In an incisive new TV series, Edges, Christian communicator and broadcaster Mal Fletcher takes an unflinching look at the big issues of the day. Here, Mal shares what one of those TV episodes is all about.
Terrorism is the use of violence or the threat of violence to coerce or manipulate people's behaviour. September 11, 2001 changed many things. It changed the way we travel, the way we look at tall buildings. It opened the way to new talk of war. What motivates a terrorist; and is there any hope for ending the fear?
During the 1990s, authorities around the world began to identify a new breed of terrorist. These people were not necessarily poor or oppressed. They were often well educated and many of them had spent a lot of time in western culture, enjoying some of the good things it has to offer. In many ways, they had very little in common with the people they later claimed to represent. For these individuals, becoming agents of terror was not the result of oppression. It was simply a matter of choice.
Religious extremism is one of the great forces that drives the engine of international terrorism today. Teachers of religious extremism often align themselves with terrorist groups because they believe that these organisations will help them stop the spread of unhealthy values. For their part, some terrorists adopt a fiery religious outlook simply to add respectability to their murderous actions. They hijack religious teachings, twisting them to their own ends. Many times, their loose-living lifestyles belie any real religious commitment.
Today, terrorists seem to murder people at random. What exactly do they want? What can they possibly hope to gain? Terrorists want firstly to attract attention. They feel that the world has ignored them or their cause. For them, violence is the way to push their agenda onto the world stage. Sadly, violence always begets greater violence. Terror groups also want to produce anarchy and disorder. This is what really makes them dangerous: they have no positive vision for the future. They offer only a negative view of the present and a hateful interpretation of the past. Terrorist groups often set out a list of wrongs that they say need to be corrected -- and sometimes, they have a point. But they give no solutions to the pressing problems of hunger, poverty or disease -- even among their own people.
People the world over will tell you that Jesus was one of the greatest peacemakers ever to walk this earth. His life has inspired some of the greatest modern peacemakers, too, including Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. Yet he lived during one of the most violent periods in human history. He faced oppression, fear, extremism and violence in a very personal way. He was born into a nation that had been living under the heel of oppression for many years. Having had their culture and religion spat upon by their Roman rulers, many Jews were paying up to eighty percent of their income in taxes to Rome. As a result, Israel was a hotbed of political and nationalistic unrest.
As a man of extraordinary compassion, Jesus must have been keenly aware of the suffering all around him. That makes his words and actions all the more remarkable. Can you imagine how these oppressed people must have reacted when he told them to love their enemies? Jesus knew that people only ever really change when they choose to do so. Coercion through fear never brings about lasting solutions; only love can do that. Jesus also confronted religious extremism. He had major problems with leaders of strict religious sects, because he was a man of grace.
Extremism is built on legalism. Legalists have no interest in freeing people to lead better lives; they want people bound up in chains, doing only what they're told. Legalism treats laws as ends in themselves. Jesus taught a different way. Rules are important, but the best they can ever be is a means to an end. The end is grace. What would Jesus say to a terrorist? He'd say, right up front, "God loves you¦ If you¹ve committed crimes, you will have to pay a penalty. But God is willing to forgive anyone who sincerely calls on his help." (Cf Romans 10:13). Jesus would also say, if you look at the immorality, injustice, greed and oppression in this world and think, "This needs to change", you're right. But everyone on earth, irrespective of race or creed is a sinner before God.
Every human life is broken at a deep, spiritual level and needs to be restored (Cf. Jeremiah 17:9). This is the root cause of the jealousies and wars in this world. You can't change the condition of people's hearts through violence. That is the core of the Christian faith. Faced with the ultimate act of violence, the Son of God didn't respond with his hands raised in anger. On a Roman torture stick, he spread his arms wide in love. That perfect love is capable of casting out all fear!The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
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