They like to appear rebellious, contrary and generally careless about rules and regulations but about the most conservative, reactionary people in the world have to be teenagers. They dress different to be like all their friends because the last thing they want is to stand out in a crowd. They are the best recruits to causes because they know exactly what is right and wrong and will go to any lengths to express their righteous indignation – except maybe get up early.
We forgive them their naivety, understand that they haven’t the maturity that comes from experience. Experience that tells us our first instincts are not always our best.That any fool can have an opinion but it takes wisdom to understand. That not every battle is worth fighting and not every hill is worth dying on. That a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger (Proverbs 15:1) We encourage our children to grow and learn and time and experience bring them nearer that maturity written about in Scripture, and we hope and pray that what we have done as parents has prepared them for the grown up world.
Unfortunately it is a truism that some people grow up while others just grow older. Such is the case with Pastors Wayne Sapp and Terry Jones who, after a ludicrous mock trial, proceeded with a mock execution in which the Koran was burned. Wayne Sapp described this act as an effort to incite tension between religions. Most people would describe it as an immature act of vandalism designed to provoke a response; the kind of thing kids do when they don’t feel they are getting enough attention. They have effectively stamped their little feet and screamed, “Its not fair!” Well, we all know what is and isn’t fair but do we know what is wise?
Actions do have consequences however and to date as many as twenty people have lost their lives, including two who were beheaded, as Muslims stormed a UN compound in protest at this act of provocation. But Terry Jones sees no connection between the burning and the rioting, declaring that these people would have found some other excuse to riot if the Koran hadn’t been burned. This is childish too.
On the other side of the equation we are surely increasingly aware of the immature responses in the Muslim world to any sleight, real or imagined. It is astonishing and very worrying to see vast numbers of people kept in a state of social, emotional and psychological immaturity by their leaders and one wonders if this is deliberate. Certainly, it seems easy enough for Muslim leaders to stir up anger and violence when deemed necessary. Books are burned, people riot and some get killed as a consequence, and each party insists their response to the other is proportional and right.
I remember my father teaching me to hold doors open for ladies and other such gentlemanly characteristics. Of course, that was before women’s lib came along and swept away the qualities of chivalry. On one occasion I proudly held open a door and a woman swept through it never giving a backward glance. I remarked to my father that she wasn’t much of a lady if she couldn’t even say a civil thank you. I have never forgotten his reply.
“You didn’t hold the door open because she was a lady,” he said, “You held it open because you are gentleman.”
Surely, as Christians, it is our Christ-like qualities that are the measure of who we are and not our ability to be indignant in the face of provocation. And didn’t Jesus say, “Love your enemies”? Actions have consequences and someone’s indignation has caused people to die horribly. Surely it is not a question of whether a link can be identified between our actions and the consequences in others’ lives. Surely the test is whether, regardless of the actions of others, we have been Christ-like in our walk, mature in our response to a world that is increasingly immature and lost in sin.
The role of the pastor is not to incite tensions between religions but to speak a message of peace to a world where war is common and familiar, of salvation to a world headed to a lost eternity. These men have failed spectacularly and, to the shame of all Christians, very publicly. It is frightening when such immaturity finds its way to the pulpit and the public square and does such things in the name of Christ. We can excuse such behaviour in our teenagers, they are still learning and growing, but in men who insist they are men, and men of God? Shame on both of them.