Jerry Falwell, Jr., president of Liberty University, an evangelical Christian institution, ignited a firestorm in his comments about carrying guns and killing Muslims:
“I’ve always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in,” he says, the rest of his sentence drowned out by loud applause while he said, “and killed them.”
“I just wanted to take this opportunity to encourage all of you to get your permit. We offer a free course,” he said. “Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.”
Some Christians may feel that comments like these are acceptable. Others who wouldn’t say such things aloud may share the sentiment.
We see a world in chaos. We see mass murder and violence. We hear of plans for domination in the name of Islam and our fears are ignited. We grow suspicious of others and can only think of protecting ourselves.
In such times, talk about forgiveness seems irresponsible. Loving and praying for enemies sounds foolish.
I would argue that it is unacceptable for Christians to speak as Jerry Falwell, Jr. did. Put more strongly, this is an instance of a Christian being offended by the cross.
And this shouldn’t surprise us. While we may think that the cross is an offense to an unbelieving world, in Scripture the cross is an offense to the people of God.
In the first century God’s people were under the thumb of foreign oppressors. They were mistreated. The presence of Roman soldiers in Israel and Jerusalem was a daily reminder of the nation’s existential crisis.
They wanted Rome out. They were tired of being kicked around and wanted vengeance. They cried out for justice, God’s justice, and they longed for salvation, which they understood as the purifying of God’s land of their pagan oppressors and the liberation of God’s people. Their songs of praise envisioned freedom from enemies and from fear (Luke 1).
When Jesus arrived on the scene, they were primed for a militaristic Messiah who would rally the nation, take up the cause of liberation and bring about a glorious triumph. They longed for someone in the image of their most recent nationalistic hero, Judas Maccabeus (John 6:15).
Into this situation of unrest, Jesus came as a cross-shaped Messiah to form a cross-oriented kingdom. He preached repentance from quests for revenge on Rome and called God’s people to forgive their enemies and to pray for the ones persecuting them (Matt. 5:44).
This wasn’t a popular message.
He told his hometown that God’s long-expected salvation had arrived, which thrilled them (Luke 4:14-22)! But then he said that this salvation would include Syrians and other ethnic groups they had come to despise (vv. 23-27).
They were offended and tried to kill him (vv. 28-29).
He told his disciples that he was headed to Jerusalem to die on a cross (Mark 8:31-32) and called on his followers to take up their crosses and follow him (vv. 34-35).
Peter had had enough. What script is Jesus reading from!? How is any of this going to work!?
Is he serious about “taking up the cross,” the central symbol of violent Roman oppression of our people? Crucifixion was Rome’s method of terrorizing the imaginations of a conquered people. Jewish bodies displayed on crosses served as billboards, crushing hopes for freedom and warning against insurrection.
Peter was offended by the cross and began to rebuke Jesus (Mark 8:32). “Are you insane!? Do you have any idea that this is the worst possible way to liberate God’s people? How is this going to solve the pressing problem of our people being terrorized!?”
For Jesus’ disciples to go the way of the cross meant embracing God’s upside-down way of working, crucifying their desires for vengeance and retaliation. They were to form communities of hospitality and care for one another and others (including their enemies) while giving up guarantees of personal safety and learning to see all things through a cross-shaped lens, even during times of cultural upheaval.
The gospel reveals that God accomplishes his purposes through the cross, which is “foolishness” in terms of this world’s way of doing things. It is a scandal to God’s people because it calls for the crucifixion of all other loyalties. It crucifies us to the world (Gal. 6:14), including our hopes, longings, prejudices, assumptions, fears, our desires to determine the course of events and for security. It demands absolute allegiance.
God’s way of working is a scandal and it was God’s people who were scandalized (1 Cor. 1:23).
The same impulses that led to God’s people being offended are the ones that shaped Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s comments about Muslims.
Just let them come on our campus. We would “end those Muslims!” Looking at “those people” through the lens of the cross is out of the question. What good would it do? They want to kill us!
The cross is not a personal and private matter between me and God. The cross determines everything for God’s people. It claims our bodies, our communities, our loves and longings, and secures an eternal future for those who cling to it.
As in Jesus’ day, some who identify as God’s people are offended by the cross. It seems an impossible option in an intense cultural climate of unrest.