On June 10th, 2017, a young Sergeant named Dillon Baldwin was tragically killed when a Taliban soldier infiltrated his unit. Not long after the news broke about the tragedy, Westboro Baptist Church announced that they would be protesting at Dillon’s funeral. They claimed that his death was God’s attempt to punish America for its tolerance to various sins.
Even as I type that paragraph, I am sick to my stomach (literally sick). I am so disgusted that a church, that claims to be Christian, behaves as Westboro Baptist does. This story is just one example of some of the hate crimes that Westboro Baptist has committed in the name of “God.”
The text we studied this week could sound very heavy handed toward a church’s tolerance of evil. If you read yesterday’s devotional, you learned that God doesn’t want us to stand by while evil things take place. Apathy about evil is deadly to the voice of the church, but so is extremism. Edmund Burke once said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” It could also be said that evil triumphs when extremism is lived out in the name of God.
Dillon Baldwin was attacked by two religious extremes. The Taliban and Westboro Baptist are one and the same in that regard. Both are religious extremist groups who claim to be following God’s will.
One of the lessons we learn from the letter to Thyatira In Revelation is that God is passionately committed to preserving the life-giving voice of his church. Both apathy and extremism are dangers to that voice. Extremism is not life giving by its nature. In edition to that, extremists get tuned out by any right- thinking individual. Extremists actually lose their influence precisely because they speak too loudly, too often, and their message repeals rather then invites. The Sadducees and Pharisees of Jesus day may not fall on the far end of an extremist spectrum, but they were more concerned with rule following then with human thriving. It is for this reason that Jesus was so hard on that group of religious leaders. In fact, Jesus was hardest on those who were extremist.
It’s easy for me to voice my disgust with extremists, but now I must turn inwardly and ask myself what extremist tendencies might lurk in my soul. What about you? Are there issues that I care about so deeply that I forget the humanity of the issue? Perhaps one hard question to explore is, Can I love an extremist? Can I feel compassion for a Westboro Baptist member or a Taliban fighter? Love must be our governing principle if we are to reflect the way of Jesus.
By Aaron Bjorklund