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When Right Isn’t Right


The religious right has co-opted a popular view of what it means to be both a Christian and an American, giving it broader visibility and reach in its dissemination of a political agenda cloaked in militant Christian rhetoric. Mirroring the message that has been religiously transmitted to all Americans since 2001—that we are engaged in a war against terror—true believers are engaged in a war against sin. It’s battlefield thinking: Life is a conflict between two forces, the one force evil and to be demonized, the other force good and to be embraced. Christians are most faithful and Americans are most patriotic when they fighting.

Not a big fan of the drinking-and-screwing brand of college life, my daughter Madeleine decided that she would check out one of the meetings when a student invited her to the InterVarsity Christian Wednesday night small group.

InterVarsity? I said. That’s pretty conservative, you know.

But Madeleine, long an active member of a progressive Lutheran church, wasn’t bothered by that. One of her closest friends had a conservative theology, but she was also a social firebrand, advocating tirelessly on behalf of politically progressive causes.

So Madeleine wasn’t expecting the difference she discovered when she started attending small group meetings of InterVarsity Christians.

For starters, she mentioned she was taking a course on the gospel of John in the religious-studies department. One member of the group immediately wanted to know who was teaching it—was he a Bible-based teacher?

He’s a retired Lutheran pastor, she said.

Lutheran? he said doubtfully.

Yeah, Madeleine said, and I’m one, too.

She told me she was pretty sure that they started praying for the salvation of her soul right then and there.

These are true stories: The Dalai Lama came to visit the University of Buffalo this fall. It was an extraordinary visit and for weeks the students and faculty had prepared for his arrival by making peace poles and placing them all around the campus.

Madeleine had been attending the weekly small group meeting of InterVarsity students. Some of them were very worried the Dalai Lama’s visit put believers at spiritual risk. They prayed to bless the campus to keep it safe from the apostasy of the Dalai Lama. Some of them admitted that, in their bid to keep the campus safe, they had broken down some of the peace poles.

Madeleine was the only InterVarsity student who attended the Dalai Lama’s speech. She called me that night and said that his words were the most Christian words she had heard all semester.

On Halloween I was listening to a local Christian radio host talking about the forces of evil that she claimed Halloween celebrated. Of all the days in the year this was the day on which Satan was most dangerous. Christians had to be prepared to do battle with him and all his angels of darkness.

“We’ve got to get violent,” she said. “Violent. We’ve just got to smash our enemies. The Lord wants us to be violent.”

Then she turned to the co-host, her husband, for his endorsement, “Doesn’t he, honey?”

After all, hadn’t Jesus himself said he came not to bring peace but a sword? It seems that some of his followers have found a battle plan in the Bible, distorting metaphor to authorize a kind of Christian version of jihad.

Military metaphors and the rhetoric of war are so often on the lips of those who profess themselves to be Christian.

As a guest on Dr. James’ Dobson’s Focus On the Family radio program, the conservative media critic, Michael Medved, explained what his wife did when someone they knew had a baby. The gifts they gave were, of course, pink or blue. “We give the little baby girl a doll, of course,” he paused for dramatic effect, “And the boy—we give the little baby boy a gun.”

Bullets cannot be recalled. They can not be uninvented. But they can be taken out of the gun.

—Martin Amis


Through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder.

Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth.

Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate.

Darkness cannot put out darkness.

Only light can do that. . . .

Difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future. When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.

Let us realize that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

—Martin Luther King, Jr., “Where Do We Go From Here?”, 1967

—Jo Page

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