We all have our inconsistencies and contradictions to wrestle through. We piece together our lives as best we can, refitting as we learn and grow. So what I say here is offered with mercy and a deep desire that a small vibration may be added to the early but growing wave that there is something amiss at the core of Christianity.
Besides being influential and sincere spokespeople for Christianity, what do Charles Stanley, Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson have in common? All have encouraged the use of sanctioned violence to destroy, "take out," or otherwise terminate "our enemies." (Also, because of his recent article I include Canada’s own Michael Coren here.)
Something else they have in common is the doctrine that salvation comes through the substitutionary death of Jesus that gave full satisfaction to the justice of God for our sins; and accepting these terms is what saves. A version of this will have been the message of the Franklin Graham Festival in Winnipeg this weekend.
I have no issue with these Festivals. (You may remember when they called them crusades.) Sometimes they have a kind of cranking-out-converts feel but there are good-hearts behind all this effort.
This weekend’s Franklin Festival however attracted additional attention and was covered by CTV and CBC. Some humanitarians along with some Mennonites staged a minor protest outside the stadium because of comments Graham has made about Islam.
This is what is on record: In 2002 Graham said that the USA should use weapons of mass destruction–if needed–to "destroy the enemy." Two years later, he told NBC News: "We’re not attacking Islam, but Islam has attacked us. I believe it is a very evil and wicked religion." Somewhere around this time we have Christianity Today’s editor David Neff giving this advice: "Those who want Graham to stop condemning Islam should stop asking him to explain himself."
And in a June 2006 interview, Graham said: "There’s a lot of evil in the world today. And I’m not saying that the Muslims have a hold on that, there were many things we did wrong in the name of Christianity, but Jesus did not say go out and kill your enemy." The suggestion here is that Islam condones murder and Christianity doesn’t.
In Graham’s defence he has since clarified and softened his position, however he still leaves earlier comments unexplained. It may be unfair here because of the distance of time to bring up Franklin’s father’s discussion with Nixon; but it is in context. In effect, the White House tapes in the National Archives have Billy Graham sharing anti-Semitic remarks with Nixon and discussing the idea of using atomic bombs in Vietnam.
In Franklin Graham’s appeal for understanding he points out that extremists within Islam have committed atrocities. This is true and should not be overlooked or dismissed. But it’s also a diversion from a critical point. The point is, and what I find distressing as a fellow Christian of Graham, Stanley, Coren et al, is their sincere belief that there really is a theological allowance for killing enemies in the face of Jesus’ pronouncement otherwise. They still believe that there is such a thing as redemptive violence and that this good, redemptive, sanctioned violence can cast out bad violence.
Now the way this is most often gotten around is concluding that there is no moral equivalency between government and individuals. So in other words, Jesus would have had no issue with an elected body militarizing a willing segment of the Jewish population to violently liberate themselves from the Romans as long as any unenlisted individuals didn’t do the killing.
This I suppose is a reasonable stand when you believe that the gospel message can be partitioned–that Jesus was not speaking to government bodies or societies, only individuals. So, Jesus is Lord…of a segment! The greater part of Christendom has been blind to this two-sphere gospel application since Constantine. Today this goes unquestioned within much of North American Evangelicalism.
What we have then is a strange kind of evangelical-animal. On the one hand there is energy and compassion for the well-being of people’s hearts and souls. What’s more–and this needs to be applauded–there is a growing social-care aspect of evangelicalism that works for relief of impoverished and sick and AIDS plagued people through projects like Graham’s Samaritans Purse. But on the other hand there is a glaring disconnection which allows and even actively encourages the use of violence to make the world safe for Christianity.
So how is it possible that this ambidextrous creature has come to be understood as traditional Christianity? In my view (and I suppose I’ll be banging this drum until the end, or until I can be shown otherwise), it’s primarily because of a misinterpretation of the Old Testament and parts of the New Testament. A misunderstanding that results in a mapping-on of a sacrificial justice-desiring "Father" God to the non-sacrificial mercy-desiring "Son of God". Only this kind of ill-fusion allows for the destruction of enemies while preaching peace and love of enemies.