The Church And the American Sniper

Called “A Salute To a Hero,” Taya Kyle’s speaking engagement in Lubbock, Texas, on April 17threceived national attention.

Taya is the widow of Chris Kyle, subject of Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper. Trinity Christian School, a ministry of Trinity Church of Lubbock, invited Taya to speak for a school fundraiser with profits split between TCS and the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation. A crew for the ABC news program 20/20 arrived to film Taya meeting with students and speaking at City Bank Coliseum. Anchor Robin Roberts’s interview with Taya will air on 20/20 and Good Morning America May 1. The publicity comes as Taya releases her book, American Wife.

TCS claims to be “unapologetically Bible-believing” and “dedicated to developing the whole student—academically, spiritually and physically—to the glory of God.” Superintendent Stephen Cox, PhD, said the school was very interested in helping promote the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation’s work with “first responders and military families.” The foundation treats military couples, Taya says, to “experiences they couldn’t otherwise afford.” Against the State: An ... Rockwell Jr., Llewelly... Best Price: $5.02 Buy New $5.52 (as of 11:35 EST - Details)

No one seems to have questioned whether it was appropriate for a church to celebrate the deeds of a man who wrote that he found killing “fun” and wished he could have killed more.

At the Coliseum, TCS students wearing uniform T-shirts handed out programs and mini-American flags. Mini-flags were placed at every table as well. On stage, a band played the Martina McBride song “Independence Day,” about a woman who apparently burns her house down with her abusive husband inside.  Now I ain’t sayin’ it’s right or it’s wrong/But maybe it’s the only way/Let freedom ring, let the white dove sing/Let the whole world know that today/Is a day or reckoning.

WWII Army Chaplain Phil Crenshaw began the evening with a prayer. “Heavenly Father,” he said, “we thank you for the privilege of honoring the memory of Chris Kyle.” Mr. Crenshaw is 92-years-old and has served twice as chaplain on “Honor Flights,” a charity which flies veterans to Washington DC to view war memorials.

Local CBS anchorman Bryan Mudd hosted the event. He asked everyone to stand for presentation of the colors by US Marines, then a TCS student singing “our national anthem.”

“We have many heroes in the room tonight,” Mudd said. He asked “first responders, veterans, and active duty military” to stand so the audience could applaud. Mudd mentioned a TCS senior who’d received Senator John Cornyn’s appointment to the US Military Academy at West Point. Mudd then boasted that Lubbock is the “most patriotic area of the country” and set out to prove it to the world as 20/20 filmed the event. He asked the audience to wave their mini-flags, then he and Taya stood together and took a selfie. Battlefield America: T... John W. Whitehead Best Price: $10.95 Buy New $18.80 (as of 10:15 EST - Details)

Congressman Randy Neugebauer took the podium to introduce Taya. “Chris Kyle was a very humble man,” Neugebauer said, “who loved God and loved his country and loved his family… His faith shaped his character.” The congressman quoted Kyle as telling him, “Randy, they don’t get it. I want to be remembered for the lives that I saved, not the lives that I took.”

Taya took the stage. She spoke of meeting with TCS high school students earlier in their government class. “I applaud all of you for what you’re doing with your kids,” she said.

She mentioned sharing with the government class how she met her late husband. “People say I should say we met in church… But I don’t know how to explain the vomiting.” They met in a bar, Taya explained, and Chris held her hair while she threw up.

Taya was raised in Oregon where it’s “a little more liberal.” She wasn’t an uber-patriotic till she met Chris. She also said her late husband “knew the Bible better than I did.”

“I stand for God,” Taya said. “I stand for this country. And I stand for my family and I’m unapologetic about it.” A predictable round of applause followed. The God-country-family mantra was repeated many times throughout the evening by multiple speakers.

Taya told a story about Chris Kyle watching a US flag raised at the end of an all-night battle, the SEAL weeping at the sight. “Literally in the dawn’s early light… How could anyone not stand in silence for our flag? It’s because they don’t know. Some people think it’s just an archaic symbol.” Suicide Pact: The Radi... Napolitano, Andrew P. Best Price: $0.25 Buy New $2.84 (as of 04:15 EST - Details)

Then Taya informed the audience she was departing from her usual topics this evening. “I decided I’m going in a little different direction tonight… I’m going to share about my family’s darkest hour.” Later in a private Q&A, Taya said she’d “only shared what I’ve shared with y’all tonight with one other group. It was a synagogue in Minnesota.”

She began speaking about the day of Chris Kyle’s murder at the hands of another war veteran, at times speaking through tears. “I can tell you if God had asked Chris…” she began. Then speaking as God, she continued, describing her late husband as spiritual martyr: “Chris, I’m gonna bless a lot of people, lead a lot of people to me, make better fathers and better men—” all, apparently, by “taking you today.”

Taya spoke of the impression she received of her husband’s killer, Eddie Ray Routh, during the murder trial as she watched Routh’s parents. “We do our kids a disservice when we enable them and let them make excuses for their behavior… You got to stand up and answer for your consequences even if you’re forgiven. He got away with so many things, there was no limit to what he thought he could get away with.”

Taya referred to Routh as “that kid,” seemingly blaming a lack of parental discipline for his actions. When Eddie Ray’s mother first saw him in his dress blues, she “just bawled and bawled because he wasn’t a kid anymore. He was a man.”

Yet when Routh returned home from the war in Iraq, he didn’t describe himself as a man or kid. Instead, he called himself a monster, telling his father, “how he’s Dracula, how he’s a werewolf.” 63 Documents the Gover... Jesse Ventura, Dick Ru... Best Price: $2.05 Buy New $3.99 (as of 06:15 EST - Details)

Routh once called his father, Raymond, from Iraq after being out on patrol. Raymond Routh told The New Yorker: “Eddie said to me ‘how would you feel if I killed a kid?’” The Marine’s father went on to add, “They got into some stuff over there they shouldn’t have to do.”

After Taya’s speech, a live auction was held. Audience members signaled bids by raising mini-flags. A personalized advance copy of Taya’s book sold for $12,000. Next a 14-week-old black lab named “Sniper” was auctioned. The puppy was bought and sold, auctioned for thousands a first time, then donated back and auctioned again for $1,500. A Chris Kyle autographed bullet went for $6,500.

Bidding started for a .308 rifle, equipped with scope and bipod, sniper ready. Taya signed the stock. The rifle sold for $25,000. Other items included a children’s backyard military fort with Navy SEAL flag ($5,500), a Texas Tech football helmet, and a Navy SEAL flag signed by Taya ($5,000).

In a silent auction in the hall, “silver bullets” were available for bidding, bringing to mind Eddie Ray Routh’s belief he was a werewolf.

The auction concluded, Taya gave a private Q&A to VIP ticket holders. “One day I’ll get to see Chris again,” she said. “And I also believe that the things that were hard before about being misunderstood, maybe, I feel like I’m more at peace… There’s a couple people who’ve had great pain and felt there’s nothing they could do to be understood or mend… When they get to heaven, I have this vision—I don’t know if it’s true or not—but I have this hope that when they get to heaven, they will be granted this full understanding. Maybe someday there’s hope that there will be understanding. And I’m sure I’m missing some things too, you know. Maybe I’ll have better understanding too.” How America Was Lost: ... Roberts, Dr. Paul Craig Best Price: $5.35 Buy New $2.99 (as of 10:30 EST - Details)

Taya Kyle isn’t the only one who has grieved over lack of understanding. When police picked up Eddie Ray Routh after he flew into a rage at a family fish fry, Routh told the cops he suffered from PTSD. He said his parents didn’t understand what he’d been through.

Routh was the personification of guilt and horror. His experience of war was an exact inversion of Chris Kyle’s. Clint Eastwood’s film portrays Kyle as tortured over the war, but in reality the American Sniper had no such misgivings. Kyle said he found war “fun” and desired to go back. For Kyle, Iraq was a holy war. He told an army colonel he’d like to shoot people with Korans. He had a red crusader’s cross or Templar cross tattooed on his arm because he wanted “everyone to know I was a Christian.” (A tattoo which makes little sense, given that the Templars were blasphemers who worshipped the Baphomet, not Jesus Christ.) Kyle’s Christianity had nothing to do with loving his enemy. “I couldn’t give a flying f**k about the Iraqis,” he said. “I hate the damn savages.”

Routh was stationed at Balad Air Base in Iraq, the location of a black site prison. One of his duties was guarding prisoners. Speaking to his father, Routh said some of the rules were too hard, prisoners allowed only three squares of toilet paper a day.

In 2010, Routh and other Marines were sent to Haiti to help with relief efforts. He told his mother, “They didn’t train me to go and pick up baby bodies off the beach.” Routh piled the dead into mass graves with a front-end loader, scenes of hell all around him. At one point, Routh attempted to give his MRE to a Haitian child. His sergeant reprimanded him for the act of kindness. This, too, haunted him. “Hurt him real bad,” as Raymond Routh said. His mother Jodi told The New Yorker, “He said, ‘I was strong, I could have made it. He needed some food and I didn’t give it to him, Mom.’” Check Amazon for Pricing.

Both Routh and Kyle became alcoholics when they returned from the war. After leaving the military, Chris Kyle began drinking hard liquor all day long. On March 5, 2010, he was arrested for DWI after crashing his pickup through a fence. Kyle told the police: “I’m stupid. I was drinking and driving.”

Routh came home from the military struggling with suicide, consumed with shame and dread. Kyle, on the other hand, returned home resenting his wife for the ultimatum she’d given him: leave the SEALs or Taya would take the kids and move to Oregon. Kyle wanted nothing more than a return to war. When the two men finally met up on that dark day, the outcome was bloody.

After Taya Kyle left the VIP room, I approached Carl Toti, head pastor of Trinity Church. I asked Pastor Toti a question. “When we link the church so strongly with warfare, doesn’t that hinder spreading the Gospel in nations that we’re at war with?”

Toti seemed to give his answer real thought. I disagree with his view of Iraq as a just war, but I respect him for not brushing the question aside, for giving it actual consideration. His belief in just war theory reflects my own. I only wish he had a better understanding of the historical reality regarding US wars.

“That’s a great question,” Toti said. “Within every country there are those that are hungry for the truth of the Gospel and, you know, just because we’re at war with a particular country doesn’t mean we’re at war with the people of that country. We’re at war with the demagogues, or the dictators, or the evil tyrants of that country. So many times, like in Iraq, the fact that we liberated them from Saddam, the Gospel spread, but then we pulled our troops out and now ISIS is slaughtering Christians and now they’re having to flee Iraq. So you know, that just kinda steps into the sovereignty of God. You know, God is sovereign and those that have been predestined according to His will to come to faith in Christ—we don’t know who they are, so that’s why we preach the Gospel around the world. We have to believe that God sorts through all that.”

Toti continued, “Hopefully, as a nation though, we’re not the ones that are warmongering, we’re not the ones initiating the war. But as Saint Augustine outlined for a just war, when we have to go to war—because churches don’t go to war, you know, we are to love our enemies. But nations have to go to war. They’re mandated by God in Romans 13 that they don’t bear the sword in vain, but they execute wrath against evildoers. Nations have to unfortunately at times go to war. We just hope that we elect God fearing men and women to serve to insure that we are not engaging in unjust war, because that could hinder the spread of the Gospel.”

There were many more questions I could’ve asked the pastor.

If we weren’t at war with the people of Iraq, why did “God fearing” politicians impose sanctions beginning in 1991, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians?

If the US government is so set against “demagogues, dictators, and evil tyrants,” why did that same government arm Saddam Hussein in the 1980s and provide tactical battle planning for his war with Iran, even when US officials were aware Iraq was using chemical weapons?

As for “liberating” the people of Iraq, how did we liberate them by invading and occupying their country? The Iraqis hate us for bombing them into the stone age, for kicking in the doors of their homes, hauling away family members to black site torture facilities. They never wanted us in their country.

Pastor Toti says the Gospel spread after Saddam fell. Under Saddam Hussein’s rule, Iraqi Christians were free to worship. Hussein even had Chaldean Christian advisors and doctors. After the US’s undeclared war, most Iraqi churches are now abandoned or destroyed, Christians murdered or fled from the nation. The greatest blow against Christianity in Iraq wasn’t Hussein, though the man was an evil dictator. It was the US government deliberately falsifying evidence that Iraq had WMDs as a pretext for an oil war—a war in the planning even before 911.

Pastor Toti mentions predestination. Like Taya Kyle, I believe in free will. In her speech, Taya told how after much soul searching, she had come to believe in free will and that “God knows the heart. He allows that person to do an evil act because he has free will.”

We are not born destined to heaven or hell, destined to die or kill in some politician’s war. God does not damn us from the womb. Choices must be made and afterwards we live the rest of our lives with the consequences. For Eddie Ray Routh, the guilt he felt over killing an Iraqi child was so great his mind became a constant war zone, no escape from innocent blood.

Perhaps if churches focused more on the Prince of Peace and less on American Sniper, men and women would make different choices and avoid the fates of Eddie Ray Routh and Chris Kyle.

I’m a Christian, but I don’t go to church. Americans have made modern Christianity almost synonymous with war and the US military. I’m not alone in avoiding churches for exactly this reason. I can’t stand sitting through sermons on the myth of American exceptionalism. American Christianity has lost all moral authority and now suffers the intellectual backlash for its pro-war rhetoric. What thinking person wants to belong to a church that places greater moral weight on petty vices than the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

Taya Kyle seems like a sincere person. Only God knows her heart, but she struck me as authentic in her faith. I hope Taya and Pastor Toti both receive the greater understanding of which she spoke—and receive it while here on earth, so they still have the opportunity to do some good among the living with such true understanding.

Reprinted with permission from Max McNabb.