Christianity 201

May 27, 2012

Many of Us are Guilty of Religious Violence

Or should that “many” actually say “all?”

While sourcing an image for the second of two posts today at Thinking Out Loud, I ended up at Wilderness Wanderings, the blog of Jon, pastor of Lights of the Canyon (LOTC) United Methodist Church in Anaheim Hills, California.  There were a number of great devotional posts there, but this one got my attention; he titled it Sticks and Stones.

Matthew 23:29-39

New International Version (NIV)

29 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? 34 Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. 35 And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.

37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Jesus said a lot of things that make me uncomfortable. This scripture passage from Matthew is a case in point. Jesus passionately criticizes (perhaps “condemns” is not even too strong a word) the scribes and the Pharisees. Jesus’ says that they are complicit in killing the prophets of old. This is impossible, of course, because none of the people that Jesus is speaking to were alive during the age of the prophets. Jesus, knowing that he himself is going to be crucified soon, and knowing also that many of his followers will face persecution, is pointing out the scribes and the Pharisees complicity in those acts of violence.

Since this subject is disconnected from us at LOTC, we talked yesterday about violence in general (physical, emotional and spiritual) that people perpetuate in the name of God. The point I really wanted to communicate was that we are all guilty, to one degree or another, of the sin of the scribes and Pharisees. We have all committed a degree of religious violence at some time in our lives. Whether we passionately criticize someone for their beliefs, whether we lean on the tried and true technique of just calling people names, or whether we simply look down on other people, we are doing violence to the gospel.

Yesterday, I shared about my experience in college and in seminary. Another experience that I had in college that speaks to this issue involved our rivalry with Biola University. At the first Westmont/Biola basketball game in our gym, the fans from Biola held up letter signs that ultimately spelled out a word. Their sign read l-i-b-e-r-a-l-s. I was surprised by two things. First, that there was a place that thought Westmont was liberal. But, I was also surprised that the Biola students chose a theological critique at a basketball game. Not to be outdone, when Westmont visit Biola later that season, students held up the following letter signs; l-e-g-a-l-i-s-t-s. And the debate raged on.

It seems sometimes that Christians are more eager than we should be to be critical of others, when perhaps our “go to” response should involve love and compassion first and asking questions later.

~Jon Wesley Waterson