This post looks at the Christian perspective of who is my neighbor, or who matters, in the face of growing religious violence around the world today.
In the past month, there has been significant attention to various terrorist attacks against religious groups throughout the world.
- On March 15, 2019, in what has been called “one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” a White Nationalist marched into mosques in the city of Christchurch and live-streamed his murder of 51 Muslims.
- On Easter Sunday, Muslims associating themselves with ISIS set off coordinated bombs at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka. More than 250 people, mostly Christians, were killed in the attack. One week later 6 Christians were killed when a gunman entered a church in Burkina Faso and opened fire.
- On April 30, the last day of the Jewish Passover a gunman opened fire at a Jewish synagogue in California, killing one and injuring three more. The killer was apparently inspired by the attacks in New Zealand. He had written his own ranting manifesto and came to the synagogue that day with the intents of doing far more damage before his gun jammed. The shooter was a Presbyterian churchgoer who believed the killing of Jews would glorify God.
In the immediate aftermath of these events there was a momentary pause for shock and mourning and then, as all things do in this age, a quick descent into arguments and accusations.
The media noted the Christchurch terrorist’s admiration of Donald Trump and suggested a western bias that does not give enough attention and grief to Muslims killed by terrorists. This report from the Washington Post specifically documented the different ways in which Donald Trump “and his allies” speak about Muslim terrorists compared to Muslim victims of terrorism.
Christians and conservatives flooded the web with statements about how Democrats like Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama kept referring to “Easter worshippers” rather than “Christians” after the Sri Lanka attacks. This deliberate non-use of the word Christian was seen as part of the culture war against Christianity where mention of Muslims murdering Christians is absolutely forbidden.
Meanwhile, the major media outlets have thrilled at the opportunity to give attention to the Christian beliefs of the synagogue shooter in California. This article from the Atlantic noted the rise of fear and distrust being caused by these attacks on places of worship like the New Zealand mosques or the California synagogue but completely omitted and ignored the larger attacks on churches in Sri Lanka that occurred between them.
Facts About Religious Violence
Here are some facts regarding the debates and arguments frequently fueled by news of attacks on religious sites.
More Muslims die as a result of terrorist violence than any other religious group. When we consider the data on terrorist violence around the world today this is actually self-explanatory. Most terrorist attacks take place in Muslim majority countries. From Afghanistan to Syria to Somalia, a majority of terrorist victims are Muslims being killed by Muslim terrorists.
There is a massive rise in Christian persecution around the world today. In Asia, one in three Christians face persecution. A recent report commissioned by British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt details how millions of Christians have been uprooted from their homes in the Middle East in recent decades. In the Middle East and North Africa Christians once made up 20% of the total population. Today Christians account for only 4% of the population in this area of the world.
The attack on the synagogue in California was not the first of its kind. Six months earlier a shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh resulted in the death of 11 Jewish worshippers. According to reports from the Anti-Defamation League, 54% of religious hate crimes in the US target Jewish people.
The bottom line to these facts is this. Things are tough for people of faith and they are probably tougher than we realize.
A Christian Perspective
As a Christian, I believe there is a level of moral perversity we take hold of when the death of any person, Muslim, Jew, or Christian, is converted to political capital for us to blame and accuse those in the other camps of politics or faith.
When Christians and conservatives began pushing the attention of the Sri Lanka attacks onto how Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama refused to say Christian I wondered, “Who cares?” Certainly not the family of these victims. This is a political maneuver built on the backs of a human tragedy.
When the media and politicians began to change the stories in Christchurch and California from stories of terrorism and violence to ones of Christian intolerance toward others I was not surprised. I do not expect much more from the media or politicians. These outlets and pundits deal in the commerce of agitation and clickbait. They hold no authority in the truth and we only add volume to their accusations when we argue with them.
The death of any person should be a cause for mourning, consideration and, when possible, unity and strength. It should be simple and easy for the death of 250 Christians in Sri Lanka to result in sadness, empathy, and support for the families of these fellow human beings. The same can be said for the mosques in New Zealand and the synagogue in California. And this transition to empathy rather than politics and arguments should be easiest and most certain among Christians who are called to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another.”
The fact that we so often fail to do this is evidence of the reality that many Christians have fallen into the trap of tribalism in this heated day of anger and division. We take greater identity in our political, national, and even religious tribes than we do our spiritual calling and command from God.
The Christian faith was designed to be a way of life resourced and guided by instructions from God. Nationalism, politics, and even religious systems, which all gain their definition and instructions from this world, are extremely secondary in their importance.
This deception that alters our way of life from that commissioned by Christ is very subtle and even has shades of faithfulness and devotion mixed into it. I don’t believe any Christians seeks to be more nationalistic, political, or religious than they are faithful to the commands of God. But when events like these terrorist attacks lead us to infer a higher value of human life to one group of victims over another based upon their proximity to our own beliefs and values, we have crossed a line.
Who Is My Neighbor
Jesus spoke to this specific human tendency to prioritize and validate those of our tribe above others when he told the parable of the Good Samaritan.
His audience in Luke 10 was an expert in the law. This expert in the law was intent on finding Jesus’ perspective for the pathway to eternal life. The expert and Jesus were in agreement on the basic standard. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” The question then became, “Who is my neighbor?” Who am I required to love and care for? Who do I have an obligation to commit my concern to. Which people in the earth should be the highest priority to me? It was in response to this final qualifying question that Jesus told the parable.
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
The victim became a neighbor to the passerby not based upon his religion, or his nationality, or his political priorities. The qualifying factor was the status of mercy in the Good Samaritan’s heart. It is not based upon who they are but upon who and what we are.
- See also Who Were the Samaritans
Jesus’ use of the Samaritan figure was central. Without going too deep into the historical context, we should recognize the Samaritans were considered an outcast among the Jews of Jesus’ day. This was based on disagreements politically, historically (nationalism) and religiously. Imagine using a Serb as the good guy in a story to Bosnians, or an Irish Protestant in a story to Irish Catholics.
Jesus circumvented these earth-based definers and noted how the Samaritan found the correct path by way of the mercy found in his own heart toward the victim even while those more qualified politically, nationalistically and religiously missed the mark.
The world is moving deeper and deeper into division and strife. We are more attuned than ever before to what divides and separates us. A Christian worldview, one founded truly upon scripture and the heavenly requirements of God, must rise above this dissension. We are not called to win the argument or prove the point. We are called to live a Christ-like life. This includes how we perceive and interpret the terrible events that are increasing around the world today.
As Christians, our response in the face of these tragedies should be motivated by mercy, not earth-based definers and standards. We have the authority and even the necessity to disregard deceptive voices that lead us toward standards that are contrary to the heart of God.
I’m going to do a deeper dive into consideration of this standard in a special podcast episode later this week. Be sure to subscribe to the feed and/or watch my social media posts for when that podcast episode is available.