- Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
- where there is hatred, let me sow love;
- where there is injury, pardon;
- where there is doubt, faith;
- where there is despair, hope;
- where there is darkness, light;
- and where there is sadness, joy.
- O Divine Master,
- grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
- to be understood, as to understand;
- to be loved, as to love;
- for it is in giving that we receive,
- it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
- and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
- Okay, churches are full of normal, ordinary human beings. We can’t expect too much from, well, any of us. But, you know what? We can do a whole lot better. Surveying recent articles about Christians in the United States it is interesting to note that, as a breed, followers of Jesus are stronger advocates of war, guns, capital punishment, corporal punishment, and killing abortion doctors than non-Christians. A sheriff in Arkansas noted that Christians are much more likely to take the law into their own hands than non-Christians. Two of the more brutal road rage incidents of the past few months were perpetrated by faithful church goers. Arson attacks on mosques, synagogues, temples, and ashrams are most frequently attempted by Christians. Across the country, Christians are no less likely to engage in violent crime than non-Christians. And we can’t equivocate on “real” vs. “fake” Christians. It is scary to read the profiles of some of these guys (yes, mostly guys) who kill doctors, beat bad motorists, and set fire to other people’s sacred space. Most are educated, middle class, long time church members who pray regularly and read the Bible religiously. Some teach Sunday school and work with children and youth.
So, what is our witness? I’m not talking about the lunatic fringe that commit these atrocities. I’m talking about those of us (including myself) who stand by mute, not taking a stand against such acts of violence and attitudes of destruction. Where is our outrage when others dirty the reputation of Christian disciples everywhere? How do we provide a counter-cultural alternative when we live by baser, competitive, violent instincts — or at least look the other way when Christian brothers and sisters choose to sow hate and destruction in the name of God.
A few years ago I was involved in a conflict situation in a United Methodist Church where pillars of the church sought to “fix” their problem (i.e., get rid of a woman pastor) by driving by the parsonage at 3:00 in the morning shooting out windows with shotguns. In another situation, one long-time family from a church vandalized the sanctuary in protest over being outvoted by the rest of the congregation. I knew another counselor who was working with a church whose youth group was setting fires to area businesses they deemed “sinful.” I was talking to a pastor recently who told me of a recent Sunday morning where he shared worship leadership in the morning with a layman, then spent Sunday evening in the emergency room with the man’s wife whom the man had brutally beaten in the afternoon. These situations are aberrations, 1-in-10,000 exceptions to the rule of kindness, caring and love. But they do a lot of damage. We are guilty by association. We may not suffer such extreme examples in our own churches, but most of us do put up with a lot of bad behavior. Maybe we don’t face physical violence, but there is certainly quite a bit of psychological and emotional violence.
Sins of omission are as devastating as sins of commission. Tolerating violence perpetuates cycles of destruction and harm. When we allow our rhetoric to devolve to hateful attack — whether about politics, sexual orientation, right to life, or right to end it — we cease being a faithful witness to Christ. St. Francis’ prayer should be more than a sweet sentiment or a precious thought. It should become a sacred mantra — describing not only who we wish we could be, but defining for the world who we are trying to be. We need to paint a picture of what it means to be Christian — loving, compassionate, kind, patient, just, merciful, humble, generous, forgiving, peaceful, and in control of our lowest emotions. And we also need to speak out against those who would sully and besmirch (when was the last time you saw those words used in a sentence?) the good name and reputation of Jesus Christ.