The other day I had a chat with Guy Short, a missionary to Saristan, an exotic country that many people in the US associate with peace, love, and flowers. He surprised me by telling me that before he went to Saristan, he had been working in Islamistan, which everyone I know associates with hostility to the gospel. That he had been working in Islamistan was surprising enough, but what really got my interest up was why he left what seems to me to be a crucial place to be spreading the gospel.
He said that the move to Saristan had been prompted by 9/11.
How was it, I asked him, that 9/11 had forced them to leave Islamistan? Was it 9/11 per se, or the US response to 9/11? He thought a moment and asked, "When did the US invade Afghanistan?"
"November of 2001."
"That was when we had to leave."
The very month I learned to sing "Osama Got Run Over by a Reindeer" and get behind George W. Bush's expropriation of my unborn grandchildren's money to go find Osama, the policy I was supporting brought to an end the work Jesus had called Guy and his wife Sheila to do in a hotbed of Islam. And as it turned out, of course, it was not "the mastermind behind 9/11," but celebrants at Afghan wedding parties, who were blown literally to hell in those days.
So I am partly responsible for making it impossible for Christian missionaries in Islamistan to continue the work they had prayed about and planned for years—and that was shortly after I'd completed almost two decades as a missionary myself. Was catching Osama really more important than getting the gospel to Islamistanis?
In the course our conversation, Guy told me that it was not uncommon for Christians in Saristan to be killed by Hindu fundamentalists—not the quick death of beheading, mind you, but the slow, agonizing death of bludgeoning. Even more common were arson and pillage. (So much for peace, love, and flowers.)
Why would anyone do such horrible things?
The most memorable reason Guy gave for the fundamentalists' hostility is that they regard Christianity as a foreign religion. Now while foreign is a fairly benign term for residents of this nation of immigrants, it would be a loaded term for an Indian, as you'll soon realize if you read George Orwell's Burmese Days or Kipling's poem "Gunga Din." To Indians under colonialism, foreign meant suppression, oppression, theft, murder, lies, and hypocrisy. So even if in God's eyes "foreign religion" is a vain excuse for violence, its lack of legitimacy is probably of little comfort to our brethren who suffer at the hands of those who use it.
And those who believe it are by no means our inferiors.
We have seen in our own history that the home of "American exceptionalism" is also guilty of mistreating innocents vaguely associated with foreign tyranny. Think of the boycotts of Germans during the wars against Germany, to say nothing of the incarceration of the Nisei during the war on Japan. For that matter, look at the suspicion with which US evangelicals view Muslim fellow citizens today. How would they treat them if Saudi Arabia invaded Canada, or even Mexico? Are Hindu fundamentalists really Untermensch, as our first natural thoughts would tell us, or are they rational human beings doing what they think they need to do to prevent colonial savagery from repeating itself?
The Internet is an open book. Do no Hindu fundamentalists read statements from the US government that "the American way of life" depends on armed force to keep certain populous Asian nations from buying "our" oil from the Middle East and North Africa? Do none of them know the saying that blood is thicker than water? Can they not apply it here to mean that US evangelicals would gladly bomb Saristani Christians to heaven to preserve their own self-interests? (Abraham Lincoln is enshrined in a self-labeled temple for leading a war where pro-US Christians killed fellow Christians whose only desire was to secede from a union they considered oppressive.)
Most importantly, have none of them seen pictures of the cross of Christ intertwined with the US flag? We now know that the soldiers who fought—many of them valiantly, even heroically, and almost all of them sacrificially—in the wars of the twentieth century did so on the basis of lies by the government. The government has not admitted that it lied, and the evangelical community has not admitted that it was fooled. Can violent fundamentalists be blamed for thinking that Christians stand by their government—nay, kill for it with no pangs of conscience—whether that government is right or wrong in any sense of the word? Are they unaware that no one in the US "supports the troops" more heartily than those who would spread Christianity in Saristan?
Why would those people want to become Christians? Why would they want to tolerate any of their neighbors, let alone their family members, becoming Christians? "Nits grow up to be lice."
I'm not excited about being bludgeoned to death for my faith. I can still remember when Crazy Granges backed me into a corner in shop class in ninth grade and merely pretended he was going to hit me: I was bawling in seconds. And as some immigrants and wannabes have reminded me, Uncle Sam's depredations are nothing compared to the run of the rest of the world's mill.
So I suppose I should be glad that brave guys and gals in Colorado are flying drones into various provinces of Burqastan and blowing ragheads to hell. Maybe they really are keeping me safe from those who would bludgeon me for believing that the creator of the universe spent thirty years crapping in our outhouses before becoming the necessary and sufficient sacrifice for my sins.
But even if that's true—and that's a big if—how many innocents do they kill before I should say I don't care what "they" do to me, my first priority is giving them the gospel? That, as John Fischer put it so long ago, "the resurrection power works best in graveyards"? That if it takes persecution to get the church in the US off the slide into decadence and back on track to bringing the gospel to the world, so be it?
What does Jesus gain when we wave Uncle Sam's flag? Would we be disobeying God if we removed it from our sanctuaries, houses, cars, and places of business? If not, why don't we?
Or is it no big deal that someone like me, who should have known better, supported a policy that led to Christian workers being forced out of "the fields that are white unto harvest"? Is there no definitive word from God regarding the wisdom of Christian youth joining a military whose actions bring persecution on our brethren for whom life is rough even in good times?
Or maybe other things are more important than the Great Commission.