There has been a lot of interweb chatter following the recent speech by President Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast. I know, because my social media feeds are blowing up with conversation about it. Mostly they take offense to the statement that he made regarding ISIS. He reminded us that we should not be too quick to equate violence in the name of religion with Islam or certain peoples in another corner of the world. After all, we Christians have a lot of skeletons in our own historic closet.
A large number of Christians I love and respect have been circulating this response from Franklin Graham. He said:
“Today at the National Prayer Breakfast, the President implied that what ISIS is doing is equivalent to what happened over 1000 years ago during the Crusades and the Inquisition,” Graham wrote. “Mr. President — Many people in history have used the name of Jesus Christ to accomplish evil things for their own desires. But Jesus taught peace, love and forgiveness.”
“[Jesus] came to give His life for the sins of mankind, not to take life. Mohammad on the contrary was a warrior and killed many innocent people,” Graham asserted. “True followers of Christ emulate Christ — true followers of Mohammed emulate Mohammed.”
I just want to say so many things right now. I want to write a whole treatise on how our own scriptures are full of violence in the name of God, so we really can’t point fingers. I want to point out how this very statement attacking Islam and Obama are evidence that Graham doesn’t understand how to follow Christ. I want to outline how violence is a human condition, and no people group is exempt (what Obama was trying to get at) and that the language of ‘US’ and ‘THEM’ is unhelpful. I really want to point out how these comments are predicated on the assumption that we are right and they are wrong, and the assumption that we would NEVER do anything so atrocious.
However, all that will only stir up the pot. Instead I am going to talk about the year my parents almost got a divorce.
December 27th was my parents 45th anniversary. They are pretty amazing, my parents. Their marriage is one I want to aspire to. It is pretty amazing. However, the year before I was conceived, they almost got a divorce. Dad had just started as the pastor of this little charismatic Mennonite church. (think hippy, not Amish). Mom and dad started having issues. It had a lot to do with the assumptions they made about how each other should behave. Dad would tell mom he’d be home around 6, and then someone would come to the church to talk with him, and he’d not call my mom to tell her he’d be late. Or, he would bring people home without a heads up, expecting mom to accommodate them for dinner. There were other things too, I am sure mum did things that were not thoughtful. Then fights would ensue. Inevitably there would be accusations, barbs, and then “If you loved me, you would…..”
There was an older couple in the church, Jonas and Mary Claussen. I remember them. They were like my substitute grandparents. They had this fun marble track. They cared for us. Mary’s funeral was the first I remember. They were remarkable. I could probably fill up a complete blog post with how amazing they were, and all the ways they changed our lives, but that is not the point. The point here is that Jonas and Mary set my parents straight. They sat down with a young Wally and Sue and addressed the way they were talking to each other. “You keep saying ‘If you loved me…’ and fundamentally this attacks the other person. You both know you love each other, that is why you got married in the first place. But each time you say “If you loved me…” you are attacking this assumption. You are telling the other person that you doubt their love. This drives a wedge between each other. Stop saying ‘if’ and try something that affirms the love. Say “This behavior hurt me. Since you love me, can you try and change?” and “I recognize that my behavior has hurt you. Since I love you, I will work to change this, and apologize for causing you pain.” My parents began to put this in practice, and it revolutionized their marriage, and a short time later this bundle of splendidness wended its ginger-haired way into the world. See. Aren’t we cute?
Here’s the thing I want to challenge my Christian brother and sisters to do. Stop saying ‘IF’. No more “IF you are Muslim you are violent because you follow a warrior.” No more “If you were a good Christian you would be against x and for y.” No more “If you love Jesus you will vote for candidate x or policy y.”
Start saying “Since.”
Since I am trying to be a disciple of Christ, I will be known for loving freely and deeply, even the unlovable.
Since Jesus was for peace and forgiveness, I will strive to make peace wherever I am, and I will choose to forgive, even if my sensibilities are offended.
Since Jesus set a standard for me, and loved me enough to sacrifice for me, I will choose to live like him to the best of my abilities.
Since Jesus taught us to, I will give what I have to care for those in need.
Since I am not without sin, I will not cast the first stone.
I keep remembering the confessional booth in Don Miller’s seminal “Blue Like Jazz.” What if we humbly confessed to the ‘sins’ Obama laid at our doorstep? What if this is what Franklin Graham had said?
“Since we, as followers of Jesus, can look back at ways that we have misused God’s name as an excuse to hurt others, we understand how hurt, anger, desire for control can infuse our desire to please God. Our President reminded us that we are capable of horrors, so we cannot condemn the acts of ISIS without repenting first. We stand with our Islamic brothers and sisters, who walk this earth with us, and whom God created and loves, just as he does us, and grieve for the ways religion and faith are being used to hurt those who don’t agree with us. We repent for the times that our hubris and pride have blinded us to how we cause pain. We call for ISIS to remember the preciousness of the life that God has given, and ask that you join us in trying to be a demonstration of the Sacrificial Love of God in our world. Since we are asking this of others, we commit ourselves to being people of love, peace, and forgiveness in our homes, communities, and world, just as Jesus calls us to.”
Can we be Since people, and not just semantically, but for real?