In the last piece of this series I’d like to share about how our reckless reactions to terrorism negatively influence our witness to the world.
How hysteria and hostility smother our witness
We fear loss of power, money, safety, so we wrap ourselves in insulation. What we should fear is suffocating in the insulation. Scott Bessenecker
Fear is the enemy of mission. When the Church is swept along with the current of hysterical rhetoric, not only does it steal our personal and national abundance, it robs our testimony. What more could the Father of Hate hope for than a Church that circles its wagons and points its weapons outward at anything that moves in the surrounding darkness? We can’t very well win the world and war with it at the same time! Barricaded behind impenetrable walls of ethnocentrism isn’t exactly what Jesus had in mind for the Church he left in charge of advancing his loving kingdom.
“Many Christians in the Middle East who are truly facing persecution or even execution by Islamic militants proclaim that they are willing to forgive and want their persecutors to come to the Lord. It is as if the real life and death situation they are in forces them to look to Jesus Christ as a model of how to behave. Meanwhile in the West, where the chances of being killed by an Islamic militant are extremely low, the language of many Christians is one of fear and revenge. Could it be that we are actually so secure we don’t allow the teachings of the gospel to override the cultural messages we are being bombarded with in our countries?” (Patrick Nachtigall, Missionary to Muslims)
Ironically enough, it was a Syrian invasion about which the Jews were terrified when Isaiah preached to them: “Don’t call everything a conspiracy, like they do, and don’t live in dread of what frightens them!” Isaiah 8:12 The Message Bible clarifies it: “Don’t be like this people, always afraid somebody is plotting against them. Don’t fear what they fear. Don’t take on their worries.”
“Conspiracies… always afraid somebody is plotting against them… Don’t fear what they fear…” Does this sound at all familiar?
Peter quoted this very same passage to urge his readers that, instead of being fearful of them, they should share the gospel with their enemies respectfully and gently.
“But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.’ But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” 1 Peter 3:14-15
Simply put, “Don’t let your fears keep you from sharing your faith with those who don’t like you!”
It’s not only for our own sakes, but also for the sake of our world, that we have to manage our fears and control our anger about evil people. Otherwise, our testimony is lost to them. And what kind of testimony is it when we’re so mastered by malice and apprehension that we hold all Muslims or all refugees or all Americans who disagree with us at arm’s distance?
It’s clear that panic and hostility has drained our compassion for the innocent victims of terrorism (widows, orphans, and refugees). It’s impossible to feel someone’s pain and hate them at the same time! From the Christian community the loudest voice I hear is one of antipathy instead of empathy for the non-combatant countrymen of terrorists. This is not the voice of the God of compassion.
Many of our Western news sources focus constantly on fear as a marketing tactic in order to stay relevant and keep their ratings up. Sex isn’t the only thing that sells. Fear sells too! Shouldn’t we be more discerning about the fear mongering propagandizing that we buy into, if for no other reason than for the sake of the Great Commission?
One source defines a “demagogue” as a “political agitator who appeals with crude oratory to the prejudice and passions of the mob.” Based on this, some of our politicians qualify for overachievement awards in demagoguery.
One such stump speechifier who professes faith in Jesus should be embarrassed to have said that he would to turn away Syrian refugees in our country all the way down to orphans under five years old! Talk about an irrational overreaction. You can tell when fear has taken root when you’re scared of orphaned toddlers!
Mark it down as a win for the Father of Terror when he can put entire cultures into a state of hysteria. He wins when, consumed with self-preservation, whole segments of our American population can’t locate even a vestige of compassion in their hearts for innocent children escaping with their lives. Their Bible version must say, “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘If you’re not from around here and look dangerous, stay in your own country and starve!’”
If we can’t muster any love for the actually dangerous terrorist, might we find it in our Christ-indwelt hearts to show compassion to the innocent bystanders from their countries? How can we, in good conscience, allow ourselves the luxury of malice toward those whose only crime is being born in the wrong place at the wrong time in history?
In second and third centuries the plague ravaged the Roman Empire. Rather than fleeing the plagued cities, many Christians considered it their duty to stay and take care of the sick, not only their own, but Roman pagans. It’s been estimated that providing food, water, and shelter might well have cut the mortality rate of the epidemic by two-thirds or more. The Christians who did this knew full well that they could get sick and die, and many of them did! This was during times of Roman terrorism against Christians, and yet our spiritual ancestors opted to serve to the death rather than sequester themselves against the danger!
In 1956 five missionary families went to evangelize previously unreached Ecuadorian headhunters. In one day all five of the men were speared to death while trying to bring the gospel to them. When Steve Saint asked his dad as he boarded his plane for the last time, “If the Waodani attack, will you defend yourself? Will you use your guns?” Nate Saint replied, “Son, we can’t shoot the Waodani. They’re not ready for heaven. We are!” They were all martyred that very day. That’s what I call being governed by the Word and will of God more than by hysteria and hostility!
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I know I’ve used a lot of words to try to convince you, my friends in Christ, to respond to the terrors of terrorism in a way that I believe is a more biblical way. It’s a hot topic right now in our American conversation and you may not agree with everything or even anything I’ve said. You’re absolutely welcome to offer any and all respectful and thoughtful pushback. But if you do love Jesus and his Word, I hope you’ll at least ask him what he thinks about this issue and how he might help you think his thoughts after him. Blessings.
Rather than blog any further thoughts of mine on this (at least for now) I’m going to do some audio podcasts, one of which is based on the pastoral teaching from Psalm 52 that I gave to our church in Santa Cruz the Sunday after 9/11.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how Jesus followers should think and act in these days of terror…