti-religious man, who was ultimately executed by the Church and the State.
Pretty crazy when you think about it. One guy, with a band of fisherman and prostitutes took on the known world’s two greatest super powers — the Roman Empire and the Jewish Pharisaic system. At the same time. With no army. No weapons. Just love.
That’s as mind-blowing to me now as it was to the power structure then.
In military terms, his basic message was “man uses God as an occupying force” and he came as a “liberating force.” The Church of the day had set up rules, regulations and a price to access God. Jesus said nope. God’s free. God’s for everyone. Sinners. Kids. Women. Prostitutes. Adulterers. Cheaters. Non-Jews. Literally everyone.
So with no social media, no marketing budget and no campaign manager, how did this message even get on the radar of the religious hierarchy and the world’s largest empire? It scared the shit out them. He spoke truth and it threatened their house of cards. And it got him a public state execution.
Sounds a lot like now. Access to God has a lot of rules, regulations and a price. And since “God Blesses the USA,” those same rules and regs apply to the benefits of the American dream. Talk about insult to injury for chrissakes. Not only did religion kill him in the first century, every century since, religion has kept Jesus on a cross, strung him up in buildings and around necks, and has appropriated his likeness and co-opted his message for their own agendas.
Does that mean Jesus was/is a failure? The very thing he came to take down, is the very thing that wields the power of his name? If you believe he was just a lone guy with a mission of love that ultimately failed, then that is a really sad story in the annals of history. But if you believe he was/is deity, then it is soul crushing.
I think that’s where I am post 2020. Soul crushed. As a 47 year old dad who has spent almost 50 years in the pew, 2020 crushed my spirit. Not because the pandemic shuttered the Church doors, but because the pandemic and everything 2020 brought with it was the ultimate test for the Church. And it failed with flying colors. Red, white and blue to be exact.
2020 was the big one. 2020 had all the elements. All lined up for the ultimate stand. The ultimate line drawn in the sand. Love vs. hate. The oppressed vs. the oppressors. I was ready. I can’t tell you how many times I’d heard, from Sunday School to Sunday Sermons, about heroes of the faith standing on the Rock. Standing up for truth. I was ready.
Proverbs 31: 8–9 says “Speak up…defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Henry Rollins said, “This is not a time to be dismayed, this is punk rock time. This is what Joe Strummer trained you for.” I was ready. I had punk rock and Jesus Christ on my side. Let’s go.
And I did. I marched in downtown Dallas when authorities killed a black man for every eye and every screen to see. With my son, I joined groups of young people who rode their skateboards through traffic jammed streets literally pushing for solidarity and publicly exclaiming that black lives matter. With my whole family, I marched through the streets of my small hometown to be counted as a living expression of every punk rock lyric ever written and every word Jesus Christ spoke and died for.
And you know who wasn’t there. The Church. Not mine, not yours, not anyone’s. I was ready. And I was crushed.
There weren’t congregations walking in those protests. But there were some congregations there. They stood on the sidelines. They stood against us. They stood with flags. Flags for a nation. Flags for authority. Flags for a demagogue. Flags for Jesus. Combo flags for a demagogue and Jesus. Flags for a religion. Stars and stripes, stars and bars. Every one in red, white and blue. I was crushed.
There were flags in my group too. Flags of every color in the rainbow and signs for all kinds of people. But no sign of the Church. I was crushed.
The pastor of my church saw a sign. He saw the sign of a cross. Around the neck of someone peddling pillows and pushing lies in support of a demagogue in power and a young murderer in the street. My pastor claimed him as personal friend and a follower of the faith because he was a cross wearer. I wonder what the original cross bearer was thinking. My soul was crushed.
And when the world was thrust into the biggest health event of our lifetime, there was another chance for the Church to shine. Jesus’ greatest commandment. Love your neighbor as yourself. Slam dunk. The Church couldn’t have been dished a better assist from Magic Johnson himself.
But instead of loving their neighbors, they loved themselves. They made a prophylactic a symbol of division. And my own Church opened their doors and physically divided the flock. Concerns for the weak be damned, it’s our right to harm and if we do, so be it. It takes money to run a Church. We have to pass the plate, pay the bills and our salaries. Our flock’s opinions vary, we have to placate them all.
You know who didn’t placate anyone. Jesus Christ. He spoke truth. It really pissed people off. They killed him for it.
When it all hit the fan, how could an entire religion dedicated to one singular man and his mission, fuck it up so badly? It’s soul crushing.
How could the Church, the Protestant Church, whose very name was born from protest against a power-hungry religious system, literally become an anti-christ, power-hungry religious system?
One of my favorite movie quotes is from Signs, “People break down into two groups….what kind of person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs, that sees miracles? Or do you believe that people just get lucky? Or, look at the question this way: Is it possible that there are no coincidences?”
I don’t think 2020 was a coincidence. I think those of us who have been sitting in pews for most of our lives needed a wake-up call. So while we were forced to sit at home, we were delivered a lot to look at. A lot to think about. Sure, we all know that is hard to walk the line. People make mistakes. We know that religious institutions have abused others in the name of Jesus. We let it slide. We put the money in the basket and came back every week. It was the other denominations. Right?
Wrong. We have to wake up. Denominations are factions and religions are controlling. Religions make money for some, take it from others. Religions include some, exclude others. Religions build agendas, build buildings and build budgets. And Religions need people. And humans throughout history have been all too susceptible to them. And God damn it, here we are again in 2021.
Jesus warned us. Jesus was anti-religion. Period. And now he is one.
So where do we go from here? Just like a line was drawn for the Church in 2020, I think another line has been drawn for us that filled their pews. We have to take a stand. We can’t go back and pretend 2020 never happened. Just like the Church had its moment to shine. We now have ours. We can’t let this pass. We can’t just go back to giving our time, our money and our faith to a system that failed to stand for truth when it had the ultimate chance. And in many real cases, stood against it. Wouldn’t that not only betray his mission, but Christ himself? There has to be consequences right?
Can we go back to figuratively (and some of us literally) sitting down in the pews with those who carried the name of Jesus on flags as they stormed the capitol, causing actual death and destruction? Or building walls instead of bridges? Or excluding any human being based on literally any classification at all? Jesus made ZERO exceptions and classifications when he said love your neighbor as yourself.
I don’t know exactly where to go next, but I do know who I’m going to follow. And that is Jesus. And just like he told his first followers, it’s not going to be easy. And they still threw down their nets and followed him anyway; and they didn’t go to church.
As a parent, I’ve always been driven by three things. Make sure my kids leave my nest with a healthy body, healthy mind and healthy soul. I believe that with all of my heart and that’s still my parental mission, even though I haven’t been perfect in fulfilling it. For over 20 years I’ve used the Church as a tool to give my kids a healthy soul. But kids see clearly. Jesus said it himself. And kids saw 2020. Kids see who flies Jesus flags and uses his name to sell pillows and lies with the symbol of his death. And it’s not pretty. How can a Church hate people? How can a Church exclude people? How can the Church support a demagogue? How can Christians so easily shift their faith from the Christ to a letter of the alphabet?
After 47 years, and my first year of not spending Sunday mornings in the pew, I’m not going back. At least not for now.
And that’s fine for me. I know the mission. I know what Jesus came for. I can see beyond the corrupt machine that stole his name and find a path forward. But what about my kids? What about their healthy body, mind and souls? Can they know the real Jesus and find a path forward, if his message has been co-opted by the very thing he came to take down?
All I know to do is follow Jesus’ lead and not be dismayed, he trained us for this. Joe Strummer rocked the Casbah and Jesus rocked the Pharisees. And he did it with one simple command. Love your neighbor as yourself.
So I’m taking a cue from that violent phrase of my youth and tweaking a four-letter word and a pronoun.
Love ’em all and let God sort us out.
That’s what I’m gonna tell my kids.
L-O-V-E, because that’s what He told us to do. And “us” not “them,” because we are all in this together. Every single one of us.