So you're saying that even though these kinds of Christians aren't literally acting out violence, they are as scary as, say, Islamic jihadists?
Well, not more scary, but potentially a very destructive force. I saw a female evangelist interviewed a few weeks ago on this very topic, and she was claiming, "I love the Jewish people. These are God's people." And someone said, "Yes, but in your theology all but a remnant of them are going to be wiped out. If things unfold the way you believe, most of the Jews are going to be killed." She smiled into the camera and said, "Well this isn't me talking--this is God talking." Now, from where I sit this is not the kind of friends the Jewish people need. She's perfectly willing to watch the slaughter of Jews because it's part of "God's plan." That's only a half-step removed from people who are putting dynamite under the Dome of the Rock.
Well, there are Christians shooting doctors at abortion clinics.
But it's not the same kind of numbers as militant Islamists.
I don't want to be in the business of saying you're worse than me, or this isn't as bad as that. I call September 11 Exhibit A of religion becoming evil. This is a classic example of people preparing to meet God and feeling justified and righteous in doing a horrific thing, not only for the people in those buildings or on those planes, but the enormous consequences for people all over the world. Who knows how many tens of thousands of people died because of economic dislocations that happened in the aftermath?
So I don't want to in any way say a TV preacher is just as bad as someone flying an airplane into a building. But we can see some of the ways well-intentioned people lose sight of the central focus of their religion and justify evil behavior.
For example, Charles Stanley at InTouch Ministries is preaching that governments are in power because God has them in power. Then he quotes the Hebrew Bible and says that if you don't go to war when God wants you to go to war, God will punish you. I'm no fan of Saddam Hussein-in the 1980s when I was working the Middle East I gave Congressional testimony railing against the U.S. Government because we were supporting Saddam Hussein. He is one of the worst thugs on the planet. Yet I've also seen the tremendous suffering of the Iraqi people. When I hear Christians in this country essentially glorify massive bombing attacks and say this is what God wants us to do, I think we're moving on a continuum that is hard to square with the Gospel message.
But why is it now Muslims in a literal sense acting out with violence?
I don't want to equate suicide bombing with Charles Stanley's sermons, though I have a lot of trouble with Charles Stanley's sermons. But let's take a step back to a few years ago. We had 20,000 documented cases of rape and murder of Bosnian Muslim women and children at the hands of Serbian Christians.
Were they acting as Christians?
They certainly were united and attacking people because they were Muslims. And there were atrocities that went the other way, too--it was so bad that the U.S. Government and many Christians were telling the Serbians "stop this."
But were the Serbians saying, "I want to glorify Jesus and therefore I'm going to rape Muslim woman?"
I don't want to be saying all this is equal, but I also want to say that there is a clear pattern in all religious communities. People tend to compare the ideal of their own religion with the flawed reality of everyone else's. So Christians tend to say, "That was in the past" or "We don't really believe that." Here's the classic example in recent memory-Jerry Falwell on 60 Minutes last fall said that Jesus taught a gospel of love, but that Muhammad was a terrorist.