Friday, February 23, 2007

Reflections on a Funeral

I was cleaning out my briefcase this evening, a task long overdue. I am a bit of a clutter bug, collecting articles that I have torn (not cut) out of newspapers, jotting down ideas and thoughts on assorted scraps of paper and carrying around at least two books that I hope to read in my "spare time" (whatever that is!). Finally, when I get tired of the clutter and the weight of carrying around several pounds of paper that I never look at, I dump everything out and start again with a clean slate (which lasts about a week). But in the purging process, I do find the occasional valuable tidbit that I had forgotten about.

One such tidbit was an article from the Toronto Star dated October 8, 2006 concerning the funeral of Charles Carl Roberts whom, you may remember, stormed an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania last fall and executed five young girls and wounded five more. The article noted that half of the 75 mourners on hand for the funeral of this man on October 7 in the small United Methodist Church were his Amish neighbours. The very people who had suffered so much only five days earlier at his hands, now exhibited Christ-like forgiveness in a clear and unmistakable manner, providing an example that I doubt many of us would question is worthy of imitation.

I contrast this with the response to the one that I see exhibited in other settings from time to time. Christians are senselessly murdered because of their faith and the call goes out to organize a protest on the streets. Christians march before the courts and government buildings, demanding justice with shouts, raised fists and placards. And even if the demonstration is peaceful (and, thankfully, most are), the faces of the protestors are marked with pent-up resentment and rage. Forgiveness is nowhere to be seen. And I wonder what bystanders must think and how it influences their perception of what motivates the followers of Jesus. Do we response to injustice any differently from the world who knows not neither the Father nor the One Whom the Father has sent?

I wonder what response reflects the Spirit of Jesus more decidedly; the quiet presence at the funeral or the noisy one on the streets? Perhaps both have their places. But which ought to be more typical?


Jack Niewold said...

Glenn, I think we should take Richard Wurmbrand as an example here, not that he was infallable in any sense. He combined a robust confrontationalism with a true spirit of forgiveness. The one thing he rarely was, however, was quietistic.

Though I have the greatest admiration for the Amish who showed kindness and mercy to the killer of their children, I am troubled by a too-rapid forgiveness that does not hold sin fully accountable. On the other hand, though I don't necessarily condone angry demonstrations by Christians, I am patient with them because I have a sense of what they must go through when there are no power structures that support them, and no laws that come to their aid. The church historian Henry Chadwick writes of rowdy 2nd and 3rd century demonstrations by Christians who were fed up with gratuitious violence and discrimination.

I frankly see our problem in the current milieu as one of too much resignation in the face of evil, and not enough outrage. For these and numerous other reasons, I am not a pacifist.

Glenn Penner said...

Nor am I am pacifist. But I am troubled by the tendency amoung Christians to respond to injustice in exactly the same way as the world.