Light Doesn’t Hide From Darkness: On Christian Isolationism


DSC01668For the past thirty years, the Religious Right claimed that the US government and liberals are doing all they can to persecute Christians. The rational response is that such persecution does not exist (unless you’re Todd Starnes and just make stuff up). However, since 2001 religious persecution has existed in the United States. Many people, especially right-wing aligned Christians, have done all they could do in order to persecute Muslims. We can recall the controversy over the “Ground Zero Mosque” that forced developers to abandon their plans. Recently, however, a gun shop owner received praise by proponents on the right for refusing to allow Muslims to enter her store. Her criteria for if someone is a Muslim is if they have an Arab-sounding name. Even Texas’ state representative Molly White forced Muslims to declare allegiance to the United States before they could enter her office.

With recent events, of course, there’s a real reason to fear extreme Islam. After all, though ISIL and Boko Haram weren’t created in vacuums and there’s certainly a cause to their reaction, they are still Islamic-based and it’s worrisome. These are violent groups and we’re right to worry about extremism in any religion (or political ideology). Regardless, does such a concern justify treating all Muslims with disdain?

Leaving aside the political and legal quagmire of discrimination and privately-owned businesses, let us look at how Christians should respond to Muslims (or others). As Christians we of course acknowledge that Islam is wrong, that it is a heresy of Christianity. In fact, it was St. John of Damascus, writing under the Caliphate, that stated Islam was a heresy of Christianity. We do not embrace Islam and find it to be false. There’s nothing wrong with disagreement and such disagreement can create very healthy, interesting, and challenging discussions with Muslim friends. Why, then, do we isolate ourselves?

Sadly, Muslims aren’t the only targets of Christian isolationism. Throughout history many have faced the wrath of Christian isolationism. Martin Luther encouraged the German princes to oust all the Jews from The Holy Roman Empire, even if they converted. At other times it was witches. The Moors faced great persecution in Isabella’s Spain. Even Africans had much to worry about from Christians (even though the Pope declared slavery heretical and was defied by the European powers). Native Americans, American slaves, and many other groups felt the wrath of Christian isolationism, while few Christians stood for the ostracized and brutalized people.

Leaving aside the legal arguments for whether or not someone can or should deny service to another person, let’s look at the Christian perspective. Should a Christian refuse a Muslim – or anyone for that matter – service at his business? A very quick look at Christ’s life gives the obvious answer: No.

One can serve others without partaking in their respective sins or beliefs. After all, Jesus did it quite a bit. He still partook in the Temple gatherings even though the Pharisees dictated the rules. He still attended feasts where sinners were very present. He still drank with prostitutes and laughed with tax collectors. While Jesus did not own a business, he displayed his message in a very clear manner. He also called on Christians to duplicate what he did:

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16 ESV)

The point being Christians are to be a light and to serve others in all instances. How does that work as a business owner? If you deny services to a certain group of people then how are you being a light to them? How are they seeing your light if their only interaction with you is to face rejection?

Matthew 16:18 has Jesus telling Peter that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church. The funny thing about gates is that they don’t move, they don’t charge into battle, they just stand still. For gates to prevail means they’re being attacked and pushed against. To not prevail it means that attackers have broken through the gates. For too long Christians have used this passage to justify believing that hell won’t conquer them, but they have it the wrong way around; hell has no choice but to be conquered by the Church. Hells gates stand not because they are properly fortified, but because too many Christians hide away in fear from them and refuse to charge in.

Jesus was a friend to all those who needed it. In Matthew 9 he points out that it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. It is after that when he says, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” We who claim Christ must acknowledge that we, too, are sinners. That without Christ we are no different than any group we wish to malign; all are lost in darkness and violence.

Christ came to save all. Those of us who have embraced Christ, imperfect though we are, are still called to be light to the darkness. We can’t be light if we seek to segregate ourselves from the darkness. In order for light to matter it must permeate within the darkness. In order for gates to fall they must be attacked by an invading force. And in order to see Muslims come to Christ, they must interact with Christians, and sometimes that includes your place of business.

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A Story of Christmas or, Sin and the Nativity


IMG_1029A friend sent this to me explaining a dream he had. I shall keep him anonymous and simply post what he wrote

Enter into the temple of creation, see its glorious ruins. We humans are a paradoxical people, enjoying the beauty around us while destroying it. This war against nature extends beyond the realm of ecology, beyond what toxins may contaminate; it extends beyond our bullets and our bombs launched at one another in misguided hatred; it extends beyond the self-mutilation of our psyche, beyond the civil war that rages inside everyone. Our war goes out beyond the realm of our universe, beyond our ontological barriers. Our struggle is one against Reality Himself.

We who wallow in darkness fear the light, for it brings pain to our shadowed eyes. We react to the light by running into the dark. We ask, “Whence is this light in our darkness?” but shut out the light when it encroaches upon our realm. We were drunk on our own glory, but are hung-over in our regret. Now any illumination is ruled too bright. We complain of the night, but dare not venture out into the day.

Once when contemplating evil, I saw the Son of Man wrapped and bound in thorny vines. The thorns dug in, drawing blood from the innocent one. “Why not command the vines loose?” I cried out. But he did not answer me. He instead walked toward me, each step tangling him more, thrusting the thorns deeper. “Please,” I begged. “Stop this sight, speak them out of existence!” And yet the Lamb said nothing to me as the blood began to flow. In anger towards his weakness, I threw sackcloth on him, I spat upon him, and I cursed his name. Still, he said nothing, only lamenting the pain.

The light invaded my dark room, as it seemed to shine from every drop of blood. I wrapped more sackcloth around him to snuff out the light, but as the thorns dug deeper, he grew brighter. My struggle against Reality stood as my greatest failure, the greatest in a long list of failures.

Angered, I relented to my lesson, but continued to mock him. “And I suppose,” I said. “That these are my sins that you took for me?” As the thorns disappeared beneath his dark skin, he still remained silent. Smugly, I stated, “I know the theologies of your substitution. Yes, I see, my sin you’ve taken upon yourself and now I am saved.” At that, my mouth went dry and tongue swelled, I struggled to swallow and feared for death.

“All this,” he finally said. “Is your sin. But I do not suffer for you, but for your victims. The thorns that dug into my flesh, these are the sharp stings delivered to others by your tongue. The sackcloth is your loveless apologies that hold no meaning to reconciliation. You offer peace, but still war in your heart. The light, however, is my glory. No matter the depth and resolve of your darkness, I will always shine through.”

He then touched my lips and I felt my thirst quenched. “You act like an enemy, but I treat you as a friend. You came against my beloved, but I call you a lover. You act in hate, but I am Love. You are finite in your fallacy, but I AM.

After this, he took me to an orphanage, one in a country long forgotten by civilization. I watched as a little girl played in isolation, as she cried out in hunger, and how the workers looked on. No one showed concern for her neglect. I was then taken to an old factory, where distraught women with blank expressions herded into a cramped van. They were off to sell their bodies under duress and without hope.

I saw more images of neglect and suffering, more than I thought possible. I watched the world writhe under the weight of evil while succumbing to its darkest passions. In all its victims, I saw individuals unified in familiarity. All different, yet all held the appearance of Divinity, the Eternal Light bursting forth from their pain in subtle beauty. Their oppressors also struck me with ugly similarity, with faces I knew. In their own way, each one looked like me.

I looked at my Divine Guide, confused and shocked. “The least of these hold my light.” he said. He did not look at me, but continued to stare at the suffering. “And you, the oppressor, bring darkness.” I objected quickly, stating that I am not to blame, that I did nothing to the least of these. “Yes, but you did nothing for them. Do you not realize,” he continued. “I made none of you to be separate. Every action committed in time ripples across time and space, into eternity. Your sin brings darkness to the world, you contribute to the sin of others.”

All light vanished, along with the Word, and I stood in complete darkness. In the distance a dull light brightened, and it shone upon a manger. Inside, a young baby cried and moved about. The star grew brighter, showing the ones I saw suffering bowing before the babe. Behind them were their oppressors, also kneeling in reverence.

I watched as the Spirit hovered over the formless void, shining light and bringing order to chaos. He spoke to me, showing that Hope had come into the world. The dark clouds began to lift, allowing the radiance of the moon to expose the majestic tranquility of the new creation. The angels sang and proclaimed the beauty of the event.

O sinners and enemies of God

To those who war against man

See where thy evil did trod

Observe the failure of thy plan

O abused, diseased, hungry, and tired

To those overcome by the world’s harms

Leave at once where you mired

And find rest within his arms

Into the darkness came the Word

Not to condemn but to save the lost

Peace he brought, not a sword

All saved, paid at such a cost

Today Immanuel, God is with us

As we await the full redemption

Incarnation, Divinity you now posses

Embrace this with full reception

I awoke from my slumber, feeling the cold night air through my open window. An immediate sadness came over me, knowing I was unworthy to see such a sight. A gentleness, however, subdued my sadness and I stood from my bed. I walked outside, staring at the bright Christmas Eve moon. I lit my pipe and sat in my chair, and calmly waited in anticipation.

When Christians Don’t Act Like Christians


It’s not uncommon for those who live in the “Christian” parts of the country to have negative experiences with Christians. People learn to avoid “Christian businesses” because “Christian businesses” have a reputation for being dishonest. People don’t want to attend churches because there is almost a constant power struggle; a few people control everything and if you upset one person, the entire group comes after you (this also happens on Christian message boards, Christian social clubs, etc). At a protest against homosexual marriages or against abortion, Christians tend to be the nastiest people there, hurling insults and condemnations.

 

The irony is that Christians will also cry out for grace for the helpless, but very rarely show it for fellow Christians. In short, Christians simply don’t seem to be good people.

 

Now, we can come back and say, “But the rest of the world is like this.” Yes, they are; but aren’t we called to be different from them? Aren’t we called to not show preference for one person or another? Aren’t we called to love all?

 

Obviously we will fail at points. Sometimes in our passion for the truth we can get over-zealous, but how often are Christians just down right nasty people? How often are they just mean spirited? How often do they try to correct everyone else, but fail to receive correction?

 

There’s not much we can do to change such people. The best we can do is to humble ourselves and live a life that doesn’t reflect how these people act. We are to live lives that refresh others, that give others hope, that show them how Christians are to truly live.

 

That is about all we can do.