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Christians Behaving Vilely (Rhode Island Edition)

43 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. (Matthew 5:43-45, NLT)

It appears that this message has not reached many Christians responding to a court order to remove a Christian banner from a Rhode Island high school. There have been treats against the 17 year old student who was the plaintiff. To get some of the tone of the remarks that aren’t legally “threats,” you might read this article. Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars has collected some comments from Twitter (language warning!) in a post titled Crank Up the Christian Hatred.

What I find even more disturbing is the number of people who are willing to provide some sort of justification for this type of behavior. Again, you’ll find them in the comments with comments such as “What did you expect?” Well, since I have followed church/state cases for years, including one just in the next county, I unfortunately expect Christians to behave very badly, to yell, scream, whine, defy the law, threaten, and resort to vile language in response to being denied some public stage. But in another sense, I expect better.

And don’t get me wrong based on the text I quoted at the start. These Christians are not experiencing persecution. While they may no longer have a religious banner in their high school, a public place, they doubtless have plenty of churches where they can express their viewpoints, not to mention Twitter and the comments sections of their newspapers, where they can make incredibly unchristian comments while others say, “It’s just natural,” or something of the sort.

Jesus said to respond in a loving and kind manner when you are persecuted. There’s an Iranian pastor on death row because he will not deny Christ. He’s being persecuted. A young woman was given 40 lashes for converting to Christianity in the Sudan. She is persecuted.

But pampered Americans who have to pray in their homes, their churches, in restaurants, on the sidewalks, and in many, many non-governmentally sponsored events? Oh the deprivation! Oh the sorrow! Doubtless God will no longer hear us.

And there are easy targets to blame. Atheists. See how you can make an epithet out of it? So now we talk about how much we hate them because they did what? Because they limited very slightly the places where we can proclaim our message. We don’t get the government’s authority behind our religion? How will the gospel ever survive without the backing of Uncle Sam?

In a general sense it’s pathetic. The persecuted majority. I’d be laughing if it didn’t make me so furious. But that’s just as an American citizen.

As a Christian myself, it makes me deeply ashamed and embarrassed. Here we have a perfect opportunity to model the behavior that Jesus commanded. We could be right up front and say, “We don’t want to use the power of the government to pursue our agenda in any case. The gospel doesn’t need a captive audience guaranteed by the power of the police (the public school classroom and facilities). Christians should be defending Jessica Ahlquist. They should be happy that she’s thinking enough about faith to take a courageous stand as she has done.

And no Christian should excuse the behavior of those who threaten or revile any group of people, in this case atheists and the ACLU (convenient cultural tags for those who don’t go along with our “Christian” culture). We should make it clear that this kind of behavior is not acceptable. Note here that by “revile” I don’t mean “say they’re wrong.” I’m very clearly saying the people who made these comments are wrong. I think they should repent. I don’t think they should be subject to threats of violence, or obscenities, and what’s more I don’t hate them. Their behavior infuriates me. I hope they repent. I call on them to repent.

I’ve used the word “Christian” for people who behave this way simply because that is what they claim to be. I don’t believe in trying to make non-Christians figure out who the “true” Christians are. God gets to judge that. But there is nothing “Christian” or “Christ-like” about this behavior.

There are those who call people “Christians in name only” because of doctrinal beliefs. Well, people who behave in the way demonstrated on Twitter and the newspaper comments section are Christians in name only, much more so than anyone who denies some doctrine. There is nothing Christ-like whatsoever about their behavior.

And those Christians among us who realize this should proclaim it.

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