By Gray Fitzgerald // Originally published in The Concord Monitor
Gray is a retired pastor, author and Pace e Bene Engage study group participant.
A paradox of human existence is that our religions which are founded on the principles of love, justice, and peace produce followers who try to decimate the followers of other religions founded on those same values. Equally confounding is that we do this over and over.
Currently there is a growing concern in America about terrorism as we see the violence in the Mideast, Lebanon, Paris, San Bernardino, and other places. In turn, there is a growing anger, not only against the terrorists, but against all Muslims since the terrorists claim to be Muslim and defend their violence as emerging from that religion.
Recently one of our representatives in the New Hampshire House of Representatives stated, “Giving public benefits to any person or family that practices Islam is aiding and abetting the enemy. That is treason.” The author of two recent articles in the Concord Monitor picks out numerous times in history when from his understanding, Islam has violently achieved its ends. He concludes that “Islam, as a religion, is ingrained with a proclivity for violence as a means to its ends. It has fought with Judeo-Christianity for 1,400 years.” Another of his articles criticized a presidential candidate for refusing to paint all Islam with that brush implying that Islam is incorrigibly corrupt, violent, and our enemy.
The writer is a member of a Christian organization and presumably speaking from a Christian perspective. I am also a Christian and wish that he could abide by the teaching of our faith — to remove the log in our own eye before attempting to remove the splinter in a friend’s eye – for his vision could lead our faith and nation into terrible crimes and wars for decades.
The log in our Christian eye is embarrassingly large and shamefully persistent over the centuries. It is very unpleasant to look at but vital to recognize before we criticize others. One of our worst crimes is that of anti-Semitism. An early church father, John Chrysostom (354-430) stated, “Jews are dogs, stiff-necked, gluttonous, drunkards. They are beasts unfit for work… The Jews had (have) fallen into a condition lower than the vilest animals… The synagogue is worse than a brothel and a drinking shop; it is a den of scoundrels, a temple of demons, the cavern of devils, a criminal assembly of the assassins of Christ…. I hate the Jews, because they violate the Law… It is the duty of all Christians to hate the Jews.” Martin Luther, a giant to Christianity in many ways, was even more hateful toward Jews than Chrysostom.
Throughout the centuries, Jews were accused of kidnapping and murdering Christian children and using their blood in religious rituals. They were accused of starting the Black Plague, of being Christ killers, and of poisoning wells, among many examples. From these accusations came inquisitions, torture, executions, expulsions, laws confining Jews to ghettos, and laws barring Jews from most occupations. People attacked Jewish communities, burning houses and killing inhabitants. Such attacks also occurred during the Christian Crusades, a massive piece of the log in our eye. In a phrase, Jews suffered centuries of slander, abuse, and persecution from a perverted Christianity. The visions used to justify this abuse became deeply engrained, the type of embedded consciousness that made the Holocaust possible.
Slavery in America and around the world is another large chunk of our Christian log. Slavery was sustained by kidnapping, torture, intimidation, threats, and murder. As slave owners and traders, Christians used the Bible to justify these horrific acts by noting that many biblical figures in both testaments owned slaves and that slavery is nowhere condemned in the Bible. After slavery, vicious acts of racism continued, often being justified as Christian by Christians. The Ku Klux Klan terrorized, tortured, and lynched as it claimed to be an organization to restore Christian values.
Another chunk in our eye is the violence that largely Christian nations have visited on each other. For example, it is important to recall that the world wars were fought by primarily Christian nations, not Muslim nations. The Second World War alone killed 60 million people, far more carnage than Islam has ever precipitated.
Yet another piece of our log was the war that we waged in Vietnam. No one knows what we were fighting for or how the world would have been better off had we won. We do know that we killed something like 3 million people, often in ways that, if televised, would have been at least as appalling as the terrorist attacks and beheadings we see today-and on a far greater scale.
The KKK and ISIS situations are very similar. KKK members somehow believed that their crimes were consistent with following Jesus, but most Christians see that as perverted thinking that no true Christian could accept. The Muslims I know feel the same way about ISIS followers. They can’t recognize their religion in the philosophy of ISIS and wholeheartedly reject its inhumanity. They are as embarrassed as we Christians are of how perversions of our faith led to the KKK, the crusades, anti-Semitism, enslavement of Africans, lynching of freed slaves, invasion of Vietnam, and other acts that constitute a huge log in our eye.
As Christians, we need to acknowledge that log in our eye, our own unclean hands. We need to recognize how often a few of us – as with the KKK, or many of us – as with slavery, perverted true Christian beliefs to justify horrendous acts. We need to take responsibility for those acts even as we deny that they define Christianity. Then armed with that awareness, we are able to see the violence of ISIS as a similar perversion of the Muslim faith.
With the challenges we now face, I hope we are not going to fling the substance of our faith in the garbage while galloping off on another crusade of destruction, destroying not only those we are judging but also ourselves and the integrity of our faith. I hope we are not going to malign Muslims who are working to be true to the essence of their faith.
Instead, I hope we will join with and support the large Islamic community that sees the crimes of the terrorists as perversions of their faith. I hope we will heed the advice of the splinter and the log, and act to encourage all faiths to move toward our mutual core principles of peace, justice, and love.
Gray Fitzgerald has spent most of his life involved in different kinds of lay ministries and social service activities. Some of these include being a volunteer with the Peace Corps, lay leader with an inner city church in Atlanta, coordinator of volunteers and construction for an inner city housing program, visitor with prisoners throughout the state of Georgia, member of a nonviolent faith based presence in wartime Nicaragua, mental health counselor, and pastor of two small United Church of Christ congregations. He is now semi-retired, lives in Concord, NH and keeps as many perennials going through the summer as possible.
*Photo Credit: Domenico Fetti , via Wikimedia Commons