Mass murders, gruesome decapitations, and bombings mark headlines seemingly non-stop. ISIS and other Islamic extremist groups have made it clear that they want nothing but the destruction of Western civilization and the implementation of Sharia law. It is an aggressive and violent program to bring others into submission, to assert control and power over their enemies. Christians have been no strangers to the persecution that follows groups like this. Many have lost their lives because they refused to bow the knee and denounce Christ.
Seeing this reality has caused many Christians to be alarmed at any and all Islamic groups, painting them as a homogenous group with the same agenda. Influential voices, like that of Franklin Graham, have communicated concern for the future if Islam is allowed more power and Christian influence in the American culture continues to wane. In fact, Franklin Graham recently said, “I believe it’s going to get worse, and we see no question gaining influence in Washington by those that represent the Islamic faith. We do have a problem in this country and we are losing our religious freedom and we’re losing it a little bit day by day.”
Let us pretend for a moment that Islam is a homogenous group (a very unfounded claim) and that Graham’s concern for our religious freedoms in this country are being attacked, diminished, and eradicated. Let us imagine that all of Islam has the same goal and that goal is domination of Western culture, elimination of Christians, and the imposition of Sharia law on all peoples. That is a legitimate claim for at least some Muslims, but let us assume for the moment it is true of all Muslims.
It is ironic that Graham denounces the imposition of another religion’s system of laws while lobbying for Christians to employ the same tactics to ensure our power and our rights. The jihad-like call to return to a “Christian nation” resound from many Evangelical leaders, including Graham. If we can only get enough voter turnout, then security and the maintenance of our “freedom” will be ensured. While Islamic extremist groups evangelize at the point of a sword, Graham is calling for a Crusade of his own. The methodology between the two isn’t extremely different because they are both based on a will to power and a hope in political systems to achieve their goals.
As a pastor, I find it deplorable that so many of people within the Church have given ear to this kind of thinking. It isn’t inherently Christian. The will to power, the desire to protect our rights, and the perception that freedom is achieved through a political process is misguided and misplaced. If Christian still means to follow the life and example of Jesus, then we need to reconsider again what it means to be the imago Dei (image of God).
First, how we use power is of great importance. God demonstrates the way power is intended to be used. It is not through domination but through humble obedience and kenotic (emptying) service to others. This is the way of the Cross and the Kingdom of God. Pilate asks Jesus if he is a king. Jesus is cryptic, but says that if his Kingdom was like that of Rome and others his followers would defend it with the sword. But, that’s not the kind of politics Jesus is enacting. Jesus doesn’t make the move to will power. Instead, he gives it away. Ironically, in giving it away Jesus receives all power. But, again, it is not a power to dominate but a power of dominion (proper ordering), stewardship, holy-love, and compassion. That is power.
Second, I find the use of “rights” language problematic. “Rights” are assumed to be something that I possess, own. This language tends to revolve around the individual, thus denying our need for the social. And, where my “rights” are in conflict with another’s “rights,” they must be defended at all costs, lest I be trampled under foot by the world. Because it isolates the individual as the sole possessor of these particular rights, we also negate our contingent and dependent nature. Not only are we social creatures, but we are also not the Creator! Our life is not a “right.” It is a gift. And, should we lose our life, the One who gives life is able to restore it – even from the depths of Sheol.
We are reminded in Philippians 2 that Jesus empties himself, not considering equality with God something to be grasped, and humbles himself unto obedience – even to death on a cross. His very death that does not grasp and cling to his own life is what brings life to us. As the Christian community, we are constantly called to “daily pick up our cross and follow Jesus.” If we have any “rights,” they are not to be grasped and held onto with such tenacity and fear.
Finally, the idea that freedom is dependent upon a political process is sadly mistaken. The reality of persecution is all too real for many in the world. I don’t diminish the sacrifice that many make by giving their lives while giving faithful witness to Christ. However, these martyrs demonstrate what freedom in Christ really is all about! Paul and Silas sing in prison after being beaten! Peter testifies to Jesus’ work and ministry before being crucified upside down. John is exiled to the island of Patmos because he proclaimed Jesus is Lord, not Caesar.
The early Church, and many since then, have been those that did not have “freedom” in the political sense, yet demonstrated profound freedom in Jesus to love as Jesus had loved them. Their lives proclaimed forgiveness, healing, mercy, and love that even extended to their enemies. After Christians became a separate movement outside of Judaism, they experienced intense suffering and persecution. They often did not have political or social clout or power. They were branded atheists and threats to national security. Yet, the Christians persisted in loving those society did not deem worthy. They served the poor, the sick, and the hungry.
They embodied a new social ethic that enacted peace, extended mercy, and manifested love in tangible ways to friend and foe alike. Few can deny the profound impact the Church had on its surrounding world, even while they had no power or freedom of which to speak or protect. We can learn a great deal from our heritage on the means for engaging the world as cross-bearers embodying a new way to live in the world. The freedom to love, pray for, and do good to our enemies is also freedom from a life entrenched in fear of the future.
You may find the above Franklin Graham quotes here: http://insider.foxnews.com/2015/03/08/rev-franklin-graham-christian-persecution-we-are-losing-our-religious-freedom