What If Hitler Invaded Your House?


What If Hitler Invaded Your House?
Brian Zahnd

Lately I’ve been giving a lot of interviews on my new book A Farewell To Mars. It’s a semi-autobiographical confession of how I moved from being an enthusiastic supporter of war American style to proclaiming the peaceable kingdom of Christ. Since I’ve marched among the ranks of sincere war-endorsers for most of my life, I’m sympathetic with well-meaning Christians who believe in the way of Mars. I try to tell the story of my conversion honestly and gracefully. I level criticism, not at soldiers, but at myself. My aim is to take the reader on a journey where Jesus and war are examined in the light of an unencumbered reading of Scripture.

But in a twelve minute radio interview there is little time for narrative and nuance. Instead, the interviewer usually leaps to what they consider “the heart of the matter.” In every interview I’ve been asked this question: “What would you do if Hitler invaded your house?” Well, it’s not exactly that question, but in every interview these two questions have come up: What about Hitler? What would you do if someone invaded your home? Hitler and home invasion. These are the two arguments that allegedly make the Jesus way of peace impossible. So let me address them. I’ll begin with Hitler.

When I claim that waging war is incompatible with following Jesus, the knee-jerk objection is always this: “What about Hitler?” The problem with the “Hitler objection” is that we have stepped into the middle of the story. It’s 1940 and we’re asking, “what are we going to do about Hitler?” As legitimate as that question is, we need to back up and ask this question first: How is it that Christians could wage war at Hitler’s behest? How did the land of Luther and the Reformation become the land of Nazis and the Holocaust? Hitler is as much a problem for Christian Just War theorists as for Christians who oppose war altogether. After all, Hitler waged his blitzkriegs with baptized soldiers sporting Gott mit uns on their belt buckles. How did this happen? How was Hitler able to convince Christian soldiers to kill other Christians in Poland, France, and Russia? Hasn’t something gone tragically wrong with the church when Christians can be persuaded to kill other Christians in the name of ideology and nationalism? The enduring catastrophe of Constantine subverting the kingdom of God was that the politics of Jesus were set aside for the interests of empire. This eventually led to the shame of the crusades where Christians killed under the banner of the cross, and then to the horror of the two world wars where European Christians slaughtered one another by the millions.

So let me ask a question. Imagine this scenario: Eric is eighteen years old. He is a Christian and a good citizen, he’s patriotic and the captain of his football team. His dream is to work the family farm like his father and grandfather. It’s 1944 and right after high school he’s drafted into the army. He’s asked to defend his nation. So he dutifully takes up arms and goes to war in defense of his country. He doesn’t particularly want to go to war, but he feels he must. The defense of his nation calls for it. So the high school football star leaves the farm, goes to war, and kills other Christians, all in the name of national-defense. Is this permissible for a Christian? You say, yes? Then consider this follow-up question: Does it alter you opinion if I tell you Eric is German? This is the problem with Constantinian Christianity and Just War theory — you end up with German Christians killing American, British, French, and Russian Christians in the name of nationality. Brothers and sisters, these things ought not be. As I say in A Farewell To Mars

“If Jesus is relegated to the hyperspiritualized role of personal savior, then we are free to pledge our political allegiance to the latest incarnation of empire. This is why Christians from the days of Constantine onward have been so pliable in the hands of beasts. We should think deeply upon the fact that the Nazi blitzkriegs were waged by baptized soldiers. Had the church held to pre-Constantine convictions, Hitler would never have gotten off the ground. Before we appeal to Hitler as the ultimate argument against Christian nonviolence, we first have to ask how Hitler was able to amass a following of Christians in the first place. After all, it wasn’t atheists and pagans who formed the German Christian movement that lent support to Hitler in the 1930s.” –A Farewell To Mars, p. 162

What about home invasion? Despite the fact that Mars is not about domestic self-defense, but an examination of war in the light of Christ, this objection is always raised. It’s often the very first question I’m asked! The scenario is always presented in the same form. It goes like this: An intruder has invaded your home. His intent is to rape your wife and kill your children. What are you going to do? It’s a lovely way to start an interview, isn’t it? The argument presumes only two options: Defend your family violently (preferably with a gun) or stand by idly while your family is raped and murdered. *Deep sigh* The problem with the argument is its dualistic assumption. Either you do nothing or you respond with corresponding violence. This betrays a striking lack of imagination. So what’s my response to this now familiar question? It goes like this…

This has not happened. You are asking me to imagine a fictive scenario. But I will comply and imagine an intruder with malicious intent and armed with a gun has invaded my home. What do I do? Here’s what I do, I disarm the intruder with the name of Jesus. Then I preach the gospel to the intruder. He is converted. Next Sunday I baptize him. Six months later he is an usher in my church. How about that! The interviewer says, “that’s not realistic.” I say, sure it is. Some trust in horses and chariots, some trust in Smith and Wesson, but we will trust in the name of the Lord our God. If you ask me to imagine something, don’t criticize me for imagining it with faith and creativity. That’s how I answer the imaginative scenario presented to me — I answer with an alternative, and I think more beautiful, imagination.

To summarize: The Hitler question is historical in nature. The problem is we need to go back further in history and ask deeper questions. The home invasion question is imaginative in nature and I refuse to restrict my imagination to the bifurcation of violence or indolence. Neither the historical Hitler nor the imagined intruder is able to convince me that Jesus was irresponsible or naive.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” -Jesus


(The artwork is Meah Shearim by Eric Lubiyov.)