The biggest headline dominating the news around the world this past week has been about Rev. Terry Jones, pastor of a church in Florida, United States, and his plans to hold an international day to burn copies of the Qur’an. The repercussions around this act have grown progressively and exponentially, as protesters in Pakistan, Afghanistan and across the Middle East expressed their fury, president Obama urged the reverend to reconsider and cancel the event, and at least 11 countries condemned the event. Today, a mob has attacked a school in India, apparently as a form of retaliation.
This seems like a ripe moment for us to confess the stupid things Christians do. The actions of the reverend are, by any standard, profoundly against the Master he set out to confess, who urged people to love friends, neighbors, and enemies, who died on behalf of those who persecuted him, and who asked God on the cross to forgive those who were crucifying him. Rev. Jones seems more motivated by political ideology than by a clear grasp of the gospel of Jesus, and I, for one, would not mind if he were quietly abducted by a SWAT team and left blindfolded in downtown Kabul, even for a day…
We cannot judge any group, or religion, by the lonely weirdos in it, of course, but we still have to own and confess sins made in the name of Christ. Christians have done wrong, stupid, and shameful things. The list is not small, and it must surely grieve God to the core and makes he want to vomit: defense of slavery, wrong wars, oppression of women and ethnic minorities, colonialism, religious intolerance, elitism, clericalism, forced conversions, anti-Semitism, obstruction of scientific progress, prejudice of gays, massacres of native peoples, complacency before violence done by governments such as during the Holocaust or the Apartheid.
Surely, so many of the wrong actions Christians have done in the past were performed with other motivations dressed with religious language. The medieval crusades motivated soldiers with Christian rhetoric and downplayed the geographical expansiveness behind the efforts, for instance, as happened with the discovery of the Americas and the division of Africa among European powers. The Holy Inquisition was arguably more about the Church’s power and control than about a loving intent of caring for people. And, if I may add, the actions of Rev. Jones, and George W. Bush’s war against Iraq (sorry if this offends any American nationalist friend…), if done with any pretense to Christian justification, did so by confusing democracy with the gospel, freedom with salvation, America with God’s people. The worst of Christian acts were always committed at moments when the teachings of Jesus were confused with, or substituted by, some current ideology.
So may this moment lead us to true, wholehearted, contrite, genuine, purifying repentance. May we acknowledge our mistakes, ask God for redemption and ask one another for forgiveness, and beg God for the grace to become better people and to do differently in the future. And may we seek to understand the message of Christ better and distill it from alien ideologies, and to get to know the man who, if he appeared in downtown Kabul, or Karachi, or Baghdad, or London, who not be a promoter of conflict, but would win people’s hearts immediately.