In recent weeks, considerable controversy has been sparked by the video trailer for a childish, amateurish production entitled Innocence of Muslims. In this almost spoof-like movie, the prophet Muhammad is pictured as a violent, unprincipled, pedophilic philanderer. Clearly, the intent of the movie was to provoke reaction, and indeed it has led to violent protests in many predominantly Muslim countries. A minister in the government of Pakistan offered a substantial financial reward to anyone who kills the film’s producer. In the words of one religious leader, the minister’s views “represent the true spirit of Islam” – while such a statement might be disputed by millions of more peace-loving Muslims.
Similarly provocative and often crude works of art have denigrated the person of Christ. In Terrence McNally’s play Corpus Christi: Playing with Redemption, the character Jesus participates in gay sex with his disciples. A photograph entitled Piss Christ, winner of several awards and recipient of public funding in the USA, “depicts a small plastic crucifix submerged in a glass of the artist’s urine.” Elephant dung and pornographic images adorn the virgin Mary in a painting by Chris Ofili. The spirit of Christ prevails, however, and no violent protests have surrounded the release of these offensive artistic statements.
Jesus’ exhortation to his followers is clear: We are to be peacemakers, and not to resist an evil person but to offer the other cheek. Jesus knew that we would be hated solely for following him – yet he urges us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. Jesus’ Kingdom is not of this world, so we must not pursue violence even in the face of the most cruel and unfair opposition.
Sadly, some individuals choose to ignore the teachings of Christ and pursue violence against those in society who contest Christian teaching and attitudes. Eric Rudolph, in addition to killing innocent bystanders at the Olympic Games in Atlanta, attacked an abortion clinic and a lesbian nightclub. In a written deposition, he claimed that such actions were warranted because of the “legalization of abortion” and “aberrant sexual behavior.” But such actions run contrary to the love of Christ, which demands that we do all we can to “live in peace with everyone” – something at which we must work daily.
In Gandhi, An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments With Truth, we read that “an eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.” In Gandhi, Portrayal of a Friend, the Christian missionary E. Stanley Jones went further: The opponent strikes you on your cheek, and you strike him on the heart by your amazing spiritual audacity in turning the other cheek. You wrest the offensive from him by refusing to take his weapons, by keeping your own, and by striking him in his conscience from a higher level. He hits you physically, and you hit him spiritually. This is the true spirit of Christ.