The violent reaction of a segment of the Muslim world to the words of Pope Benedict XVI’s speech last week is nothing but appalling. After reading the speech in its entirety, I was shocked that it has led to at least seven church burnings in Palestine and the murder of a nun in Somalia. Ironically, the Pope’s speech was a call for dialogue and reasoning between Christianity and Islam. The violence is patently evil and cannot be condoned. Further, only the most disingenuous or naïve person will bring blame upon the Pope for such a vicious response.
A congregational leader recounted a story of a violent Islamic attack on of the pastors of the First Baptist Church of Kaduna, Nigeria. Six years ago, radical Islamists seized the pastor from his church, killed him, butchered his body like an animal, chopped up pews for kindling and burned his body. The Bible was thrown on top of the pyre as a final statement of religious superiority.
Last month, Olaf Wiig and Steve Centanni of Fox News were captured in the Gaza strip. “We were forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint,” Centanni told FOX News. Where will the attacks end? It’s hard to say. The radical Islamists have been engaged in this “war” for at least twenty years.
The kind of violence created by the Pope’s speech is nothing more than a religious, terrorist, bully fest. Its goal is to intimidate our religious leaders and curtail our basic rights – freedom of speech and freedom of religion. As a young kid growing up in a tough neighborhood, I learned that if I gave in to a bully today, he would eventually take my lunch money everyday. But, I could make a much bigger assailant back off, if I put on my game face and refused to be intimidated.
Similarly, if the Pope backs down, he will inadvertently embolden our opponents. There is no telling how many other religious workers will be silenced, hurt, or martyred around the world. The Pope has got to put on his game face and stay strong. In addition, Christian ministers of every denomination should denounce this kind of violence.Unfortunately, many Americans think that somehow the U.S. is the ultimate aggressor and that evangelical Christians have egged the Bush administration into an imperialistic, neo-crusade mindset. These non-religious, often anti-faith people want to reject Christianity. Perhaps Ann Coulter is correct in naming these godless people “members of the church of liberalism.”
Several months ago, a talk show host screamed at me on the air, “Tell me one place where Jesus told people to raise an army or to arm themselves?” As I paused to think, I realized this “friendly” interview had turned to the attack-dog mode and I was the unsuspecting victim. “You call yourself a minister!” the sneering voice went on to proclaim, “I know that it makes you feel good --- being in meetings with the President….”
The call became so insulting that I simply hung up. Later, I thought about how often self-righteous people with no biblical framework attempt to critique organized religion’s motives and our faithfulness to Christ’s teachings.
The Bible clearly says that believers should obey their own government and the laws of the land (Romans 13:4-8). In addition, the scriptures give government the responsibility to collect taxes, perform capital punishment, and wage war, along with a myriad of other protective responsibilities. Vigilantism based on personal whim or insult is foreign to our faith. If governments don’t do their jobs well, war may become an unwanted result of anarchy or political license.
So what does the Bible teach about dealing with rogue regimes? The answer is clear. From the Old Testament to the New, we see God backing one army versus another – one group over another. God often intervened on behalf of Israel or God-fearing Israelis in battles and civil wars in the scriptures.
The answer to the talk show hosts question is found in Luke 22:36. Astonishingly, told His disciples to go and buy some swords. The “turn-the-other-cheek” teacher actually had a balanced worldview. He did not advocate living as a servant of violence, yet he was not opposed to his disciples owning weapons.
It’s easier to be an absolute hawk or dove---for or against war-- than it is to be a fully devoted follower of Christ. What the Lord is looking for is wise stewardship of all earthly power including political, monetary, and military power. What is needed in America are equal doses of realism, emotional sobriety, and faith.