Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The blood of the martyrs...

I don't know if the media in the US has carried news of the attack last week on several Christians in Turkey who were involved in publishing Bibles and Christian literature, but I heard the report on BBC4. (Online story here.)

An acquaintance of mine, Peter Head, on a blog he contributes to, provides a link to a 'letter from the Protestant church of Smyrna'. To say that it is shocking, bracing reading (particularly the description of what happened to these men) risks understatement in the extreme.

To be honest, I usually feel that I want to turn away from literature and reports like this. There is something in me that viscerally pushes against this sort of graphic carnage, and especially against its possible elevation into an ever-inflating, ever-rising standard of gorier-than-thou storytelling, as if grace is shown by blood rather than love.* To put it another way, I quite admire the anabaptists (Mennonites, Brethren, Amish), but I really don't 'get' the Martyr's Mirror. Or a third way: it seems to me the desire to faithfully bear witness is commendable, but the desire -- in some cases the need -- to give one's life in it seems dubious and perhaps sick. There is a fine line between loving God more than our lives and simply hating our lives, and that line makes all the difference.

But this is a concern in the abstract; I have no sense at all that this was the case of the men and their families in Turkey.

Nevertheless, the death of these men (and countless others around the world) is real, and it points up the specific cost of being a witness to Christ in many parts of the world. And in the event, the men and their wives, and their fellow believers in Turkey provide us with -- pardon the antique phraseology, but I am struggling to do better -- a manly example of faithfulness for all of us.**

The churches have been asking forgiveness for those who murdered the men, the wife of one of those killed echoing the words of Jesus from the cross.
In an act that hit front pages in the largest newspapers in Turkey, Susanne
Geske in a television interview expressed her forgiveness. She did not want
revenge, she told reporters. "Oh God, forgive them for they know not what they
do," she said, wholeheartedly agreeing with the words of Christ on Calvary (Luke
23:34). In a country where blood-for-blood revenge is as normal as breathing,
many many reports have come to the attention of the church of how this comment
of Susanne Geske has changed lives. One columnist wrote of her comment, "She
said in one sentence what 1000 missionaries in 1000 years could never do."

They are asking our prayers for their persecutors. And they are not clamouring for government intervention on behalf of their 'rights', but asking that we pray for the ongoing witness of the church in that area, that the murderers -- and others -- might come to faith in Christ. (A Pauline point, that.)

Please do pray for them. And although we ask God to 'save us from the time of trial', nevertheless if we find ourselves otherwise, may we have the grace to bear the kind of loving, nonviolent witness that our brothers and sisters have done in Turkey.

* Love may require blood, no problem there; but to focus on the blood itself rather than the love risks distortion. But even the distortion is not without merit, since it is by one's own blood being shed, and not the blood of others. The Church spreads quite differently than the empire, which measures its success in how little of its own blood is shed.

**But maybe this really is a manly example: they gave their lives working with people who could have been (and in the event, were) threatening to them. They undertook a risk on behalf of others, and then paid the price. It isn't a matter of violent resistance, of kicking *rse and taking names, of overwhelming power, shock and awe, of not allowing the other the upper hand at any cost. Instead they embrace vulnerability on behalf of the other, following Christ (who after all was fully man, fully human as well as fully divine), who did not return evil for evil. If only more Christian men (and indeed, as I imply above, women as well) were willing to embrace this sort of manliness -- more broadly, humanness -- we would have a much richer witness to Christ and a different sort of world.

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Blogger michael jensen said...

Yes, Augustine said all this: 'it is the cause not the punishment that makes the martyr'. Dying a bloody death is of itself nothing in particular; and Christians do not have a death wish. If they die, they die to affirm life. It is interesting what you say about manliness: the early martyr-acts 'manned' the women martyrs by applying virtues like courage to them.
Thanks for the reflection!

Friday, May 18, 2007 6:46:00 AM  

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