2nd Opinion: A long line of sinners

Bands of Anti-balaka militias have carried out horrific attacks against Muslim civilians in the Central African Republic. (Voice of America image)

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In the Central African Republic, a political/religious faction known as Anti-balaka has been accused of violent crimes. Their actions include gruesome mutilations, forcing thousands of people from their homes and killing an untold number.

terry austin130Terry AustinThey have committed some of the worst ethnic and religious cleansing. These violent activities have occurred in the last couple of years, and Anti-balaka is not a Muslim group. Even though their exploits rival the more well-known acts of ISIS, they consider themselves Christians. 

I don’t provide this information in order to disparage the Christian faith. I have no hesitation in saying those who do such things are not really Christians. These activities have nothing in common with following Jesus. 

My purpose in bringing this up is to remind us humans of all kinds and identities are capable of doing horrible things. It is not just Muslims. It is also atheists, Buddhists and, yes, even Christians.

Since President Obama reminded us of the Crusades during the National Prayer Breakfast, people have gone berserk. Why in the world would our leader remind us of those ancient Christians who did unspeakable things? Doesn’t he know Christians today never would practice this kind of violence?

Professed Christians can be quite violent. Even if their activities do not result in actual physical death, they certainly can inflict great pain. Take, for example, the actions of Westboro Baptist Church and their onslaught against nearly everyone who does not belong to their group. It’s bad enough they consider themselves Christians, but they are even known as “Baptists.” I’ve got to tell you, that is disheartening. Is nothing sacred?

The human heart can be an evil thing

The human heart can be an evil thing, and given the opportunity, it can turn us into violent people. We need reminders occasionally that wickedness is just around the corner. The reminders are not so we can keep an eye on one another, but so we will keep an eye on ourselves. The Apostle Paul understood this when he identified himself as the worst of all sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). 

I don’t want to forget what professed Christians did in the Middle Ages, or what they are currently doing in Central Africa, or even Kansas. I need to remember, because I also have the potential of being hateful. I am not likely to hurt anyone physically, especially since I am confined to a wheelchair with limited use of my arms and legs, but I am capable of a sharp tongue and a critical spirit. 

Rather than complaining about a reminder that others of our persuasion have done unspeakable things, perhaps we should be driven to our knees in prayer that we will not join their cause. 

With the preponderance of social media tools and Internet access, we encounter a massive amount of vitriol. It seems everyone is angry about something, and they feel the need to let the rest of us know. We can no longer simply say, “I disagree with you.” Instead, we feel compelled to say something like, “That’s the stupidest thing anyone has ever said!” 

Debate has turned into rage

Debate has turned into rage. Rage has turned into violence. Violence has turned into terrorism. And terrorism has forced all of us to choose sides. 

A simple declaration in a speech, a factual declaration that during the Crusades Christians did atrocious things to Muslims, has made us all crazy. It has caused some to deny anything terrible happened or to pervert the historical situation to claim Christians were only defending themselves. For those who have chosen not to try and rewrite history, their approach is to blame the speaker for bringing up such a dark moment in history. 

Why can’t we just agree terrible things have been done throughout history by Muslims and Christians and everyone else? I wonder if it is because we feel the need to affirm our own goodness—nobody I’m associated with would ever do such unspeakable things! The reality is every one of us is capable if we allow ourselves to get in the wrong circumstances. So, the president says: “Wait a minute. Before you get on your high horse and ride off into the sunset, be aware that it could be any one of us.”

I am not far behind the Apostle Paul in the worst-sinner line, and I think I’ve seen you in that same line. Perhaps the president was simply rewriting that old phrase, “The one who lives in a glass house should not throw stones.” 

If am not speaking out in favor of terrorism. But I am speaking out in support of introspection. Remember, the president was not giving the State of the Union address or speaking at a campaign rally. He was talking at a prayer breakfast. What better way to call people to pray than reminding us of the evil in our own hearts?  

Terry Austin is the principal partner of Austin Brothers, and he is co-pastor of Bread Fellowship in Fort Worth. He has written several books and preached in numerous churches in Texas and around the country. He also has been a denominational leader. 

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