taking the words of Jesus seriously

Last weekend I wrote in Red Letter Christians remembering the victims of the Aurora, Colorado and contrasting the paralyzing debate between gun control and weapon rights advocates with the nonviolent teachings of Clarence Jordan and Martin Luther King who advocated a personal conversion of the heart as the ultimate solution to social problems.  They were not against legislation and smart policy, but these two Southern Baptist preachers proclaimed the need for a personal piety that would reject violence as the means of solving our problems.

It has been a weary week watching the marriage battle between many and the LGBT community supporters, many of whom are also Christian. How can we tell when we have crossed the line of bigotry?  that suggests the answer is when people feel hate.

And now seven days later I find myself again grieving for the Christian Church, guilty of complacency in a culture of violence, and the victims of another horrific shooting.  This time a gunman opened fire Sunday morning at a Sikh temple outside of Milwaukee, resulting in multiple casualties of peaceful worshippers and critically wounding the first police officer who came to their aid.

CNN noted “Sikhism has reported over 700 incidents of aggression against them since 9/11, based on anti-Islamic sentiment.”  I’ve watched the recent commentators arguing that the Christian church is under attack. Soon we will hear commentators suggest that if the peace-loving Sikhs were only carrying guns, this latest assault might have been prevented. This will outrage the gun-control people who will demand more legislation to prevent innocent people from being killed. Wash, rinse, repeat.

We must pray this week for the Sikh community, the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department and other law enforcement agencies who responded to the shooting.  But we must also pray for each other as we find ourselves part of a culture addicted to violence, that believes violence is a means to solving our problems.

Many of the 700 reported incidents against American Sikhs since 9/11 had a common thread that connects the assaults.  The attackers confused the Sikhs with members of al-Qaeda and Afghans, with whom we are at war.  They assumed men with beards and turbans as all the same.  We often make this mistake and we fuel this error with nationalism and hate filled rhetoric.  Charlie Daniels marketed this bigotry and indiscriminate racism in his post 911 song titled “This Ain’t No Rag, It’s a Flag.”

1950, When Clarence Jordan was out of town on a preaching engagement at Dr. King’s Dexter Baptist Church in Montgomery, the Jordans and the community members of Koinonia Farm were excommunicated from their local Baptist church.  This was a time when attempts to champion diversity and empowerment for African Americans was being fought back under the threat of white supremacy groups and countless acts of violence.  The Koinonian’s offence was they brought a person student from India to worship.  The congregation confused the student to be a Negro because of his dark skin.

Respecting the polity of the Baptist church, the Koinonians left without protest and refused to give into the temptation of retaliation for the violence of bombings and shootings at the farm.  It was a personal choice to reject the culture of violence and fear.

In the hours following shooting at the Sikh Temple, Huffington Post contributor Simran Jeet Singh wrote the following in a blog article titled “As A Sikh-American I Refuse To Live In Fear And Negativity”:

As a Sikh, I believe that people are inherently good. Our faith instills a sense of perpetual optimism, and our traditions teach us to always make the best of a tough situation.

Fear and negativity are foreign to our vocabulary. Sikhs are not a God-fearing people; we are God-loving.

The commitment to love and optimism shapes the way that Sikhs interact with their societies, and I’m concerned that becoming cynical and negative might lead us down a slippery slope.

So I am making a conscious decision. I am refusing to accept that human beings are malicious and hateful, and I am rejecting the notion that we need to live in fear.

It is too early to tell with certain that the shooter in Milwaukee County misunderstood who the people were that he was killing.  We don’t yet know his motives.  Maybe we never will.  But nevertheless, we Christians should have a time of repentance for our role in profiling and willingly or unwittingly making people feel hate.

It is an exaggeration to say the Christian Church is under attack in America. Where we have problems we have the means and right to legally protest or use non-violent civil disobedience. But it is not an exaggeration to say the teachings of the Prince of Peace surely are under attack. Therein lies our true problem and the true solution.

Kirk founded Almost Heaven Habitat for Humanity in Pendleton Co., W. Va., and was its executive director for 11 years, leading it to be recognized as the most productive rural Habitat affiliate. Kirk is the Chair of the upcoming and Director of US Field Operations for The Fuller Center for Housing

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