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Leaving the Faith Undefended

Written by Jordan Peacock : July 23, 2008

The recent debacle between PZ Myers and the Catholic League brings an interesting concept to the fore of social discussion; does one need to defend the faith?

The situation is touchy for some; a Floridan student who took a communion wafer (The Host) and kept it at his house for a week received both reasoned arguments and irrational threats from concerned Catholics. The ante was upped shortly afterward when PZ Myers, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota in Morris, announced from his website that he wanted some communion wafers stolen in order that he might desecrate then and display them on his blog.

This deliberately provocative announcement did not go unnoticed. He has received death threats, a petition is going around attempting to force his resignation and Bill Donahue from the Catholic League is lending his weight towards that end.

Now, on the one hand, even Myers peers have called him an asshole. But that doesn’t excuse the assholes on the religious side of the fence either. And the real crux of the issue is this:

Are Christians called to defend their faith? And if so, how?


Well, the answer seems simpler than we tend to make it, but it’s worth a counter example. Remember the issue with the cartoons of Mohammed a few years ago? There is a consistent ethic in the Muslim community worldwide that seeks to defend Islam and Mohammed’s reputation specifically, as a part of outworking their faith. At face value this is reasonable, although as the riots that occurred after the aforementioned offense showed, can result in unreasonable behaviour.

It’s therefore easy to see why Christians co-opt this behaviour. After all, if you care about Christ and the church, it’s difficult and painful to see people shame them. The more devout one is the more painful it becomes, and if you see your calling as one of defending the faith, then bearing arms (be they verbal or physical) makes some degree of sense.

But we’re not called to defend the faith. Christ does not defend himself against his oppressors. If people defame God, condemn him or blaspheme her, what is it to us? God is capable of dealing with them himself, and ultimately the offense is not to us, but to God.

In a similar sense, the scriptures are “sharper than a two-edged sword”. I may hold the text with some degree of respect but that doesn’t mean I need to defend it against those who do not.

Defending the faith assumes an impotent God, one who either is incapable or unwilling to defend itself, and assumes the ability and authority to defend it someone rests in our hands. While I hate arguments that revert to comparisons to Nazism or the crusades (see Godwin’s Law) that is precisely what the Crusades were; a misguided attempt at defending the faith and the historic locations of the faith against those who would corrupt it. God did not require defending then, and does not now.

And even if, hypothetically, there were some rationale for defending God, what sense does it make to do so in a way that defames him? When hate mail and violence are the tactics resorted to, what God exactly are you defending?

Let us therefore put down our arms; in our words and attitudes particularly. Leave the faith undefended. Trust in the sovereignty of God…or don’t. But don’t engage in the hypocrisy that claims trust and draws the sword.

(image courtesy of Kingdom Come Desktops)

Author Bio:: Jordan Peacock lives and works in Minnesota with his beautiful wife and daughter. When not playing with technology or music, he’s writing comic books and wrapping up a university education.




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Comments

Viewing 11 Comments

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    I remember hearing an N.T. Wright lecture where he said something like the following:

    "I remember being phoned by a reporter one time and being asked what I thought about the blasphemy laws and whether I would like to see them abolished. And without really thinking about it (I must have been saying my prayers, or someone was praying for me) I heard myself say: 'The Jesus that I worship allowed himself to be mocked, beaten, and spat upon, and when one of His followers tried to defend Him, He said "We don't do things that way." And that is precisely the story by which the world is saved.'"

    I'd defer to the good Bishop on this one.

    Grace and Peace.
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    Mercy alive, Biship Tom has a way with words. For being a high-ranking bishop in a state church, he sure does know how to pull out the stops for the King! :)

    (for what its worth, NTW has said that he really does struggle often to stay in the Anglican Communion for a variety of reasons, but finds it his calling to bring gospel life and faithfulness during an era of ecclesiological tumult... I think he talks about that in his third "Future of the People of God" lecture, not that I've listened to them many times...)
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    I agree with much of what you've written -- truly, the "overreactions" of Christians have been a huge hindrance to the Gospel's spread.

    However, where does that leave the field of apologetics? Do you see any difference between apologetics and "defending the faith"? Do you see apologetics (e.g., the writings of C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and even N.T. Wright) as a waste of time? And how would you interpret verses such as 1 Peter 3:15-16, which seem to imply that we should have some kind of response when people want to know why we believe what we believe.
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    opus - I would say the difference is whether we're being asked to defend our faith or if we're projecting our defense. If someone wants to know why I believe I'll definately tell them - or more likely show them. But if I see someone mocking God I don't feel the need to defend God's honor by proving this person wrong.
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    That's exactly the distinction I would draw as well. The one is saying "here are the spiritual concerns that drew me to X, or the intellectual arguments that convinced me of Y" and the emphasis is on oneself, leaving action to the one's audience.

    The other is a more antagonistic defense, where one demands a change of mind or behaviour of the 'attacker'. It is this defense that I argue is unnecessary; the first one is a healthy one and should be regarded as such.
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    Thanks for the clarification. I thought that's probably what you meant.
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    I really like the post, but I would just object to the idea that Christians are co-opting in any way the behavior of some Muslims. I think this type of response is ubiquitous and crosses any kind of cultural/religious lines when something is desecrated (i.e. the U.S. flag for some people).
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    That analogy was drawn from extensive time and studying of Islam and particularly Arab tribal history over the last thousand years or so by my father, and to a lesser extent, myself. There is a strong felt mandate, particularly amongst Arabs, to defend Allah, Mohammed and Islam.

    This is a core part of many Muslims' identity, which is why I used it as an example; unlike the faith of Islam, this need not be part of the core identity of Christians; there is no need to defend our faith in that manner. Mohammed killed many of those who mocked him; Christ himself was killed by those who mocked him, and his disciples followed suit. The difference is striking.
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    You know, there are times when discerning the right course of action is a very cloudy and complex decision.

    But as you've illustrated so well in the above post, sometimes it's really simple.

    Thank you for such simple clarity.
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    A wafer is just a wafer until it finds it's meaning into the heart of the of the participant. Why defend a wafer?
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    Any deity who needs defending is an idol. Why defend an idol?
 

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