Letter to Liberty University from an Alum

Julian TurnerApril 6, 2016

Dr. Jerry Falwell Jr.
Liberty University
1971 University Blvd.
Lynchburg, VA 24515

Dear Dr. Jerry Falwell Jr.,

I enrolled at Liberty University during a difficult time in my life.  I cannot explain what it meant to receive the warmth and concern from all of the staff that I encountered.  Every time I had a need or concern and called the university, I felt supported.  Representatives were always encouraging and would always remind me of prayer services available.  I was not always a good student, even failing out at one point.  After letters from people that cared to see me succeed, Liberty readmitted me.

God’s call on my life became clear during this period.  Ultimately, I graduated in 2013, with honors.  As part of the 40th Anniversary Class, I earned a B.S. in religion with a minor in counseling.  My journey was just beginning when I was at Liberty.  I am now pursuing a Master’s degree at another Christian university.  I heard your emphatic comments from the convocation on December 5th, 2015, in response to the abhorrent shootings in San Bernardino two days earlier.  You stated that you “always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in,… and killed them.”  In my moment of stupefaction, my mind went back to May 11th, 2013 and graduation. I thought back and remembered walking across that stage with my parents and my then-fiancé watching.  That day, I was filled with joy and a sense of completion.  Afterwards, as I shook your hand and shared a few words as pictures were being taken, I had a feeling of pride like never before.  That said, reading and re-reading your concealed-carry statement firsthand left me dumbfounded.

Where was the relational Jesus that dined with tax collectors and talked with prostitutes?  With all the Bible courses and study required of me while attending Liberty, I could not find any biblical justification for your comments.  The exegetical skill that I acquired as a Liberty University student has not enabled me to find any scriptural support for responding to the Muslim community in such fashion.  As believers in Christ we have to seize opportunities to share the love of Christ.  He loves us as His creation even before we choose to be in relationship with Him.  We cannot fulfill the Great Commission without sharing His love.  I dare not question your credentials. I merely want to suggest that perhaps, the example of Christ throughout the New Testament is most important in times like this, times when displaying the love of Christ is most difficult.

As I was reminded in a sermon by my Pastor Chris Johnson recently, Jesus was not born into wealth, prestige, or even comfort.  He was born in a manger, a place of filth.  He came from the bottom of society to save all, not some of humankind.  How that narrative gives way to love being expressed through firearms is incomprehensible.  Did not Jesus heal the ear that Peter so violently removed?  And what of the Muslims in northern Kenya that on December 21st, 2015 risked their lives to save a group of Christians (one of the Muslims, a teacher, Salah Farah, died after being shot as he shielded these Christians)?  Or the Pakistani Muslims that formed a human chain around another group of Christians in 2013 allowing them to worship safely?  Or the Muslims in Egypt that protected Coptic Christians from sectarian violence also in 2013?  Or the young Muslims that protected a group of Christians in Nigeria in 2014?  I could continue, but I think the point has been made.  You’ve acknowledged that Liberty has 15-20 Muslim students.  Have you considered how these comments may impact them?  With nearly 100,000 on-line students, that number is almost certainly significantly higher.

Paul impassionedly pleads in Ephesians 3:14-21:

When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit.  Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him.  Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.  Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.  Now all the glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.  Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.

I have waited to compose this letter so that it would not be confused with some sort of knee-jerk reaction.  Who would have known in the time that has elapsed that you would endorse Donald Trump, a man that has an agenda constructed on separation and beating the “savages?”  Building walls, having people pledge allegiance to himself while having others forcefully removed from his conventions, all while venomously attacking anyone that disagrees with his point of view.  Furthermore, I didn’t want to jump on the bandwagon of the other open letters.  Interestingly, in the few months since the San Bernardino shootings, our nation has experienced two more mass shootings. The first, February 20th, in Kalamazoo, Michigan which resulted in six killed, and two injured, and the second, in Hesston, Kansas which resulted in four killed, and 14 injured.  Neither committed by Muslims.  Both committed by home grown Americans.  So is calling for the arming of more people the answer?  Does it not stand to reason that the increased proliferation of guns will only continue to make these atrocities much easier to commit?

I might also point out that conservative stalwart and icon, Ronald Reagan ushered in stricter gun control laws as Governor of California, and also after his presidency, lending his support to the Brady Bill and an assault weapons ban.  His response to being the target of an assassination attempt was not to push for relaxing gun control laws.  Instead, he realized that with an annual murder rate of over 9,000 people, more gun control was prudent.  Additionally, President Reagan hadn’t forgotten the American creed from Emma Lazarus etched onto the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

So at this time, I am returning all of my Liberty University paraphernalia including, but not limited to, my degree.  I encourage all fellow Liberty University alum to do the same, not to show solidarity with me, but to acknowledge that arming everyone, or even every Christian, or every American, is a quick way to leave everyone blind, or worse.  This is a way to demonstrate the relational love of Christ, to live the Gospel.  I appreciate the role that Liberty University has played in my life.  Thus, this is not an indictment or condemnation of the university or any of its faculty and staff.  However, I could not bring my conscious to terms with such harsh, violent, and threatening suggestions in the light of my faith.

Sincerely,

Julian Turner

Julian Turner a Washington DC., native, is currently a graduate student at Eastern Mennonite University pursuing a MA in Interdisciplinary Studies.  Currently he is a volunteer with InterVarsity as a Global Urban Trek co-director.

Prescription

jlseagull on flickrby Keith Lyndaker

I will go back to the place tomorrow.

My feet will walk where his did that night last week.

I stepped out to get some groceries and knew something was up when I saw the roads blocked, the darkness lit up by the flashing lights of 20 police cars.

I passed the groups of people standing around. A man shouted at another, wondering what happened. He didn’t know, but it was something bad. I went inside the Giant, grabbed a cart, and started shopping.

At the cash register, the manager advised the cashiers on how to be safe when they go home. “Get in your car and lock the doors,” she said.

And “You never know what these people will do.”

She seemed to know what had happened. Something about an attempted robbery and someone being shot.

“He died,” the manager stated knowingly.

She’s right. I find that out later from the newspaper. There’s no mention of a robbery, just somebody banging on store windows who when confronted starts shooting at the police.

Who respond in kind.

So I am confronted yet again with the violence that is very much alive around me.

And those who pound upon the store windows of the world seeking part of the prosperity that is within,once again realizing that it is often only a thin transparent barrier that separates different lives.

So tomorrow I will return to the place, changed by what has occurred.

I need to renew a prescription.

If only the diseases of society were so easily cured.

 

(orginially posted March 15, 2011 on peacegrooves.wordpress.com)

Balancing Acts – Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin

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Editor’s Note: Tom Beutel, a regular contributor to PeaceSigns, is Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Mount Vernon, Ohio. Balancing Acts is a monthly feature of PeaceSigns.

by Tom Beutel

“Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”

John 8:11 (NRSV)

While the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin” does not actually appear in the Bible, it is a commonly expressed sentiment within the Christian community. The saying is attributed to St. Augustine, included in a letter c. 424 as “With love for mankind and hatred for sins.” Biblical support includes passages such as Romans 5:8, “ But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” in which God demonstrates his love despite people’s sin.

The idea of loving the sinner and hating the sin would seem to be foundational to any idea of peacemaking. In almost any situation that one can imagine involving peacemaking it is assumed that there is wrong that exists and which must be corrected: a government or leader or group is oppressing others; an army is killing enemies; the rich are prospering at the expense of the poor.

Here I fall back, as I often do, on the idea of peace as it is presented by Perry Yoder in Shalom: The Bible’s Word for Salvation, Justice & Peace. The Old Testament word for peace, Shalom, and its New Testament Greek equivalent eirene denote more than the absence of violence; they describe wholeness and well-being, “things as they ought to be,” healthy, right relationships between people and God, themselves, others and the creation.

Peacemaking thus inherently involves discerning situations or behaviors that are not as they ought to be, where well-being of some is not present because of the actions of others (or even because of their own actions). Peacemaking then acts to bring about change, relieving those who are suffering. It seeks to do this without harming those who are causing the situation, even seeking their true well-being, loving them. This is what is meant by loving one’s enemies.

But notice what is implied. To say that things are not “as they ought to be,” that there are “enemies,” that is those who seek to deprive others of well-being, is to say that some behaviors are wrong while others are right. It is to say that some behaviors are sinful. As peacemakers attempt to rectify situations which are not “as they ought to be” while still loving those who cause them is to hate the sin and love the sinner.

Peacemaking goes beyond calming things down, beyond “keeping the lid on;” it is more than a “cease-fire.” To simply “get along” without recognizing wrong behaviors does not result in true peace. The Old Testament prophets frequently railed against such behaviors, calling out those false prophets who declared peace when there was no peace.  For example,

My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations …     Because, in truth, because they have misled my people, saying, “Peace,” when there is no peace; and because, when the people build a wall, these prophets smear whitewash on it. Ezekiel 13:9a-10 (NRSV)

The implication of this scripture is that something is not right (a wall), but that it is being portrayed as things being right (whitewashed), in fact as “peace.” But, says God, there is no peace, the people are being misled.

We may be entering a time, in fact are already in that time, where peacemaking as we understand it will be very difficult, because it will be impossible to “love the sinner, hate the sin.” We are already in at least the beginnings of what some call the postmodern age. It is a time characterized by disillusionment in modernism, the age of reason and science which have failed to deliver solutions to humanity’s problems. This disillusionment has spread into a general distrust of all authority: government, education, science, parents, the church, etc.

This postmodern age is one in which there is no absolute truth, only stories constructed by individuals and groups out of their own experiences and desires. And, all stories are equally valid. Because stories are personal, it is not possible in the postmodern age to separate sin from sinner. To reject a particular behavior or belief is to reject the person exhibiting that behavior or belief. It is not possible to “love the sinner, hate the sin.” It is not possible to say, as Jesus did in John 8:11, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” We must either reject the person as well as the behavior, or we must accept the behavior as well as the person.

The very idea of peacemaking is founded on the recognition that some beliefs and behaviors are right and others are wrong; there are behaviors that deny well-being, while other behaviors promote well-being. We, as peacemakers, need to be able to tell the difference if we are to truly make peace.

This Spirit of Craziness

by Berry Friesen

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This past Sunday, my local newspaper published two establishment voices decrying the political craziness at work here in the US.  One lamented the “disturbing” candidacy of Donald Trump and how it revealed “our country’s dark side,” the other condemned the “ideological extremism” of Bernie Sanders.

In the Bible, the gospels include a story of Jesus encountering political insanity.  As it happens, the adult education class at the church where I am a member studied the story this past Sunday.  It describes Jesus’ encounter with an extremely violent man—likely a veteran of the Roman legion—who lived naked among the tombs along the Sea of Galilee’s east bank.

The story attributes the man’s rampaging violence to evil spirits that had possessed him. The name by which the spirits identified themselves—Legion—also named the notorious Roman cohort of 6,000 troops based in that particular place.  In the year prior to Jesus’ birth, this particular military unit had destroyed the Galilean town of Sepphoris and terrorized the population by crucifying 2,000 Jewish rebels.

The double meaning of the name (“Legion”) provides the interpretive key, helping us to see in this story Jesus’ response to the Roman Empire. Using this key, other elements of the story become clear.  The man’s craziness was a manifestation of his embrace of political domination and violence.  He had become incapable of being accountable to anyone or anything.  His desire for control was insatiable and could not be restrained.

This created a wretched isolation.  No one could bear to be in the man’s presence. He lived alone in a graveyard among the dead, abusing himself with stones.

Nearby, an industry required by the presence of the Roman Legion flourished:  pork production.  It was a large operation consisting of 2,000 pigs plus human attendants. Historian R.W. Davies notes that typically members of the Legion received a food ration of one pound of meat per day, often pork. So lots of locals found paid work tending that herd, butchering the mature animals and preparing the soldiers’ rations.

Jesus commanded the evil spirits to leave the man, restoring him to “his right mind” (Luke 8:35).  But the spirits of political domination and violence insisted they be allowed to occupy some host.  Why not the pigs?  Jesus agreed. “Then the unclean spirits came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned” (Luke 8:33).

One lesson is clear:  the spirits of domination and violence cause self-destruction.

Though Jesus had restored the crazy man to sanity, the local people were not pleased. Perhaps they had found the man to be entertaining in a scary sort of way.  Certainly they had enjoyed the economic benefits of hosting the spirits of domination and violence in their community.  Now they would need to find other paid work.  And so they begged Jesus to take his message of liberation to another place.

I find this story applicable to our time and place here in the US.

While we lament the craziness of this political season, we stubbornly refuse to make the connections between the craziness and the spirit of empire that sustains this country in its present form.

Why?  Because then we would either need to evict the spirits of domination and violence or admit that we too have come to welcome and depend upon their presence.  Rather than submitting to such an unpleasant but potentially liberating choice, we persist in our attempts to bind the beast with chains and shackles, pretending to limit the harm.

The election of Barack Obama—a very good man—was such an exercise.  Indeed, the spirits of domination and violence have intensified their evil under his watch, adding Honduras, Libya, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen to the places where death and mayhem reign, and parts of Nigeria, Mali and Chad too.

In the biblical story, the authority of Jesus was sufficient to evict the crazed spirit of empire and leave the man in his right mind.   But the story also reminds us that many actually prefer the turbulence of insanity to the uncertainty of healing.

As we live through this crazy election year, what will be our choice? Will we name the spirit producing the craziness?

Berry Friesen lives in Lancaster, PA and is part of the East Chestnut Street Mennonite congregation in that city.  He blogs at http://www.bible-and-empire.net

 

Moving Beyond Ableism: Discovering Discrepancies: The Mistreatment of Adults with Developmental Disabilities in the Legal System

deborah-ruth ferberEditor’s Note: Moving Beyond Ablesism is a quarterly column featuring the work of the Anabaptist Disabilities Network (ADNet) www.adnetonline.org and offers reflections from different authors on the various issues facing persons with disabilities.

By Deborah-Ruth Ferber

 I will always remember the headline in the Toronto Sun newspaper on February 3, 2012: “Toronto police shoot and kill man with scissors wearing hospital gown.” The day was like any other. Crisp, clear, and likely well below the freezing point.   A quiet, snowy residential suburb in Toronto, Canada was just waking up and starting its day when suddenly a man appeared out of nowhere holding two pairs of scissors in his hands. The man was wearing nothing more than a hospital gown and clearly seemed confused and in a daze. Reports later confirmed the fact that he had somehow made his way out of the psychiatric ward of the local hospital and down the street. Nevertheless, instead of using a calming influence, the police acted out of instinct, shooting and ultimately killing the man.

Questions were raised concerning the police force’s brute violence, failure to address the man’s mental health issues or request aid from health care professionals, and about why the man left the hospital in the first place; however, four years later, these questions have still not been answered conclusively. What I do know is that this was a turning point for me in my understanding of disability awareness. Before reading this shocking article, I had never thought much about the way people with disabilities interact with the legal system. Today, I realize that having a developmental disability or mental illness significantly disadvantages someone from receiving the support and counsel of the legal system they deserve regardless of whether they find themselves in the role of victim or offender.[1]

Our View of Victims

It almost goes without saying that people who have developmental disabilities are more susceptible to experiencing crime done to them than the general population. The reasons are numerous: lack of ability to fully communicate or withdraw consent, inability to fully express one’s needs, or difficulty exerting physical restraint on an offender to name but a few. Even more disturbing is the fact that media and society in general fail to acknowledge the severity of the crimes committed against people with disabilities and downplay the detrimental effects such actions can have on one’s personhood. Most notably, Leigh Ann Davis a social worker for The Arc (an American organization which seeks to safeguard adults with developmental disabilities and provide legal resources for them) commented on the fact that committed crimes are often referred to as “abuse” or “neglect” rather than “rape” or “murder.”[2]

In the United Kingdom, a recent magazine article was published entitled, “Justice is Served, Unless You’re Disabled” in which author Ryan Kyle addressed the stunning fact that while all other forms of hate crime have decreased significantly in recent years, violence towards people with disabilities has increased by 20%.[3] Kyle further argues that when these crimes are committed, people with disabilities have nowhere to go for support because few lawyers will take on such cases and of those who do, not all are within the law themselves.[4] Realizing the disparity of justice in this situation, Kyle urges his readers to take action, to educate themselves, and to raise awareness on these matters among the general public. He writes with conviction, “Failing to recognize or address discrimination and hate crimes against disabled people doesn’t make it go away – it only increases its odiousness. More atrociously, it serves to make it appear somehow benign or to be expected when it happens. That its existence and repetitiveness does not make it noticeable or create demand for it to be wiped out is a sad fact.”[5] He adds, “Justice needs to be done and to be seen to be done, not just for the individual but for all the individuals coming after them, and for the kind of society we are striving to be.”[6] In particular he raises the issue of childhood bullying and the lack of support kids with disabilities face and asks the question: what is this teaching our children about the way we interact with those who are different than us?

In the United States alone, statistics point to the fact that people with developmental disabilities are 4-10% more likely to be victims of crime than those without a disability.[7] Children in particular are over three times more likely to experience abuse, and some statistics claim that as many as 90% of children with disabilities may be bullied within the school system. [8] Our society definitely has a long way to go in how we respond and relate to such horrifying evidence of mistreating of those who already find themselves marginalized.

Observing Offenders

According to research done by The Arc, while people with disabilities comprise only around 2-3% of the American population, they account for 4-10% of those who find themselves in prison.[9] The Foundation for People With Learning Disabilities (FPLD), a U.K. initiative suggests that as many as 7% of adult prisoners in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales have an IQ of under 70 and another 25% have an IQ under 80 whereas up to 60% of prisoners have difficulty communicating.[10] The FPLD further acknowledges the legal system’s lack of clearly explaining the reasons for arrest and trial in many situations and the inability to locate proper support systems to guide someone with a developmental disability through the rigorous legal process.

For someone with a developmental disability, involvement in committing a crime is not always what it seems. In many cases, people with disabilities may be unknowingly used as accomplices by those they rely on for support such as parents or carers. They may also unknowingly leave a crime scene prematurely, feel intimidated by the overwhelming police presence and thus confess to crimes they did not really commit, or pretend to understand their legal rights in an attempt to cover up their disability due to shame or fear.[11] Furthermore, although the death penalty is not permitted for people with developmental disabilities across the U.S., it is still largely the responsibility of individual states to determine what qualifies as a disability.

Finding Fairness

While countries like the U.S., U.K., and Canada still have a long way to go in terms of making our legal system more accessible for people with disabilities, we are starting to move in the right direction. Organizations such as The Arc, and the Big Issue (both of which have been quoted in this article) identify and address the issues surrounding the unfair treatment people with disabilities face and urge their readers to also raise public awareness. While one person alone cannot effect massive change, it should be our individual responsibility to determine how we will treat everyone with respect and equality.

We need to be conditioning our children from a young age to see everyone as a unique and whole person created and loved by the Creator. We need to ask our churches to raise their voice and address such matters openly. We can consider reading up on these issues and lobbying our government. We do not have the time and space to be silent any longer and passively watch injustice taking place. As the body of Christ we are called to act and to act now!

[1]“Toronto police shoot a kill man with scissors wearing hospital gown,” February 3, 2012, http://www.thestar.com/news/crime/2012/02/03/toronto_police_shoot_and_kill_man_with_scissors_wearing_hospital_gown.html

[2] “People With Intellectual Disability in the Criminal Justice System: Victims and Suspects,” August 2009, http://www.thearc.org/what-we-do/resources/fact-sheets/criminal-justice

[3]   Ryan Kyle, “Justice is Served Unless You’re Disabled,” The Big Issue, February 22-28, 2016, 38.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] http://www.thearc.org/what-we-do/resources/fact-sheets/criminal-justice

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] “Criminal Justice System,” N.D., http://www.learningdisabilities.org.uk/help-information/learning-disability-a-z/c/criminal-justice-system/

[11] http://www.thearc.org/what-we-do/resources/fact-sheets/criminal-justice

 

Deborah-Ruth Ferber is a Field Associate for Anabaptist Disabilities Network.

No one can take away the faith in our hearts

by J. Ron Byler Ron Byler

How long, O God? Will you forget me forever? (Psalm 13:1)
A month ago, I arrived in Lebanon from where MCC staff work with a dozen partner groups in Lebanon and Syria. It has been several years since staff has been able to work from Syria or even travel there, but we continue to support relief and peace building work in communities in both countries through partner organizations.
Lebanon has a total population of only 4.5 million people but hosts about 2 million refugees, primarily from Syria. You can imagine the enormous strain this has put on the infrastructure of this small country.
The director of our partner, Permanent Peace Movement (PPM), tells us that MCC was the first outside organization that understood what they were doing and supported them in building peace in Lebanon. Another partner, Popular Aid for Relief and Development (PARD), works in refugee settlements with women, children and families.
We visit a Syrian family in the Daouk settlement, a Palestinian gathering/neighborhood outside of the Palestinian refugee camp, who has been in Lebanon for three years. The father says he has four daughters and four sons and a number of these families are with them in this small three-room apartment. He tells me that, though he owned a large restaurant in Syria, the family left everything behind because he was only concerned about the safely of his children. He says “the future of his children has been lost because of the war in Syria.”
We met in Beirut with three bishops of the Syrian Orthodox Church, one of our main partners in Syria in Damascus and in the region of Homs, about 100 miles north of Damascus. Bishop Selwanos offers us thanks on behalf of the families of Homs who have been assisted by MCC after their town was mostly destroyed by the bombing. He tells us that MCC’s help over many years has made him view himself as partly Mennonite! Recent help from MCC has included heaters for use during the winter season, cash supplements and hygiene kits.
Bishop Matta tells us about the situation in Damascus and about the thousands of families who have moved into his community because of the bombing in other parts of the country. He says, every day, the church has to process more than 150 baptismal certificates which are needed before people can migrate out of the country. He tells us that he wants his people to stay in Syria: “We love our country and if you want to help us, please help our people stay in Syria.”
I asked the Bishops whether, in the midst of the destruction and killing, they feel God has left them. Bishop Matta tells me that they have just one thing left – the mercy of God. He wonders whether maybe God hasn’t left them but whether the people have left God. He says that they have lost churches and schools and hospitals, and many people have been killed, but no one can take away the faith in their hearts.
Later, I am reading Psalm 13, I am challenged by the faith of these Bishops, holding fast to their faith in God, even through adversity.

Ron Byler is executive director of MCC U.S. and is in Sarajevo for two months, and visiting from there MCC’s programs in Lebanon, Iraq, Ukraine, Jordan and Palestine. 

 

FORGIVE THEM

by Max Ediger

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Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23: 24) Of all the words spoken by Jesus during his suffering, crucifixion and resurrection, this call to God to forgive those who had done such a horrible wrong is the one that perhaps challenges us the most.

The request to God to forgive was not only given for Peter who denied him three times, or only for Judas who betrayed him for a few pieces of silver. Jesus sought forgiveness even for those who hated him, tortured him, lied about him and for those who nailed him to the cross.

Many times during his short ministry, Jesus described what he expected of his followers in regards to forgiveness. The “Lord’s Prayer” suggests that we can only experience forgiveness when we forgive those who do harm to us. In the “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus expands on this idea, confronting us with the need to not only forgive those who are the “enemy” but to go even further by loving them and doing good to them. (Matthew 5: 43-47)

Hanging on the cross, surrounded by many enemies scorning him, taunting him and shouting insults at him, Jesus showed us clearly what those of us who want to be his followers must do: we must forgive even our worst enemies and extend our hand of love and friendship to them.

How does that translate into the world of conflict and fear we live in today? Forgiving the neighbors who toss their garbage onto our carefully manicured lawn, or the people who cut in line in front of us at the supermarket might be relatively easy. But what about the people who set off bombs in an airport, or fly planes into skyscrapers? Are we willing to sincerely say about them, “God, forgive them; they don’t know what they are doing”?

I suppose we have many excuses why we can’t (or possibly even shouldn’t) forgive such people. There is absolutely no guarantee that if we do forgive them, they will then seek forgiveness for what they have done. But Jesus did not wait for his enemies to seek forgiveness. He simply offered it out of love. Must we do the same?

Mel Gibson’s film, “The Passion of the Christ” focused almost all of its attention on the physical suffering of Jesus during the days leading up to his crucifixion. Physical suffering during bouts of torture can be horrendous. I have friends who have experienced torture including waterboarding so I have heard the stories. Yet, I do not think the real suffering of Jesus was physical. Our bodies can and do endure a lot of pain. Perhaps the greatest suffering Jesus had to bear was the knowledge that his message, and especially his example on the cross, would be ignored, misrepresented, misinterpreted, or misused by so many people while, at the same time, confessing to be his true followers.

Forgiveness is very difficult in extreme cases, yet it must not be impossible or Jesus would not have asked us to willingly give it to our enemies. This Easter season is a time for us to reflect on this seemingly unrealistic challenge and then decide, as we face our most brutal enemies, can we in all sincerity pray to God, “Forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing”?