Counsel to People of Faith
People of all faiths prayed long and hard this past week over the flotilla incident and the resulting loss of life. Our religious traditions, especially those of the great three faiths – Islam, Christianity, Judaism – found their origins in that part of the world that filled the front pages of the news these last days. As voices around the globe rose in condemnation of one side or the other, many of those words came from religious leaders.
It was always thus. Religion is a powerful instrument. Principles of justice taught in all faiths can cause us to take “default” positions when it comes to such occurrences. An evangelical friend of mine was almost over-the-top in his denunciation of the flotilla leaders right from the get-go because his particular faith persuasion sees its bond with Israel as sacrosanct. Someone from my own United Church who believes strongly in social justice felt the Israelis were wrong. A group of Muslims and some of their supporters rallied in London on Friday against what Israel had done, and my digital mailbox was full of messages from supporters of the Jewish community, reminding me of Israel’s right to exist and to protect itself.
All this has left me wondering. People of sincere faith arrived at completely different places of judgment and I’m not sure that’s such a good thing. To complicate matters, many of them led their respective communities in communal outrage.
In truth, religious folk have acted in a manner not much different from those who have no faith at all. Each one of us is rightly angered at what we witnessed, but it is how we handle that anger that is supposed to set us apart. For people of faith, it’s kind of an exquisite justice we are are to manifest – the kind that takes time to consider, reflects on the consequences, and measures the judgment. And there is one more thing. While the world descends into disparate verdicts, religious leaders have been called by the founders of their respective faiths to, above all, consider the effects on those who are innocent. There are countless scriptures pertaining to this, as we are all well aware.
Religious folk have always blundered in this regard. Mohammed, in attempting to bring refinement to the panoply of faiths in the region, was deeply persecuted by the Quarish citizens of Mecca, including his own uncle, and was eventually forced to flee to another location. The Torah tells of how many of the great prophets of Israel were killed for speaking truth to power and for the championing of the dispossessed. And most of us know that Christ himself was done in for trying to point his generation to a new path of mercy and this kind of exquisite justice.
What’s striking about this is that all these mentioned above were wronged by the religious people of their day. Take Jesus as an example. He wasn’t crucified by criminals, but rather by the “good” people of his generation, the religious leaders who were the upstanding citizens of their society. Some of those leaders were termed “Pharisees” – a word that means puritan. Yet they couldn’t handle it when Jesus reminded them that the innocent of their day were being bypassed by the religious system as it was. They were neglected, effectively left out of the benefits of faith by leaders who sought to protect the status quo.
In his final moments, when Jesus asked forgiveness for those killing him because they didn’t know what they were doing, he told a prescient truth. It wasn’t that he was being kind as that they were being ignorant. Those leaders – strict moralists, earnest examples, the best people of their day – added to their errors of neglecting the innocent by killing one of them as well. It was goodness that crucified Jesus – goodness gone wrong.
We have responsibilities as people of faith regarding the flotilla incident, but it’s not as a rush to judgment. Our ultimate concern must be two-fold: that judgment is done aright after hearing all the facts, and that our primary concern be the collateral damage on the innocents who bore no responsibility in this tragic mess. Above all, we must assist the people of Gaza and not be distracted by the temptation to judgment. If we can’t accomplish that, then our faith hardly makes us distinct or helpful.