Something very troubling to me happened last week at Liberty University. Liberty U. is the largest Christian-oriented school in the country with over 100,000 students in all programs. Their President is Jerry Falwell, Jr. His father founded the University. At a convocation designed to address how Christians should respond to recent terrorist attacks, Falwell is quoted as saying,
“If the people in that community (San Bernadino) had had what I have in my back pocket right now . . .” (he stopped that sentence and then continued) “If more good people had conceal carry permits then we can end those Muslims. I just want to encourage all of you to get your permit. We offer a free course. Let’s teach ‘em a lesson if they ever show up here.”
It is well-documented that hate speech normally precedes violence against whatever group is being discussed. For the first thousand years of Christianity, the relationship between Christians and Jews was tense and there were occasional acts of violence, but not on any large scale and not "sanctioned” by the church at-large. In the 12th century this began to change. A shift occurred in the church’s understanding of the Passion of Christ. Before, the emphasis was on the divine nature of Jesus and His triumph over death. Because of that, there was no emphasis on his killers. However, this began to change as the church started focusing its attention on the humanity of Jesus and His suffering and the pain of crucifixion. And before, his killers were almost always portrayed as Romans; now the killers of Christ were portrayed as Jews (maybe partly because Rome was the seat of the papacy?). The first large scale acts of violence coincided with the change in speech.
There were numerous other accounts from that time of large-scale attacks on Jews by Christians—the latest of which was by Adolph Hitler.
It is deeply troubling to me to hear of any Christian brothers and sisters, in the name of God, suggesting that the way of Jesus is to summarily kill other people. I can’t imagine that this is what Falwell had in mind when he said what he did, but he also has not walked those statements back.
I am even more troubled by the idea that this was a message to 18 to 22 year olds. Jerry Falwell, Jr. is entitled to his opinion. He seems to believe that all Muslims are enemies and that the way to solve our problem is to shoot them—in order to “teach ‘em a lesson.”
There is a growing sense of fear around us. This kind of fear has a tendency to take on a life and a momentum of its own.
Here’s the point—I find myself wanting to just stay quiet and say nothing. I don’t enjoy the idea of confrontations with those who profess to believe as I do. I don’t know how to have a conversation about how we differ without it all devolving into a shouting match. And so I worry that it takes its toll and causes me to stay quiet.
I am saddened that some of my Muslim friends feel a pressure to denounce every terrible thing that fringe groups or individuals do in the name of Islam. I don’t recall anyone ever asking me to speak out against the Westboro Baptist Church or the “Christian” who just shot up an abortion clinic. Westboro Baptist and groups like them are not representative of my faith. Neither was the lunatic who shot up the clinic. Nearly all rational people know this to be true. Likewise, there are over a billion Muslims in the world. They are not “one size fits all.” They are not all enemies.
Maybe what bothers me the most about Falwell’s speech is that it is a pitiful, scared man passing down that fear like an inheritance. Fear is contagious and it is capable of poisoning the Body of Christ just the same as it can poison any other group—so long as too many of us stay silent.
For the record, I defy ANY Christian leader to refute that love is the most powerful force in the universe and we know this because love was—and is—the way of Jesus.
The hope of a terrorist is that creating fear will accomplish two things: to either change us or to silence us. If and when we do either, the terrorists win. The Church knows what it has always known: “Light of the world, shine on me, love is the answer.”
PEACE ON EARTH
Kristin Clark-Banks is the pastor of Forest Hills UMC.