What if there was a conservative Christian organization that stated its opposition to the ideas of progressive groups — and then praised the intellectual strength of those same groups and lauded the professional achievements of the groups’ leaders? Wouldn’t that be a mark of thorough-going love, blessing, and tolerance, without compromising one’s own beliefs?
I’m referring to the words of Jesus Christ: “Love your enemies. Bless those who persecute you.”
Those commandments were never, ever, obeyed in the public rhetoric of the largest religious-right groups — while some of those Christian-conservative leaders still tell us how important the Bible is. This reveals the real purpose of the Bible in many religious-right groups. Put it this way: “If your only tool is a hammer, everything is a nail,” as a friend of mine, Dr. Archie Johnson, likes to say. The Bible is a hammer in many such groups, and people with differing views are the nails (not created beings who also bear the image of God).
Furthermore, for many churchgoers, “blessing” someone involves prayers and statements rather than practical action, so publicly complimenting worthy (even not-so-worthy) human opponents will probably never happen.
Other religions are having problems with tolerance, and in other countries, religious intolerance goes beyond words.
“Hindutva [Hindu nationalist] extremists stormed two Easter Sunday services and beat at least 16 Christians, including two pastors, in Karnataka’s state capital of Bangalore and in Shimoga district,” reported Compass Direct News on Tuesday.
Of course it’s not just India. Violence happens within the cultural confluences of our times, in places like The Netherlands. Today, in this Wall Street Journal op-ed column, Peter Hoekstra, ranking Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, wrote:
The Netherlands is bracing for a new round of violence at home and against its embassies in the Middle East. The storm would be caused by “Fitna,” a short film that is scheduled to be released this week. The film, which reportedly includes images of a Quran being burned, was produced by Geert Wilders, a member of the Dutch parliament and leader of the Freedom Party. Mr. Wilders has called for banning the Quran — which he has compared to Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” — from the Netherlands.
After concern about the film led Mr. Wilders’s Internet service provider to take down his Web site, Mr. Wilders issued a statement this week that he will personally distribute DVDs “On the Dam” if he has to. That may not be necessary, as the Czech National Party has reportedly agreed to host the video on its Web site.
Reasonable men in free societies regard Geert Wilders’s anti-Muslim rhetoric, and films like “Fitna,” as disrespectful of the religious sensitivities of members of the Islamic faith. But free societies also hold freedom of speech to be a fundamental human right. We don’t silence, jail or kill people with whom we disagree just because their ideas are offensive or disturbing….
In 1989, when so-called artist Andres Serrano displayed his work “Piss Christ” — a photo of a crucifix immersed in a bottle of urine — Americans protested peacefully and moved to cut off the federal funding that supported Mr. Serrano. There were no bombings of museums. No one was killed over this work that was deeply offensive to Christians.
Criticism of Islam, however, has led to violence and murder world-wide. Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for Muslims to kill Salman Rushdie over his 1988 book, “The Satanic Verses.”…
While numerous Muslims have moved into the Netherlands in recent years, the ultimate source of social and cultural change springs from the commitments of individual hearts. When real violence occurs, like the slaying of the Dutch filmmaker Theodoor van Gogh at the hands of an angry Muslim in 2004, it’s almost impossible to imagine how the call to love enemies and bless persecutors should relate to one’s obligation to protect child, spouse, and neighbor. Public policy gets sticky and difficult to navigate. But maybe there is some room on the margins of our experiences to risk loving and blessing people who represent a possible theat. That’s one way to get to someone’s heart, where real changes take place.
-Colin Foote Burch