Targeting Christians

Targeting Christians

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Yet another massacre at the hands of an Islamic group has been reported, this time in the country of Kenya. According to news reports, Al-Shabab militants wearing masks stormed into the dormitories of Garissa University College in Kenya early in the morning, shooting people at random and taking hostages. When the carnage was finally over fifteen hours later, all four gunmen lay dead, and at least 147 others were slain. One newswoman reported, “Students say the attackers were going from dorm to dorm, targeting Christians.” If the student was a Muslim, that student was released. If the student were a Christian, that student was killed.

It is, of course, impossible to get into the minds of such men and to understand their motivation. One thinks of the Lord’s words about the persecution of His apostles: “The hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God” (John 16:2). It seems that similarly these men thought that they were doing the will of Allah and furthering Allah’s cause. Were they thinking that this massacre was some kind of pay-back for American foreign policy? Or pay-back for western support of Israel? Or pay-back for the Crusades? It is difficult enough to sort out tangled and multi-faceted motivations, even when the person is alive and willing to share. Sorting out the motivation of the dead gunmen along with all the complications of American foreign policy and African politics is well beyond our ability to understand—or anyway, beyond mine. I therefore have no advice whatsoever to offer regarding what our political response should be. But of the spiritual dynamics involved, things are rather more clear.

It seems that for the gunmen, the students did not exist as persons—that is, as individuals with names and stories and families and sins and joys and sorrows. In their world, everything was one-dimensional: one was either Muslim or kafir, an unbeliever. The victims scarcely existed for the gunmen at all beyond being simply the bearers of such labels. Their training taught them to regard everyone simply as members of one tribe or another, either as believers or infidels. In this worldview, gradations of faith, shades of gray, or any other nuance or distinction simply didn’t exist. It didn’t matter that the Christians in the dorms might not have approved of American foreign policy, or of the State of Israel, or even of the west’s “war on terror”. Their actual views and opinions on these topics and a host of others didn’t matter. All that mattered was their label—they were Christians, kafir, the Other, the Enemy, members of the wrong tribe. And all the hatred that the gunmen’s religious training taught them was due to (for example) American foreign policy could be justly aimed at these students.

What is the lesson for us here at home? In a word, not to be like them. It is a valid question what part Islam played in the gunmen’s worldview and whether or not the violence found in the Qur’an and the in the life of Muhammad are contributing factors in the rise of Jihadism worldwide. But this is a separate question, and whatever answer we ultimately give to it does not change the fact that many Muslims are good and peace-loving people. It could be that such people are peace-loving not because of Islam, but in spite of it. The question, involving the human heart, is a difficult one, and defies easy analysis. But we must not include all Muslims under one label and treat them all the same, as the gunmen included all Christians under one label. Not all Muslims are the same.

The first and fundamental fact about anyone is not their religion or their label, but that he or she is our neighbour, and that we are commanded by Christ to love that person. Jesus loves everyone, and shed His Blood on the Cross for everyone—for Christians, Jews, Muslims, even violent mask-wearing, murdering Jihadists. Each person has a name and a history and struggles and fears and hopes, and we must relate to each person separately and by name. Labels, though easy to use and comforting, do not really help us make sense of the world. The world is a scary, complicated place, full of nuance, mystery, shades of gray, and even contradictory motivations, and it resists easy labeling. These deluded men did not see the world as it really was. That was how they could go from room to room, targeting Christians. We must not live like them, and go from year to year, targeting Muslims. We must see each person before us as they really are.


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Fr. Lawrence Farley

Fr. Lawrence was formerly an Anglican priest, graduating from Wycliffe College in Toronto, Canada in 1979 before serving Anglican parishes in central Canada. He converted to Orthodoxy in 1985 and spent two years at St. Tikhon’s Seminary in South Canaan, Pennsylvania. After ordination he traveled to Surrey, B.C. to begin a new mission under the O.C.A., St. Herman of Alaska Church.

The Church has grown from its original twelve members, and now owns a building in Langley, B.C., where they worship each Sunday. The community has planted a number of ‘daughter churches’, including parishes in Victoria, Comox and Vancouver.

Fr. Lawrence has written a number of books, published by Conciliar Press, including the Bible Study Companion Series, with verse-by-verse commentaries on the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, the Early Epistles, the Prison Epistles, the Pastoral Epistles, the Catholic Epistles, and the Book of Revelation, as well as a volume about how to read the Old Testament , entitled The Christian Old Testament. He has also written a commentary on the Divine Liturgy, entitled, Let Us Attend: A Journey through the Orthodox Divine Liturgy. SVS Press has published his book on Feminism and Tradition, examining such topics as the ordination of women and deaconesses. He has also written a synaxarion (lives of Saints), published by Light and Life, entitled A Daily Calendar of Saints, recently updated and revised and available through his blog. He has also written a series of Akathists, published by Alexander Press, including Akathist to Jesus, Light to Those in Darkness, Akathist to the Most-Holy Theotokos, Daughter of Zion, A New Akathist to St. Herman of Alaska, Akathist: Glory to the God who Works Wonders (a rehearsal of the works of God from Genesis to Revelation). His articles have appeared in the Canadian Orthodox Messenger (the official diocesan publication of the Archdiocese of Canada), as well as in the Orthodox Church (the official publication of the O.C.A.), in The Handmaiden and AGAIN magazine (from Conciliar Press).

Fr. Lawrence has a podcast each weekday on Ancient Faith Radio, the Coffee Cup Commentaries. He has given a number of parish retreats in the U.S. and Canada, as well as being a guest-lecturer yearly at the local Regent College, Vancouver. He can also be found on his personal blog, Straight from the Heart.

Fr. Lawrence lives in Surrey with his wife, Donna. They have two daughters, and three grandchildren.