Watching the evening news on TV is depressing. It seems at times that the whole Middle East and all of Central Africa is filled with continual conflict. Muslims killing Muslims, Muslims killing Christians. And what is even worse, Christians killing Muslims.
For many years I have followed the news from The Voice of the Martyrs -- news of persecution and martyrdom, how followers of Christ are harassed, murdered and imprisoned by those who are enemies of the Gospel -- Muslims, Communists, even Hindus and Buddhists. Uni and I pray regularly for the persecuted Church in those nations where it is ostracized, even outlawed.
But what is the most heart-breaking came out on the news the other evening: the Muslim dictator of the Central African Republic has been deposed. Good riddance we might say, Praise the Lord! Under his government, the minority Muslims population, ran roughshod over the Christian population, killing, burning, driving many away from their homes. Now the shoe is on the other foot.
We see instead men (and a few women) shrieking into the camera, waving guns and machetes screaming for vengeance. The newsman tells us that these are "Christian" militia. These men have amulets hanging around their necks that we're told are magic. It seems that the word "Christian" is repeated over and over. It rings in our ears and sounds worse than the worst profanity. We wish it could be beeped out.
One man waves his gun and knife in the air as he faces the camera. He tells us excitedly how he pulled a Muslim man off the bus that was passing by, how he slit the man's throat, how he poured gasoline all over this man and how he set him on fire (apparently while still alive). His excitement seems to increase as he tells what came next. "I ate his leg!" This man is regarded as a hero by his companions.
And the reporter keeps repeating the word "Christian" as he explains how these people have been oppressed and now they are out for blood.
Wait! I say to myself, as I try to wrap my mind around what I've witnessed. These people aren't Christians -- they're pagans! Look at all that pagan stuff hanging around their necks and adorning their bodies. Why does he keep calling them Christians?
But maybe they are. Is that possible? They've been persecuted for years; they've suffered the attacks of their Muslim neighbors. Who could blame them for taking up arms to defend themselves and their families?
Yes, but Christians don't do what these people are doing. Didn't Jesus tell us to love our enemies? Didn't He tell us to turn the other cheek? What gives?
I try to comfort myself by telling myself that these people are Christians in name only, that they've been "Christianized" but not genuinely converted. Well, maybe. Probably.
Then I think of Christians in America. We have groups that call themselves "Christian Militia" here as well; we don't need to go to Africa. Hate groups, racist groups, cross-burners, "sovereign citizens," all spouting hate in the name of Christ. Again we can comfort ourselves by saying the same about these groups as we do about those in Africa: they're not really Christians. But what about the hatred and violence spouted by some nice Christian people we know? What about the racism and political extremism? What about the cruel things we say about those in a different economic class, sexual orientation or political preference?
We might even try to understand those in other lands by recognizing that they are products of a pagan culture (thought this is no excuse), but what about American Christians? How much are we products of our "pagan" culture" I'm afraid that like those cannibalistic Christians in Central Africa, our worldview is shaped as much (or more) by the culture around us.
Culture can be to some extent neutral; but there are elements of every culture that are diametrically opposed to the way of Jesus. We who claim to be His followers, must distinguish those elements and put them away from our thinking and behavior.
As I write this, many things come to mind: our politics, our entertainment, even our education. I was tempted to make a list, but that would be counter-productive; it could be legalistic. But I do challenge everyone who claims to follow Jesus to recognize those elements and put them out of our lives.
"Stop being conformed to this age,
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind."