When we read in the news about the ayatollahs of Iran, they are often labeled as intolerant, oppressive, and reactionary. When religious leaders of any faith, though, become embroiled in politics or assume power in government, tolerance and understanding are often their first victims. Pope Nicholas V, for example, authorized European nations to condemn Muslims and others to perpetual slavery. The personal excesses of the infamous Pope Alexander VI, Rodrigo Borgia, caused many a death and brought shame to the world of Christendom. Pope Paul IV oppressed the Jews and trampled on their human rights, forcing them to live within the walls of Ghetto. Sadly, religion and politics often don’t mix.
Victoria Barnett, author of Bystanders: Conscience and Complicity During the Holocaust, has observed that churches in mid-20th century Europe viewed positive values as ‘Christian’ while negative developments were attributed to ‘Jewish’ influences. Ominously, in the German Evangelical Church, “allegiance to the concept of Christendom was linked to a strong nationalism.” Such opinions may have led many Europeans to turn a blind eye to anti-Semitic attitudes and policies. Some Christian leaders declared publicly their opposition to Jews while others saw no reason to risk their reputation and personal well-being by helping them. “While innocent victims throughout Europe were being brutally murdered, Christian leaders were debating points of doctrine.”
A few days ago, 30 people were killed when insurgents in Afghanistan shot down a helicopter carrying American troops belonging to the unit that killed Osama bin Laden. Sadly, many religious people in the region will be praising God for his justice. Last year, the prominent atheist Christopher Hitchens was struck down with esophageal cancer. Sadly, Hitchens has been inundated with hate mail from supposed Christians who claim that the disease is a manifestation of God’s judgment. Recently, I heard a sermon in which the speaker, a talented and knowledgeable man, suggested that Britain lost its empire as a result of backtracking on the Balfour Declaration. When a nation turns against Israel, so the explanation goes, it faces the curse of God.
How can we tell a sheep from a wolf in sheep’s clothing? On the outside, they appear the same – even though, on the inside, they are very different. That can spell danger – especially when you are a sheep. Over time, despite its deception, a wolf, even when dressed in sheep’s clothing, can’t help but behave like a wolf; its actions give it away. This is why Jesus told his followers to observe carefully how others act: We can “identify people by their actions.” Not all are as they seem.
Today, at a popular American news site, it was reported that a stash of pornographic material was discovered in the compound of the recently assassinated Osama bin Laden. The news article quotes “US officials,” who noted that “the discovery of pornography taken during raids on Islamic militants is not uncommon.” What was the purpose of this news release by the US government? Was it to imply moral turpitude of our enemies? The revelation, for which no evidence has been forthcoming, has been met with a torrent of ridicule, obscene commentary, and condemnation, some from supposedly Christian circles, against not only Islamic militants but also adherents to the Islamic faith in general.
In today’s America, the most vocal Christians are right-wing and conservative in their politics. The Republican party spends hundreds of millions of dollars courting the votes of these Christians, and ‘Christian culture’ influences the party’s agenda. Increasingly, Christians are associated with policies such as support for the death penalty, the right to own a gun, and cutting support for welfare programs.
Years ago, I remember walking through the downtown area of a small city as a group of rowdy youths came toward me. Joking around, the youths pushed one of their number to the ground. While the others laughed and taunted him, the young person, bleeding and hurt, struggled to get back on his feet. Seeking to avoid any confrontation, I walked by rather quickly – unsure about how others in the group would react if I intervened. What I should have done was to stop and help the young man.
Darrel Falk is a professor of biology at Point Loma Nazarene University, a leading authority on evolutionary theory, and an evangelical Christian. Listening to his story, it’s painful to learn how evangelical churches refused to accept him into their fellowship simply because this learned academic believes in the scientific theory of evolution and teaches it to his students.
Just after the most recent presidential election, I came across some supposedly Christian websites that used very insulting names for the new president of the United States. Their invectives were filled with vitriol, and not an ounce of respect could be found in their writings.