The terroristic attacks on the French Magazine Charlie Hedbo have once again thrust a simmering conflict into the headlines. The magazine is well-known for its satirical cartoons that are equal opportunity offenders. The Pope, Christianity, Islam, the prophet Mohammed are all fair game for the magazines satire. It is clear that the attack this week on the magazine’s headquarters, which left twelve dead, was motivated by satirical cartoons of the prophet Mohammed. Even as I write this the French security forces have surrounded the two suspected gunman who are reported to have told police they are ready to die as martyrs.
In the past few days there have been numerous articles, blogs, and news reports about the violent responses that radical Islamists have made to similar affronts to Islam in recent years. In the midst of the reports and debates there have been a variety of responses to the very idea of printing images that are offensive to religious sensibilities. Many editors and cartoonists have expressed solidarity with Charlie Hedbo by posting illustrations of their own, vowing to never give up the right of free expression. On the other side a number of news agencies, CNN and AP among them have made statements that they have long had a policy of not printing such offensive images.
The problem with the CNN and AP statements is that they are mistaken at best and outright falsehoods at worst. As recently as October of 2014 CNN ran a story on shocking works of art and included a picture of the infamous exhibit of a crucified Christ in a jar of urine. Many have pointed out the hypocrisy of news agencies that feel free to attack and offend Christians at every turn, apparently without a second thought, yet go to great lengths to avoid offending other religious groups. I don’t want to delve into that subject. Rather, I want to look at how Christians need to view and respond to such attacks on the faith and on Christ.
The message of Jesus, as it relates to being offended, attacked, ridiculed, persecuted, or even killed for one’s faith, was a radical and provocative message. It boils down to these two things: one, expect those things to happen to you and when they do, consider it a blessing and respond to your antagonists with the love of Christ. Two, if you are not the subject of such attacks then reconsider whether you are truly following Jesus or not.
Jesus said it so clearly in His most famous message, The Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew chapter 5:10-12.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Far from being the exception that rocks our faith, Jesus says that persecution and ridicule are part and parcel of following Him and should actually increase our faith. Such opposition should serve as an assurance that we are truly following Jesus and being faithful to Him. The result of such opposition is that we are in some way blessed by God. We are in a better place in life when such things happen than when they don’t. Blessing in God’s economy is not measured by your prosperity and health but according to Jesus by the push-back you get because you love and serve Him alone as Lord and King.
Of course it is possible to be ridiculed for your faith simply because you are being a jerk to people. What I am talking about is the opposition that comes because you adhere to Christ and His teachings and do all of it under the command to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. I am talking about holding to theological and moral positions that the culture finds offensive, but doing so with the grace and love of Christ.
Being ridiculed and persecuted for who He was and what He taught is what Jesus faced all the time. His response was one of strong gentleness, returning evil with good and loving and forgiving even those who drove the nails into His body and spit on and cursed Him as He died. In Matthew 10:25 He warns us that is this is how the world treats Him, the Master, then why would we the servants expect to be treated any differently?
Why would a follower of Christ become offended and indignant when attacked for their faith? If anything it should be taken as a badge of honor that we are counted worthy to suffer for His namesake. That is exactly what Paul says to the Philippians in chapter 1 verse 29.
29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake
Talk about provocative! Paul is saying that we have been granted, as a privilege, to believe in AND suffer for the sake of Christ. When he writes of his own imprisonment for the Gospel he writes of the benefits such suffering and persecution have had for the advancement of the Gospel, making the point that other followers of Christ have been emboldened to share their faith more openly as a result of Paul being persecuted. How counter-intuitive is that? Rather than run and hide out of fear or protest the injustice of his persecution, friends and colleagues of Paul shared the Gospel even more. I think it was because they saw his imprisonment, his persecution, not as a sign of something going wrong but of everything going right! Rather than be angry and lash back at the opposition, they showed the love of Christ even more boldly.
That is the Christian response to offense, ridicule, persecution, and even martyrdom. Instead of fighting back with vitriol, or anger, or even guns, the follower of Christ fights back with joy, love, grace, and forgiveness, in short, with the Gospel of Christ. For some people the answer is to destroy their enemies by way of attack. Abraham Lincoln asked the question, “If I make my enemy my friend, have I not destroyed my enemy?” That is the way of Christ. Not to make your enemy die, but to rather lay down your life for them so they are no longer your enemy. That is the way of the Cross. It is not an easy way. The easy way is to retaliate, to fight back, to punch harder and more frequently. The way of the Cross, the way of the Provocative Christian, is to respond with love by serving and sacrificing for your enemies. You do that so they may one day become followers of Christ, no longer enemies, but friends, even brothers and sisters in Him. So pray for those who persecute and ridicule you. Look for opportunities to serve them and love them in Jesus name. Refuse to attack their character or intentions. Certainly engage their ideas but as 1 Peter 3:15 urges, “do so with gentleness and respect”. And finally rejoice that you have been counted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus.