[We don't all] need to rush to defend or to analyze this particular sermon; I leave that to experts on Byzantine theology. But we can all unite in our support for freedom of speech -- surely the pope is allowed to quote from medieval texts -- and of the press. And we can also unite, loudly, in our condemnation of violent, unprovoked attacks on churches, embassies and elderly nuns.I agree completely.
It seems to me that we all can also affirm that free speech and acts of love--not fire and violence--are the appropriate means for persuading others of the legitimacy of our religious belief.
Christianity arose during a Roman era in which there were many religious options. Christian faith took root in an often hostile environment without violence or the threat of violence and frequently, in the face of violence perpretrated against its adherents.
The Gospel proclaimed by Christians won people over with that blend of love and logic that lives in those whose lives are built on God's revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ and who are empowered by a living Savior.
In pluralistic cultures where everybody has freedom of expression, I'm convinced that Christian faith can win most people's hearts and minds. Evidently, those radical Muslims burning effigies of the Pope, threatening his life, supporting terrorism, or torching churches, don't have the same confidence in their faith. They believe in the power of human effort and violence; my faith is in God and His capacity to change lives for today and for eternity.
In the New Testament book of Acts, the first-century preacher Paul stood in chains before a menacing king to explain his faith in Jesus Christ. I wrote about this incident to my friend, Richard Lawrence Cohen, here:
Dragged before authorities, including a royal named King Agrippa, Paul proceeded to tell his own personal story to them, how he, a Pharisee once bitterly opposed to the Christian proclamation, had come to faith in Christ, and the difference this new relationship with God had made in his life. He went on for some time when Agrippa said to him [I'm paraphrasing], "Paul, in so short a time, do you propose to make me like you?" Paul said, "Whether it takes a short or a long time, yes, King Agrippa, I would love for you to be like me...except for these chains."I want to see all people come to faith in Jesus Christ because I believe that Jesus is the Savior Who died and rose for all people; because unlike other world religions, Christianity takes our alienation from God and goodness seriously and offers reconciliation with God not by our puny human efforts, but by our faith in what God has already done for us in Jesus. I want to see everybody become a Christian and I make no bones about that goal.
But I don't want that to happen by coercion. In fact, it can't happen by coercion. For one thing, that would be contrary to the Bible. Indeed, the Bible teaches that the greatest power on earth is exhibited in those who may be perceived by others as being weak. That's because when we stop relying on our own power, we are filled up with the power and goodness, grace and love of the God-Man Who died and rose and still lives, Jesus the Christ!
But conversion cannot come by coercion primarily because it violates common sense: You can get someone to say they've become a Christian or Muslim by holding a gun to their head--as happened with Fox correspondent Steve Centanni while he was recently held by a radical Muslim group. But true conversion is a matter of the will, the heart, and the mind being transformed by faith embraced voluntarily.
Violence and the threat of violence may win a few battles along the way. But those who employ violence to push their religious ideas--whatever religion they may claim to be following--only show the impotence of their faith, the lack of security they feel about its validity, and the poverty of their ideas.
So, if radical Muslims engaging in destructive temper tantrums right now really want to win the world to their faith, they need to lay down their torches, indict the murderers they've been harboring, stop their threats, and mix it up peacefully in the marketplace of ideas, demonstrating compassion for others, authenticating their faith by loving their neighbor.
In that marketplace of ideas, I'm convinced that Jesus will shine as the way, the truth, and the life and the only way to the Father. And I don't need to threaten anybody to convince the world of that truth.
Do radical Muslims have the same confidence about their faith? So far, the answer appears to be an emphatic no.