The recent murder of a Catholic priest at his church in northern France, by two young men claiming allegiance to Islamic State, brings starkly to Europe a morbid taste of the horrors that have terrorized the church in parts of the Middle East for the past several years.
Yet sadly, and unbelievably, the response of the church in the West seems little changed. There are expressions of regret and some outrage, but few calls for action of any kind. This is despite the fact that the massacre and expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Christians from their traditional homelands in Iraq and Syria surely constitutes one of the most shocking crimes of this century.
It drives me almost to tears that too many Christians in the West seem so indifferent to what is happening to our brothers and sisters in the Middle East.
It is not only the Middle East. The 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, an American organization, has launched an appeal to help the thousands of Nigerian Christians who are under siege from Boko Haram. It calls this the “most neglected” crisis.
Maybe there is an element of “compassion fatigue” in all this – an inability to comprehend the scale of it all, of one disaster following another, and therefore confusion about how to respond. I know I suffer from this myself.
But I also wonder if we in the West have become too cozy in our faith.
American Christian writer Eric Metaxas, author of a biography of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, used that word “cozy” in a recent address to The Bridge conference on Christian persecution.
He said that the problem with the German church was that it had become too cozy with the state and too comfortable with its position in society, and thus it overlooked the persecution of Jews. He said it sometimes seemed that the church in the West does not always understand its obligation to come to the aid of Christians who are being killed for their faith in many parts of the world.
I have been asked to preach the sermon soon at my church, to fill in for our pastor. I believe the church sometimes does not understand God’s role for it, and I am taking as my text the passage in the Gospel of John where Jesus instructs His disciples in the Upper Room, before the Last Supper. To their shock He shows His servanthood by asking to wash their feet.
I believe that John included this incident to demonstrate that the disciples had not fully understood Jesus and His teachings, despite having spent several years together.
Something similar had already occurred after Jesus miraculously fed thousands of followers with bread and fish. Mark wrote that the disciples did not understand the meaning of this event either.
For my sermon I have some amusing examples from more recent times. I live in Australia. More than 200 years ago British explorers began sending back reports of this land and the unbelievable animal life they had encountered, such as the kangaroo and the platypus.
This caused consternation among some Christians. One wondered if God had somehow made a mistake when He made Australia. Or perhaps, asked another, had this strange place simply been God’s rehearsal for the true creation? Or did the Northern Hemisphere God have a mischievous Southern Hemisphere rival? One writer suggested that Australia must have been formed after the Fall, with God creating monsters like kangaroos in order to terrorize Adam and his offspring.
It seems that, in its cozy state, the British church – or some elements of it – was unable to accept the universality of God’s love and Jesus’s sacrifice.
I cannot help fearing that the church in the West, too cozy, does not understand our obligation to help our persecuted brothers and sisters.