Our Faith is on Trial
Responding to Terrorism
Last Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris have made many of us angry, fearful, and feeling vulnerable. We want to protect ourselves and our families from these influences. But then the countries in Europe as well as the United States are being asked to take in hundreds of thousands of desperate homeless refugee families from the very countries that the terrorists came from. How are we as Christians supposed to respond?
Instead of writing my usual blog this week, I want to pass on to you a response to this question written by our Methodist bishop, Bishop Mike Lawry. Bishop Lawry is head of the Central Texas Conference of United Methodist Churches and he sends this out to all of his flock. The Bishop writes:
I realize that terrorism puts my faith on trial. I believe our Lord’s admonition to love our neighbor. I am committed in principle to the Savior’s call to holiness in rejecting hate. The words of Jesus echo in the throne room of my mind. “You have heard that it was said, you must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45)
I am conscious that it is easy to be Christian in times of peace and plenty and in settings of safety and joy. I am also quite aware that the test of the Christian faith comes on the streets of Paris, in rhetorical punditry of television and the cancer ward of the local hospital.
Our faith is put on trial in:
1) The temptation to reject the Lord’s leading and be driven instead by a desire for revenge. Prayerful reflection and careful thinking are at a premium if our response is to be faithful to the gospel and Lordship of Christ. Those who enact such evil must be brought to justice. There is nothing Christian or holy in allowing terror to reign unchecked. Let us be clear – terror and terrorism is an outgrowth of Satan’s rage. And yet, we must also be carefully clear and faithfully obedient in our response. Matching evil with evil is not the way of Christ. We seek justice not vengeance. (Romans 12:19)
2) The engulfing emotions of fear and fear driven disregard for others who are in dire need. Our model, guide and ruler is the One who was crucified for others, notably for those who were (and are) guilty of sin. Instead of living under a reign of fear, Jesus reached out stretching His arms wide in an embrace of love. Let us be sympathetic to each other as we wrestle with fear’s grip. Fear is a natural and in some ways healthy response to the horrors of unchecked terror. It alerts us to the need to take protective steps and seek justice for all. The Christian difference is not that fear is not present. It is rather that fear does not reign. It does not rule! Christ alone is Lord! However powerful our emotions, they too are subject to Him. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear.” (1John 4:18)
3) Our vulnerability mixed with fear and anger which seduces us to react by blaming the stranger, the foreigner, the refugee. Terrorism is a tool of evil which, if left unchecked by Christian values and by the rule of Christ, can lead us to the unfaithful response of prejudice. It is worth carefully noting that the earliest Christians consistently refused to simply take care of only other Christians. They consciously and in allegiance to Christ reached out to any in need. There were no litmus tests for who should receive love and care. Teachings from Jesus like the Parable of the Good Samaritan drove their actions. (see Luke 10:35) Instructions like James 1:27 were a basic part of the fabric of their response, “True devotion, the kind that is pure and faultless before God the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties and to keep the world from contaminating us.” Let there be no mistake. To only take care of Christians or just be concerned about people in our own country is not worthy of the gospel. It is not faithful to the clear teaching of Christ. (Check out Jude 1:12 and its explicit rejection of those who care only for themselves.)
As your bishop, I call on us to be a people of faith. May we reflect the example of Christ and be known the world over for a love which conquers fear. Jesus our Savior first lived among us as a refugee. He calls us now to reach out to those refugees fleeing the unspeakable evils of terror and war’s destruction. May we be instruments of peace offering a place of hope, help and home to those most in need. May religious prejudice and national jingoism be unknown among us.
Do you recall the Apostle’s closing advice in 1 Peter? First Peter is written as a baptismal address to new Christians for a church undergoing dire persecution. Terror is an everyday part of their lives. In such context the Apostle closes his letter with advice fit again for today. “Therefore, humble yourselves under God’s power so that He may raise you up in the last day. Throw all your anxiety onto Him, because He care for you. Be clearheaded. Keep alert. Your accuser, the devil, is on the prowl like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith. Do so in the knowledge that your fellow believers are enduring the same suffering throughout the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, the One who called you into His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will Himself restore, empower, strengthen, and establish you. To Him be power forever and always. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:6-11)