April 27, 2013
Loving Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
How do we condemn evil while loving evil people?
While looking for distracting music, I was confronted with destructive hatred.
I'm observing two distinct and unhelpful reactions to the apparent Jihadist terrorism that has struck my city. The first is the xenophobic, racial, and even religious hatred of my Muslim neighbors. The other is the willful ignorance of the religious connection to these terrorists acts—the blind assumption that all religions are created equal. Neither is good. Neither is truthful. And more importantly, neither is Christ-like.
It is obvious to the liberal mind that hatred of our Muslim neighbors is wrong. It is not obvious to the liberal mind that one can observe what is immoral in one religion without hating all of its people, being a racist, a bigot, or a backwards fundamentalist—a favorite straw man of our time. This is why the liberal mind (and the conservative mind, for that matter) must experience a change of mind. Christians must have Christian minds.
So how are we to think about our Muslim neighbors? About Islam? Even about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev?
Christians Should Believe Christianity is Right
To quote Tim Keller, “It is no narrower to claim that one religion is right than to claim that one way to think about all religions is right.” It just won't work to say, "All religions, faiths, and belief systems are equally valid, and if you don't agree you're a bigot." The idea falls in on itself because, in making a claim that exclusivity is wrong, you're excluding the exclusivist. Darn that logic, ruining all our fun.
Christians do, in fact, believe that Christianity is right. And by the way, not believing Christianity is right is not Christian love. Jesus claimed to be the Savior of the world. If he is who he claimed to be (and Christians believe he is) then not proclaiming that news to the whole world is very unloving. Our silence is preventing them from obtaining the cure to what is broken within them and us. What kind of love is that? In the name of not wanting to offend anyone we implicitly condemn everyone. I'm glad that Jesus didn't love me like that.
Christians Believe Loving our Neighbor is Right.
If Christians really believe Christianity is right, then we'll be fiercely committed to Christ, who commanded us to love our neighbor. How did Jesus interact with those of different religions? Ask the woman at the well. She was a Samaritan. Ask the Roman official. He was a pagan. Did Jesus have an interfaith worship service, affirming the equality of their own paths to God? No. Did he picket them, getting the disciples to stir up racial or national hatred against them? No.
Jesus demonstrated his unique, exclusive grace by talking with them, loving them, and changing their lives. If our cultural values have drifted so far as to call this behavior hateful, then go ahead and call me hateful. I'll be glad to be in the same camp as Jesus. Hopefully all Christians would be.
We should believe in sin.
We shouldn't wring our hands and have to qualify our hatred of evil. Jesus didn't. When we see evil in the world, call it evil. When we see evil in the church, call it evil. When we see evil in other religions, call it evil. If Christians, who are supposed to know Truth, cannot identify evil, we merely demonstrate that we are wrong, ignorant, or complicit with the evil we won't name. This does the world no favors. The ubiquity of evil is part of the gospel. Jesus' life, death, and resurrection make precisely no sense whatsoever if evil is not real, horrible, and everywhere.
But of course, evil is real, horrible, and everywhere. That's the problem with it. The biblical word for this problem is sin. The horror of sin contrasts the wonder of Jesus' grace. If we refuse to see the horror, then we'll miss the wonder. If we don't help the world see the horror, then we can rest assured they'll miss the wonder as well.
We should believe in grace.
After we name the evil, we must keep talking. Part of the problem with the culture war was that it went about loudly labeling what was wrong but only quietly proclaiming what was right. If we believe Christianity is right then we will invite everyone everywhere (including our Muslim neighbors whom we love) to experience the grace extended to humanity by Jesus Christ.
This is not a glib, cheap invitation, by the way. Grace is a costly, bloody thing. The cycle of violence and hatred stops at the cross because God’s justice was poured out on his innocent Son for a guilty humanity. If God has done this for a race like ours, then it shows that we are both totally guilty in our sin and unimaginably loved in Christ’s grace.
Christians aren't better than Muslims. Christians aren't better than Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. We all share in the same fallenness. We must love them like Christ. We must talk to them like Christ. We must invite them to Christ.
But doing all of that requires that we first start thinking like Christ.
Adam Mabry is the lead pastor of Aletheia, a church in Boston, Massachusetts.