The news from around the world, especially the Mideast, is filled with reports of angry, narrow minded, violent people waring on each other with no clear understanding of what they hope to achieve other than the destruction of the other. There is no point in simply lumping them together as Islamic extremists because it is more complicated than that. Islamic denominations detest each other. Ethnic conclaves and tribes work hard to outdo one another in cleansing areas under their control with whatever violence can be brought to bear. Even well meaning protesters claiming to fight for freedom and justice feel free and justified in using violence toward a goal no farther away that whatever force opposes them at the moment.
Thank goodness we Americans are different. Or are we? I have my doubts. I’m reminded to two movements on opposite sides of the political divide. In the 1960s a number of my left wing friends were so exorcized over issues surrounding Viet Nam and civil rights that they foamed at the mouth with a desire for violence toward “the establishment.” Riots, bombings and general mayhem ensued, but they lacked the critical mass to foment a genuine domestic insurrection. Most Americans otherwise opposed to the war and in favor of civil rights would not go along, in fact were appalled at their tactics. More recently, social media has been ablaze with right wing extremists of many stripes ranging from old time racial hate groups, to virulent tea partiers, to violence prone gun rights advocates, some of them claiming the name of Christ as their shield and justification. So far they are more bluster than action, but that could change at any moment. Like the lefties before them, they cannot generate the critical mass needed for the general insurrection they think required to remake America in their image.
As far as I can tell, there is not much difference between the Taliban, various factions fighting each other in Syria, or any number of our own homegrown extremist groups. If one of Al-Quaeda’s goals was to seduce Americans into their own quagmire of internecine fratricide, these groups have become their willing allies. Fortunately, it seems that Americans are wiling to tolerate them up to a point, and that point ends when it becomes clear that, however much they spout the litany of freedom and democracy, what they really favor is some form of totalitarianism in which their desires would become the indelible law of the land imposed by violence and deadly force.
This Sunday many Christians will hear the story from Luke about how Jesus rebuked two disciples who wanted to call down fire to consume a Samaritan town that rejected him. He was not, and is not, a messiah of vengeful punishment but of healing and reconciliation. We who claim to be Christian are called to be the same, regardless of whatever else our politics call us to be. Our biggest problem is that we seem to be unable to get it through our Christian heads that healing and reconciliation are not the same as appeasement. And with that, I’ll leave it to you to work on what follows.