Thought for the Day - 15/02/2014 - Rev Roy Jenkins
It felt like guilt by association when a friend tackled me this week on the atrocities being carried out in the Central African Republic ‘I’m surprised the Christians haven’t been stopped from doing such things,’ he said, only twisting the discomfort I’ve felt with every report of so-called Christian militias, killing and wounding in an attempt to drive out every Muslim.
Yes, I know the country has ethnic tensions, that the whole region is unstable, and that the attacks are claimed as reprisals for terror of matching horror inflicted on their own communities. But these particular killers of men, women and children still use a label which identifies them with one who taught about loving enemies and never seeking vengeance.
Not in his name, I want to say; and not in mine either.
It brought home to me again the way distressed Muslim friends reacted to 9/ll and other terrorist attacks carried out in the name of a form of Islam which is light years away from their own: ‘I’m as appalled as you are,’ they said. ‘They don’t speak for me.’
But they still share the shame - just as we can be mortified by the actions of governments meant to represent us; or why I cringe every time vicious anti-gay protests identify the placard-bearers as American Baptists of some kind. ‘Well,’ I want to scream. ‘You’re not speaking for this Welsh Baptist.’
I don’t think we should hide such embarrassment when we consider something we hold dear is being distorted. We might need to disown the misrepresentation with some indignation, in order to make it clear where we believe the truth lies. And if that seems to open a door to self-righteousness, then we can kick it firmly shut by acknowledging that we get things wrong too, and can often be pretty miserable representatives of the lofty ideals we might be seeking to live by. ‘Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner,’ is one New Testament prayer which can never be over-used.
But more important than any indignation at the distortion must be the attempt to model a different way. The BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding showed what that could mean this week from a small town in that ravaged Central African Republic. He introduced us to Father Xavier, who over the past four weeks has kept his parish church open to give sanctuary from the militia mobs to 650 Muslims..
There are bullet holes in the walls, and he struggles to find enough food for those he’s taken in. ‘Nobody in the community understood me,’ he says. ‘They attacked and threatened me.’ But he insists, ‘Now is the time for men of good will to stand up and prove the strength and quality of their faith.’
When Father Xavier speaks in the name of Christ, you sense he knows what he’s talking about.