I have struggled off and on throughout my life with the statement: “Christianity hasn’t failed. It just hasn’t been tried yet.”
Because over the centuries there have been individuals that took Jesus literally about not killing, even in self-defense. Many more have been willing to lay down their own lives by serving others. In my own times, I remember Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Corrie Ten Boom and her family, the lone unarmed Chinese student standing in front of a line of tanks, the students killed while protesting at Kent State.
There are unsung heroes that have given their lives in different ways for others in every century, of every gender, from every nation, religion and walk of life. In the 13th century when the church with the help of the King of France began a crusade to wipe out the Cathars, a heretical group in the Southwest of France, the Cathars’ Christian neighbors and friends tried to protect them by joining them when they sought sanctuary in the Cathedral at Beziers. Unfortunately, the “Christian” military leader decided to let God sort them out and burned the Cathedral down with both heretics and Christians inside it.
On the public stage three people come to mind immediately who changed governments by putting their lives on the line for justice and mercy without counting the cost. They inspired others to do the same. One, Gandhi, admired Jesus, but didn’t claim to follow him, though his actions spoke louder than his words. The other two, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela did claim to follow Jesus. None were perfect, but they all were willing to lay down their lives for others and not to return evil for evil. And they changed their worlds.
Frankly, when I look at history and listen to Jesus Christ, this is what true Christianity looks like to me. Yet most Christians cannot seem to accept the reality that not only was Jesus non-violent, but throughout history violence has never put an end to violence.
The main difference between Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King and militia protest groups now on our front pages is that the first three didn’t come to confrontations armed and Mandela came out of prison determined to lead people to forgive and reconcile.
The difference between Jesus and some of our loudest nominal Christians is that he invites, “Come and follow me.” He was never deluded, as centuries of Crusader Christians continue to be, that people can be forced to truly follow Him by law or fear or discrimination.
Who are the “bad” guys in your eyes? ISIS? Obama? Militia Groups? Gays who want to get married? Donald Trump? Muslims? Immigrants who take our jobs. American companies who out-source American jobs to foreign countries? Christians who want to deny other Americans religious freedom. Tea party members? Liberals who risk putting compassion for foreigners above Americans’ safety? Billionaire CEO’s of Conglomerates whose greed threatens America’s economic survival? Gun toting Christians who think violence is the answer to conflict of opinion? All of these are the “bad” guys in someone’s eyes.
As a follower of Jesus I’d like to think I’d risk my life at least for those I love or admire and hopefully for a helpless child. But Jesus died for the bad guys, everybody’s “bad” guys. Isn’t that a bummer?
I admit that I’m not there yet. But, I’m not comfortable with just accepting that. My struggle isn’t over. Maybe I haven’t really tried Christianity yet.
My father was a crusading newspaper editor in Houston, Texas. In the fifties, before the civil rights movement had begun to gain momentum, he publicly supported the first black to run for a position on the school board. This wasn’t about integration. It was just a matter of giving blacks some representation for their own schools. Late on the night of the election, someone set off a small, but potentially fatal bomb in the entrance hall to our apartment after ringing our doorbell. Though at that late hour I had enough sense to stop short of opening the door, I was close enough to recognize the danger and to feel the hatred it represented.
After marriage, I moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where I was part of a relatively affluent social group. One of my Candy Striper, hospital volunteer friends came to a party full of righteous indignation over being asked to carry a black newborn baby out to the car. More and more I began to feel like a misfit in the life I was leading. So, I looked for ways to concretely work for justice for the disenfranchised. I started by going to a black elementary school to tutor young children having problems learning to read. Eventually, I volunteered for Project Equality, which involved working in the NAACP offices, interviewing, and signing up people that were looking for employment. Then I would go back to my own neighborhood and approach business owners about employing the people I had interviewed. Needless to say, other than jobs for physical labor, I was unsuccessful in my attempts.
By this time, the Civil Rights movement was gaining momentum. I was working in the NAACP offices on the day the Poor Peoples’ March on Washington came through Nashville. The more extremist black groups were in the office that day. It began to seem to me that unless a miracle happened, we were headed for a bloody race war. In hind sight, Martin Luther King and his message of non-violent protest was that miracle.
I began to search for something that would change people, not just laws. I went back to college to study Psychology and could see that it did have the potential for changing people who wanted to change. But, that was the rub. Most people either have no desire to change or can’t admit they need help to change.
About this time a couple who were part of our group of friends, began to talk about Jesus at parties. You could see people moving away, when Judy and Earl came in the door. The next thing we knew, Earl had given up his job in the family business, they were selling their home, and soliciting donations to support them in a full time ministry of evangelism with Campus Crusade for Christ. Most of us figured it was a temporary aberration and hoped they had set up trust funds for their children’s educations.
But, in my heart of hearts, I envied them believing in something enough to give up at least their lifestyle for it.
(to be continued.)