Because of my recent bout of being internetless, I’ve missed a lot of important news – I didn’t hear about the attack in Libya until this morning, and had to do a lot of reading back over things to gain context. The attack was a tragedy and not just because an American state official died. The inevitable and heavily disappointing part of any such tragedy is, of course, the immediate jumps toward politicization and spin. Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney is currently taking a lot of heat for tone deaf and politicized comments in the wake of the tragedy, as is to be expected.
But I’m not here to write about that. I honestly don’t know enough context for what happened or for Romney’s remarks to comment adequately on that particular situation. What I am here to comment on is the layperson’s assessment, particularly that of people in the church.
There is a disturbing, intensely vocal portion of the American evangelical church that seems to take its cue for Godliness and Christian service much more from nationalism than from Biblical precedent. And this is no more apparent than when engaged in a discussion about “the Muslims” and issues in the Middle East. All too often, Islam – a religion comprised of literally millions of people across the globe – will be first discussed as a monolith, and then railed against as “violent” and “savage.” There is a faction of the American church will react with little surprise to attacks like the ones in Libya, saying things like, “Well, what did you expect from such people?”
For some reason unbeknownst to even myself, I usually react to such comments with a sigh and a resignation of “Okay, never talking to that person.” I think, quite often, it has been easier for me to write off this section of the American Christian population as “fringe,” as those whom it is better to ignore than attempt to engage in good faith.
But then, today, my friend Alan Noble who writes for Christ and Pop Culture posted a link on Facebook to an analysis of the Libya attacks, prompting the following comment from a person on his friend list:
I say...bring ALL our troops home and let those savage people do what they do best. KILL one another. There are not a million Muslims worth the life of one American soldier.
Upon clicking on this person’s profile, one discovers that he is the pastor of a Baptist church in Arkansas.
Something within me broke.
Up until this point, I could reasonably (though unjustifiably) go on in pretending ignorance that the anti-Muslim sector of Christians in America were just laypeople, uneducated and fringe. But no, here was irrefutable proof that some pastors – shepherds of the flock, people who are supposed to be held to higher standard – were espousing the same racist, Islamophobic trash that I was seeing from commenters on The National Review Online. I suppose that this tripe had to be coming from somewhere, but now I had a pastor saying, directly, in a public forum, that some lives are worth more than others.
And that makes me angry. Very angry.
I have a message to every pastor and pastor-in-training out there: if you think that some lives are worth more than others, you need to quit your job. Immediately.
Don’t take a day to pray about it; don’t spend time waffling about whether or not it’s God’s will. If you, in any inkling in the back of your brain, can possibly think that some lives in this world are worth more than others – because of their skin color, religious beliefs, clothing, or country of origin – you are not fit to be leading God’s flock.
You are the malignant tumor on the Body of Christ. If you can possibly say that God cares about some people more than others – which is what you are saying when you say that someone’s life is “worth more” – you are not fit for the role you are in. Take your severance pay, contact your deacons, and turn in your resignation.
In orthodox Christianity, we preach a Jesus who died for ALL. We preach a Jesus who spoke to the lowest of society and welcomed them in before those who most “deserved” his attention – the Pharisees and religious leaders. We worship a Jesus who preached about the goodness of those outside his religious traditions – the Good Samaritan, for example.
If you as a pastor can claim that Jesus with one breath on a Sunday morning, and then say that Muslims are not worth the life of an American soldier on Wednesday, you have failed, utterly and completely to fulfill your duty as a Christian leader. There is no grace and mercy in the claim that some lives are worth more than others; there is no love there, and love, grace, and mercy are essential to Christian leadership. You are damaging people and you are damaging the Word of God if you can possibly say what this pastor said.
I have hope that you will learn and change and see that the grace, love and mercy of God extends beyond your circle of "people who look like you." But I refuse to tolerate this possible change and growth as a reason to allow you to keep a pastorate. This is a change and growth that must be done away and outside of a leadership position. Asking you to step down is the most gracious thing I can think of right now, as I believe your views can change. But I will not have you wreaking havoc on the trusting people of your church and spreading malignant, terrible lies in the process.
So here is your pink slip. You're done.