One of the complaints that is heard about religion is that religion creates conflict between people and ultimately war. The conflicts that are most fresh in the memory of those who make this charge are mostly radical Islamic actions in the Middle East, Africa, Europe and, of course, 9/11. Islam does have a theology that is easily interpreted as a call to war, Islamic expansion has often been done in militaristic ways, and there is the hideous expression of “honor killings”.
But Christianity does not escape on this account. Nothing within Jesus’ teaching promotes war or violence in any way. In fact, it condemns it. But “Christians” through the centuries have promoted violent actions. A sampling of this history would include: Charlemagne’s conquest of Germanic tribes in the name of Christianity, the Crusades conducted under the false premise that Christians should control the Holy Land, the 30 Year War which tried to reestablish the Pope’s political control of Europe, multiple wars where monarchs or their opposition tried to assert their rule in the name of their religion, the Spanish conquest of the New World (again under the pretense of spreading Christianity), and much of colonialism which was shined-up with the idea of spreading Christianity.
I would argue that none of the above was justified by Christianity. A lust for power or wealth co-opted Christianity in all of these cases. That said, Jesus did say the following:
Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace on Earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to to turn “a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law–a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.”Matthew 10:34-36
Jesus quotes a prophecy in Micah here and surprising applies it to Himself. What does this mean?
It is not Jesus’ goal to divide families and create strife. Jesus simply knows how a singular path to eternal life that will clash with family culture and worldview will go over in this world. He also is well away that He has an enemy in Satan, who will do whatever it takes to: stop the spread of the Gospel, sully the reputation of Christianity, and create a hostile environment in general. In short, the above quote is an expression of the cost of doing business, when your business is freeing mankind from Satan’s control and giving them eternal life.
So back to the original question, does Christianity create strife? Absolutely. Is it worth it? Most definitely.
The strife is a small price for the profound and critical form of peace that Christ brings. Jesus brings peace with God. Jesus’ death and the promises connected to it allow humans (who are all sinners) to be forgiven and reconciled with their maker. Thus the angels’ declaration at Jesus’ birth:
Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.Luke 2:14
Without a doubt, becoming a disciple of Jesus can bring certain forms of strife and danger depending on who you are and where you are. Christian converts from Islam, Judaism, Hindu and Buddhism will find that their biggest enemies are likely to be their own families. There may be staged funerals, attempts at honor killing, beatings, legal action and loss of family support. That is high price to pay, but worth it all the way. What price can you put on eternal life, knowing the God who created you, having a life that will be eternally significant and avoiding Hell? What hope exists for our families if somebody doesn’t become the first to know the Gospel?
Often the arrival of Christianity is seen as a destruction of culture. People often equate culture and religion. No doubt religious ideas influence culture, but culture is changing all the time. Technology changes culture. Businesses change culture. Means of communication change culture. When culture is based on falsehood, is it worth preserving? Should tribal cultures be preserved if they are based on ignorance of how the world works? How much more if they are based on ignorance of God? Christians should share their knowledge of what God has done and His promises. You don’t have to force people into your cultural expression of knowing God. Their culture may change, but it can still remain uniquely theirs. There may be growing pains, even violence, but if it results in people receiving eternal life then it is worth it.