I usually try to stay away from political matters on this blog. Too many friends and family of different persuasions read it, and I'm not interested in provoking an argument.
But the current hysteria over plans by the leader of a tiny fringe Christian organization to burn copies of the Qu'ran on September 11 strays into my professional territory. Late-breaking news this afternoon came that the self-appointed pastor had called off the book-burning on the grounds that he had received assurances that the controversial Islamic community center would not be built near Ground Zero. Heaven knows if that "deal" will hold.
Listen, folks. It's really very simple. Do we take Christ at his word or not? What does Jesus tell us quite clearly in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:12): Whatever you wish others to do to you, do that to them; this summarizes the law and the prophets.
We're very quick to throw this out the window when we've been wronged. "They didn't do to us what they would have us to do them!" we shriek. "All bets are off!" But the whole point of the Golden Rule is to reverse the grammar of revenge. Jesus didn't say -- unless they strike first. The "law and the prophets" contained in that statement is quite complete and unconditional.
Do we want Muslims burning the Bible? Of course not. Not that they ever would, given that the Bible is also a holy book for them (although not the only holy book nor the chief among holy books). But that's not what we're thinking when we flail about for a statement to make about what ideology we oppose. We protest that we are speaking out against a false and demonic religious doctrine, not against human beings (we love our enemies, don't we, just as Jesus commanded a few verses later). But how would we receive that same argument coming from those profaning what we hold most sacred?
The reason to forego burning other people's holy books is not because it might have bad practical consequences. It's not because Islam as a whole is not to blame for September 11 any more than Christianity as a whole is to blame for Oklahoma City. It's that it is utterly contradictory. It's that it is profoundly un-Christian -- so un-Christian that it threatens the very power of the Gospel in which all Christians have their hope.
Such an action is contemplated, planned, and carried out in the name of a Christianity that clearly and unequivocally condemns exactly such actions -- actions of revenge and retaliation, actions justified by the rhetoric of holy war. It doesn't matter that one's enemies couch the conflict in that rhetoric. It doesn't matter how terribly you've been wronged. Jesus is so clear on this point. Turn the other cheek. Bless those who curse you. Do good to those who hate you. Pray for those who despitefully use you and persecute you. When it is time to act, let your actions express the moral identity between others and yourself, rather than making of yourself an exception to the rule you would have others follow, or declaring the rules null and void because others broke them first.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This is the law and the prophets.