Voices

Radical tactic

Forgiveness may be the only way to transform American culture

Issue: "What women want," Jan. 21, 2006

Christians struggle with how to change the culture. We might get some ideas from the movie End of the Spear (see "Walk this way"), the true story of how two missionary women and their children changed the Waodani tribe.

The Waodani would seem to be the worst-case scenario for a morally depraved culture. They were totally lawless, refusing to submit even to a tribal government. They killed outsiders. They killed each other. They even killed their own children. They were so hostile to Christianity that they killed the missionaries who sought to help them. How could a culture like that ever be transformed?

The bereaved family members, Elisabeth Elliot and Rachel Saint, moved into the village. They made their home with the very individuals who murdered their loved ones. Their sheer audacity and most of all their spirit of forgiveness sent shockwaves throughout the culture. The Waodani started listening to their message of a God who sent His Son to be speared for their sake, to bring not retribution but forgiveness. The Waodani put down their spears, and the culture was utterly transformed.

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This suggests a tactic Christians embroiled in other culture wars might employ: radical, self-sacrificial demonstrations of the love of Christ.

Today opinion leaders in Europe and the United States are trying to associate conservative Christians with the radical Islamic terrorists. Both are trying to "impose" their religion and morality on people. Both are trying to eliminate freedom and establish an oppressive theocracy.

Unfortunately, some people ostensibly on the Christian side of the culture war are closer to the jihadists than to Christ. Fred Phelps and his followers have been picketing funerals of AIDS victims with signs that read "God Hates Fags." Now they are protesting the evils in America by demonstrating at funerals of soldiers who died in Iraq, carrying signs reading "God Hates America" and "Thank God for Dead Soldiers."

Some Christians are not on the side of the jihadists, but they play into the hands of critics who say that they are. Pat Robertson does not help the credibility of Christians when he calls for the assassination of Hugo Chavez and says that God smote Ariel Sharon for trying to create peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

A far more effective tactic would be for Christians to replace expressions of anger, righteous indignation, and power plays (even when they might be justified), with expressions of sorrow for sin, compassion for the lost, and the love of Christ.

When gay activists targeted Liberty University to protest its policies against homosexuality, they were expecting an angry, headline-grabbing confrontation. Instead, Liberty students greeted them with kindness, compassion, and fresh-baked muffins and cookies.

In the refugee camps of Darfur, in AIDS hospitals throughout Africa, in villages devastated by earthquakes or the tsunami, Christians are providing critical help, often to people who had been taught to demonize Christianity.

Christians today must combat the common assumption that all religions are essentially the same. That used to mean that they were all equally good. Now it is taken to mean that they are equally bad. Christ's gospel of love stands in stark and dramatic contrast to the jihadist's gospel of hate. Christians need to find ways to intentionally and publicly accentuate that difference.

Though the state must protect its citizens with the sword, the church embodies Christ's forgiveness. Just as He has forgiven us, we are to "forgive those who trespass against us."

What would happen to the soaring divorce rate among Christians if couples would learn to forgive each other? What would the witness of the church be like if congregations and whole denominations would dissolve their conflicts in mutual repentance and forgiveness?

Like the Waodani, our nation, our families, and our churches are torn apart with conflict and retribution. There is only one way to stop it, the way of Rachel Saint and Elisabeth Elliot.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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