Sunday, July 10, 2005

Another Tidal Wave of Compassion and Cowardice

In a commencement address at Wheaton College in 2002 (I suggest reading all of it), John Piper commented:

"The events of September 11 last year unleashed in the Christian community a tidal wave of compassion and cowardice. The compassion at ground zero and beyond has been beautiful, and is owing to the life that remains in the tree of conviction concerning Jesus Christ. The cowardice is owing to the fact that for many the root of the tree of conviction has been severed. A long time before September 11, the ax of unbelief had been laid to the root of conviction and the withering of courage was predicable. The cowardice I have in mind, of course, is not the daring of Todd Beamer on United Flight 93 over Pennsylvania (class of '91). The cowardice I have in mind is the fear in the hearts of Christian clergy to make the supremacy of Jesus Christ central in the public, religious events that followed the calamity, especially when Muslims were present. When Jesus Christ himself, the crucified God-man and the Lord of glory, is made subordinate to the cultivation of amicable, patriotic, religious feeling, he is crucified afresh on the altar of clerical cowardice. It was a sad spectacle."

The same sort of reaction, though probably worse overall, is occurring now in response to the recent events in England. There's not as much discussion of the religious differences between Christianity and Islam. That discussion took place in 2001, and there's now a general consensus that we're better off focusing on the similarities between the two religions, without the differences being emphasized as much. And any discussion of God's judgment, such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson suggested in 2001, is far from most people's minds. A template was put in place in 2001, and it's being followed again.

As you read the examples below, keep the larger societal context in view. There are some elements of truth in some of the comments made in these articles I'm quoting, particularly if you interpret the comments in the best way conceivable. But we ought to ask, why should we interpret the comments in the best way conceivable? Is modern society so doctrinally discerning, so theologically careful, so concerned to please God, that we should assume the best motives? No. Though some of the comments I'll be quoting below could possibly be interpreted in a way that would be consistent with a Biblical worldview, let's be realistic. Most of the people making these comments probably don't hold much of a Biblical worldview, and any interpretation of their words that assumes such a worldview is likely inaccurate.

Notice how there's often an attempt to distinguish between a false form of Islam and a true form, with the suggestion that true Islam is radically different and shouldn't be called a false religion. Notice the comments suggesting that only Islam can address these issues, without any mention of how Christians should evangelize these Muslims. Even if the people making these comments don't intend people to interpret them in such a way, couldn't they be more clear in what they're saying? Is it just a coincidence that clarity seems to so often be absent in times like these, and that religious leaders often choose words that can be interpreted in a variety of ways, including ways that have highly misleading implications? Given the societal context of our day, is the behavior on the part of professing Christian leaders, described below, wise? Even if some of what these religious leaders are doing could be acceptable under some circumstances, there's a difference between what can be done and what should be done.

Some of the comments below can't possibly be given a positive interpretation. Why are Christian pastors inviting non-Christian religious leaders to enter their pulpit, so to speak, and lead their sheep astray? As we read these news accounts of the religious reaction to the London bombings, why do we rarely, if ever, see even the faintest glimmer of the gospel, even when allegedly Christian church services are being described?

"Meanwhile, the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Henry Grunwald QC, together with the Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks attended an emergency meeting of the capital's faith leaders with Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary. A spokesman said: 'During the meeting it was agreed that there should be a clear message to all that the faith communities in London will continue to work together to promote good communal relations in the UK....The Dean and Chapter at St Paul's are in discussion with various bodies about a service in the near future for both the City and the nation to remember those involved." (VirtueOnline)

"Bishop Chartres said the presence of Christians, Muslims, Jews and Sikhs at the service was 'a sign of our unity in mourning and our resolve not to be set against one another'. Rabbi Mark Solomon sang a Jewish prayer for the dead as a memorial candle was lit for victims of the blasts and Dr Fatma Amer of the Muslim Council of Britain read a prayer....In another show of religious unity, five of Britain's most senior religious leaders are due to release a joint statement about the religious implications of the bombings. They are: Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Free Churches Moderator Dr David Coffey, Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks and Chair of the Council of Mosques and Imams, Sheikh Dr Zaki Badawi." (BBC News)

"Revulsion against the perpetrators has united those of all faiths and none. Amid the carnage and death, that unity is one augury of hope....These challenges [within Islam] can only be solved by the Islamic community itself. But the vast majority of Muslims who live with the decent and humane tradition of Islam must engage in that debate. This is the only strategy that will support the much-needed debate and transformation within Islam." (Guardian Unlimited)

"'The people who carried out these monstrous acts with chilling efficiency and forethought are believed to have acted in the name of religion,' said the cardinal, before asking: 'Who is their god? It is not the God who revealed himself to Moses and Jacob; nor the God who, in Jesus Christ, walked this earth and died and rose to save humanity; nor the God worshipped by the Muslim people, who is almighty and merciful,' he said." (Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor)