Pamela Geller rightly identifies Obama as the “enemy in the White House.” In her recent article about Obama’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast last Thursday she reminds readers that she is one of the few people who “saw this coming back in 2008 and 2009”, and who were “excoriated, ridiculed and marginalized” for warning against his enmity.
Like the Pharisees who alleged that Christ’s miracles were the work of Satan, Obama slyly insinuated that atrocities committed hundreds of years ago during the Crusades or the Inquisition were done in the name of Jesus Christ. By this logic horrors performed by quacks pretending to be doctors should rightly be ascribed to the medical profession. But as Socrates pointed out ages ago, even someone with a medical degree is not accurately said to be acting as a doctor when his actions depart from the knowledge that properly justifies that claim.
In response to Obama’s sly slander against Christ, people acting in defense of Jesus name have justly pointed out that nowhere in Christ’s life, as reported in the New Testament Scriptures, does he himself example the kind of atrocious mayhem the ISIS terrorists perpetrate against their victims, pursuant to the words and example of their prophet Muhammad as reported in the Islamic Scriptures. The impulse to defend against anti-Christ slanders in this way is understandable in human terms. But what Christ actually did and said is a far more powerful answer.
Far from encouraging his followers to take offense against those who speak against him, Christ said “And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him…” (Matthew 12:31) The human heart is prone to take offense even at verbal slights, but these words of Jesus impel those who take his words seriously to look for reason to forgive rather than take offense.
If this precaution against vengefulness seems like a high standard, from the very beginning of his ministry Christ set an even higher standard than this.
“You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thy enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you…Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-44, 48)
As things stand in this life, human prudence is prone to requite evil with evil; to do good to friends and harm to enemies. Christ challenges those who heed his words to live beyond such prudence; to take as their standard of action the natural (i.e., as exhibited in nature) benevolence of God Himself. Nor can Christ’s words in this regard be misunderstood as a mere state of mind or intention. He demands, in the very ‘midst of an unjust assault, that his followers eschew the natural impulse even to defend themselves against attack:
“And to him that strikes your cheek, offer him the other also.” (Luke 6:29)
Christ enjoins his followers to match deeds to his words, as he himself does when, despite his miraculous power, he submits to be done to death unjustly because that is the will of his Father in heaven. As others have observed, this contrasts sharply with the violent example of the conquering “prophet of Islam”, and of those who, following his example, feel free to wreak havoc against any who refuse submission to Allah.
Michael Bresciani rightly observes that “When a Christian become serious about the Bible, when they decide to get radical or extremist they will join a church, preach to strangers, give to the poor, become a missionary or give their lives to save another.” But it is also true that many of the most devoted followers of Christ, including especially those called to make preaching the good news of salvation the exclusive focus of their lives, have refused to deal in violence, even when it comes to defending their own lives and/or the innocent lives of others.
In this respect, people who seek sincerely to practice Christian statesmanship have to wrestle with the question “Does strict adherence to Christ’s standard bar Christians from those offices of government (including of course, the highest) that involve responsibility for the use of violent force against people who attack their community? “ To defend against attackers has ever been the particular duty of government. Does sincere adherence to Christ’s standard forbid his followers to undertake that duty?
In responding to Obama’s anti-Christ slanders, we need not here rehearse the Christian debate over such conscientious pacifism. It is enough to observe that the issue must be dealt with conscientiously by any Christians worthy of the name. Therefore, far from encouraging mortal violence against the innocent on religious grounds, Christ’s words force Christians to question the use of such violence on any grounds whatsoever. The intrinsic danger of true Christian zeal is not the threat of Christian violence against others, but the possibility that such zeal will encourage wicked violence from others by undermining the will forcefully to resist its perpetrators.
This is the counterpart of that reliance on God which has lead Christians throughout the ages to make the name of martyr (which in Greek simply means “witness”) synonymous with the willingness to lay down one’s life for the faith, trusting in God for the consequences, even when they include what others regard as death itself. Far from proselytizing with fire and the sword, it was that pure manifestation of the Holy Spirit, witnessed even in the teeth of grisly death, which had the power to convert hearts to God through Jesus Christ.
This is one reason why the greatest names in the doxology of Christian faith are not of generals and conquerors, but of martyrs in whom the certainty of life in God through Jesus Christ gave rise to the courage to praise God in defiance of those whose only power lies in the shameless turpitude that worships by making “strange images of death” (cf. Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Act I, Sc. 3), where the true God enjoins respect for life as He endows it. The truth of such faithful martyrdom is the best answer to Obama’s anti-Christ slanders. For American Christians today, what form must that faithful witness take? I ponder this in the conclusion of this essay.