It’s just after Thanksgiving, and I’m trying to be thankful.
I live a wonderful life. I have a life of good health. I have a good family, a good job, and I enjoy the benefit of a faith that enriches my life.
Most importantly, The Way of Jesus leads me to believe in justice and love. To believe that peace really is possible. It’s a Way that could lead us to a more healthy world.
Or so I thought.
But I recently made the mistake of watching a video clip from the pulpit of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, TX. First Baptist is one of the largest Southern Baptist churches in the country. This means it has an outsized voice in the influence of Baptist Christians in this country and Christians around the world in general.
The video was recorded sometime just after the recent attacks in Paris. The pastor felt the need to speak to this issue – and to offer guidance on how “we as Christians” should respond.
In his pastoral diatribe, he paralleled a number of contrasts between the peace-loving religion of Christianity, and the “evil religion” of radical Islam. Disappointingly, he never made a clear distinction between “radical Islam” and any other kind of Islam. Since he attributes all Islamic evil to its “murdering” founder, it would be difficult, even for a discerning listener, to draw a line between the two.
The center of his critique was the obvious superiority of Christian scripture. Our scripture “never” approves of the killing of anyone we might deem an “infidel,” while the distorted views of Muhammad, the pastor said, encourages such murder (“against you and me”) in his writing at least “35 times.”
To give credit where credit is due, he is right that Jesus never does sanction, order, encourage, or justify the killing of anyone, “infidel” or otherwise. Keep that in mind.
Christians, the pastor says, are called to love and forgive. That’s the ethic to which Jesus calls us – as individuals. The government, on the other hand, has a different calling. According to the pastor, a government is never called to forgive.
But isn’t our government a government “of the people, for the people, by the people”? Aren’t many of them Christian? So, they have to forgive as individuals… unless they happen to be working for the government?
I’m sorry, but I don’t understand this.
Then, quoting the book of Romans, the pastor reminded his flock that God puts strong-armed governments in place, to do God’s own bidding. How ironic! I can’t imagine that this pastor would agree that any Islamic government was justified by this same scripture.
Finally, quoting Donald Trump (which seems important to me, since The Donald’s advice definitely Trumps Jesus in this rant), the pastor rose to a fever pitch when he said it is high time that the government “bomb the ‘you know what’ out of (radical Muslims).”
So, I’m trying to understand the Pastor's message:
- Jesus calls individual Christians to “love and forgive.”
- Jesus never justifies the use of deadly force in the practice of faith.
- The Koran repeatedly calls on Muslims to kill.
- Our far superior scripture does not – except when it does, by calling on our government to bomb the hell out of Muslims. The radicals and the innocents …since they can’t be separated.
I wonder which individuals this pastor thinks will be flying all those bombing missions? Dropping those bombs, pulling the triggers that kill all those Muslims?
And, even though it diametrically contradicts the instruction of Jesus for individual Christians, our government, heavily populated by Christian people, not only has the right to, but is given a mandate by God, to kill, indiscriminately, in the name of Jesus?
Did I get what he said right?
I’m sad to tell you, I got it right.
The point of my own diatribe is that this kind of biblical justification is just as bad as a narrow, literal application of the Koran – because both justify the indiscriminate killing of innocent people.
What’s making it hardest for me to continue to give thanks this day is that the call to government violence against all Muslims, using “whatever means necessary,” was offered in the convoluted hypocrisy of a Christian, biblical literalism.
And it brought several thousand Baptist Christians in Dallas to their feet.
I’ll be honest. The sight of all those cheering Christians almost brought me to tears. I cannot bear the thought of a so-called “Christian” sanctuary filled with cheers and praise. The pastor says: bomb the hell out of them, just as Jesus said. The people cheer.
And the scripture says, “Jesus wept.”
I am still thankful for the Way of Jesus, because I still believe it can lead us to peace and justice. But in these days after Thanksgiving I’m aware, again, that it’s going to be a long road – and it’s not just because some Muslims are misguided radicals.
Art work by Alain Van den Hende