January–February 2015        

Christians need to face their bloody past

Rev. Richard Bryant

Since the horrific massacre at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, I’ve heard numerous discussions in the media regarding “good” and “bad” Muslims. Commentators and journalists ask, “How do we in the west know who is a good or a bad Muslim?”
     Many responses have bordered on the offensive. In an interview, a former detective with the Los Angeles Police Department, Mark Fuhrman, said that every Muslim must be profiled and all mosques placed under surveillance. Journalists without any understanding of Arabic say there is only one monolithic way to read the Koran. According to this reasoning there is a single standard by which Muslims interpret its verses, whether concerning war, violence, or family life, and they all come back to the idea that religiously inspired violence is justified.
     When I hear statements like this I begin to believe the people in question have never read my holy book (the Bible) or the Koran. Were they to read my holy book they would see passages of brutality, violence and religiously inspired genocide virtually identical to ones often cited from the Koran. These passages are in my holy book. They take up many pages in the Old Testament. This must mean I take them as the literal words of God and am willing to justify any violence in my God’s name, because the Bible told me so.
     However, that’s not what I do. Nor do must followers of Islam.
      If I were a Muslim, I would be called an Imam. Instead of leading worshippers on Sunday morning, my public role would be most visible on Friday afternoons. I might wear a robe, I’d offer a sermon, and lead my congregation in prayers. Fundamentally, that’s not much different from what I do as a Methodist. We share more in common than we care to admit.
     I’ve been in groups of Christian pastors who talk about their wives “submitting” to them in ways that wouldn’t be out of place in a café in Cairo or Tehran. When Paul says it we think we’re okay; when Muhammad says it we get up on our Judaeo-Christian moral high horse. How does one turn to their colleagues and say, “What you’re talking about is not only sexist and offensive but is no different from the attitude held by those our military have been trying to kill for fourteen years?” I didn’t know what to say. I simply turned and walked away.
      There are violent parts of the Bible. There are disgusting passages of gore and slaughter that shouldn’t be read to children, preached in church, or trumpeted by anyone. We are in no position to criticise another faith’s holy text because of its violent content. Until we can face our bloody past, a scriptural heritage that tells of the massacre of men, women and children because our own prophets were “listening” to God, we need to find ways to acknowledge our brokenness.

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