catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 5 :: 2005.03.11 — 2005.03.24


Claiming our history in Lent

In the church I serve, we?re doing something a little weird this Lent. Most people at church are squirming, but we thought it only honest in our age of terrorism. For Lent we?re hauling out some of the church?s own dirty secrets of terror and fear.

After 9/11, it became too easy for us in North America to gawk at a deranged Muslim fanaticism. What crackpot religion would elicit a crackled cry of “God is great?” from the cockpit voice recorder seconds before the world changed? What sort of sick spirituality puts a gleeful lilt in a Palestinian woman?s happy jig over the disaster?

However, 9/11 and our abrupt entrance into the age of terror should cause Christians to remember that ?jihad

is not a Muslim invention." Before we shake our heads in judgment, Christians are wise to ask hard questions of ourselves. Like how did we ever get from “turn the other cheek” to “slay the infidels”? How did “pray for those who persecute you” morph into “inflict gruesome and prolonged suffering on your enemies”? We?ve got to ask the questions, because others are; we?ve got to recount our own history of horrors because “it calls us to humility. We must remember our history because it forces us to evaluate our future. We must remember our history?because the Muslims do.”

And it?s not pretty. For instance, the first Crusade, called by Pope Urban II, was sheer terrorism no matter how you might historically justify or reconstruct it. Along the way to Jerusalem, crusaders terrorized and massacred Jews and many orthodox Christians as well. They came to Jerusalem, a city of about 100,000, and set fire to the Great Synagogue where the Jews had gathered for safety. Muslims fled to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, where they paid a ransom for guarantees for their safety, but the next day they were all slaughtered. And after they were done, they “rejoiced and exulted and sang the ninth chant to the Lord.”

One of the Crusaders, Raymond of Agiles, summarized the event in words that Osama bin Laden could have used: “It was a just and splendid judgement of God, that this place should be filled with the blood of unbelievers, when it had suffered so long from their blasphemies.”

This was merely the first Crusade. Almost 200 years more, spanning five more crusades—even a children?s crusade—continued this Christian cycle of violence and hatred.

But hey, why give all this good news only to people outside the faith? Let?s keep some of it in house. And within a short time, the church launched into the notorious Inquisition. Begun in France against the Cathar movement, the Inquisition moved the church from holy war to holy torture, where the horrific means of torture justified the holy ends of protecting and defending the institutional church.

And if you think this is only a really mean Roman Catholic streak (a flawed historical conclusion since this is our small ?c? catholic, Christian history), let?s look at the torch happy Protestants. The Protestants were equally lethal in their pursuit and defense of God?s truth and grace. Luther?s judeopathy moved him to encourage German princes to “set fire to [Jewish] synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn?[and] that their houses will also be destroyed.” Servetus should have wished for non-flammable smocks in the company of John Calvin. Zwingli, Luther and Calvin all gave their theologically justified approval to the death sentence for heretics. And let?s not forget the Puritan Witch hunts, where terror was a New World import, all in the name of orthodoxy, and where the bible became a weapon of dogmatic destruction. Sadly, the list goes on with the biblically defended horrors of slavery, the cultural cleansing of aboriginal North American peoples?

We can be so quick to point out the religiously motivated terror of others today and yet so indifferent to our own Christian past of persecution and cruelty. I wonder if the fear of terror around us should give us pause to consider the root of that evil within us.

In Generous Orthodoxy, Brian McLaren refers to a story from novelist Orson Scott Caird about a town with a history marked by a horrible atrocity. As a result, the town bears a Cain-like curse. Marked for life, it must recount to all who visit or inhabit the town the appalling details of what happened long ago. But what first felt like a curse in fact becomes a blessing because by retelling the story, “the townspeople were able again and again to repent of it, to affirm the ?we?? who now tell the story do not want to be the same ?we?? who committed the atrocity.”

Lent is the Church’s season to retell its ugly secrets. And this Good Friday, as we remember the horror of the cross, asking ourselves “Were you there?”, singing “I crucified thee,” let?s celebrate that the ‘we’ who retell this story can be a healed version of the ‘we’ who were there committing our more original atrocity.

Phil Reinders is Senior Pastor (a title he chafes under) at First Christian Reformed Church in Calgary, Alberta.

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