I always feel uncomfortable when I read or hear people using words like ‘scum’ and ‘filth’ to describe human beings, and especially so when the ones doing so call themselves Christians.
Sometimes, obviously it is understandable when referring to people who have done despicable things and appear to have absolutely no conscience or humanity enough to repent. I’m not talking about bankers or estate agents here, I’m talking about the kind of people who rape, abuse and murder.
Last night I had a discussion on one of my twitter accounts (I have several – I may get round to posting links to them at some point) about the ISIS fighters who killed the Jordanian pilot. What was done was absolutely horrific and utterly reprehensible; there is no question about that at all.
A Christian (lady? man? not sure now I think of it, as the name is neutral and could be either) who tweets officially for a Christian charity posted a tweet in which he / she called the perpetrators ‘filth’.
Yes, of course, it is perfectly understandable to respond in such a way to such brazen evil. But is it right? Is it ‘Christian’?
I posted in response: “I agree they’re utterly despicable. But Christ died to redeem ‘filth’ like them. Seems inappropriate 4 believers 2 use.”
He / she responded to me: “Read Jesus on religious hypocrites. ‘Broods of vipers’, ‘whitewashed tombs full of filth?’ Take your sanctimony elsewhere.”
OK, interesting. I have never been called sanctimonious before! Well just to be absolutely clear, the Dictionary.com definition of sanctimony is:
“pretended, hypocritical, religious devotion, righteousness,etc.”
Well, no – sorry. I can’t confess to that. Hypocrisy and pretense are things I find disgusting and intolerable, so I hope I can never be legitimately accused of that.
So what of Jesus’ pronouncement? Was he addressing a comparable situation, and does it follow that Christians should be free to speak to and about people in like manner?
Well, let’s look at the context. Jesus was addressing some of the Jewish religious leaders who should have known better. They were members of the Covenant people, they had the Law, they had a history of revelation from the true and living God who (despite some Christian misapprehensions) revealed himself even in the ‘Old Testament’ as a God whose character is defined by loving-kindness. If their hearts had been in the right place they could have known the very heart of God.
But there is a difference between how those within the Covenant family of faith should deal with those who are within the Covenant and those who are outside. This is not the same as ‘religious’ and ‘non-religious’, since the word ‘religious’ can also include those who have no knowledge whatsoever of the God of love as revealed in the Bible. It has no meaning in this context. the ISIS terrorists may be as religious as ever can be, but they have no knowledge or experience of the God of love as revealed in the Bible.
Such ‘religious’ people are in utter spiritual darkness. Their greatest need is to be exposed to the light of Christ and be spiritually reborn, and indeed Christ died for them. Yes, even ISIS.
“The vilest offender who truly believes that moment, from Jesus, a pardon receives” – Fanny Crosby, hymnwriter
If you are a Christian, you must believe that redemption and repentance is always possible. That is not to say that such crimes should not have consequences. Murder and abuse cannot go unpunished when a character becomes reformed. (A genuinely reformed character would be prepared to surrender themselves to punishment, whether it be execution or life imprisonment).
But eternal forgiveness is available. The ‘filth’ is not the people themselves, but their sin, and that can ultimately be washed away back into the pit of hell from whence it came.
“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:12
We often used to hear the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin” but more and more I am seeing an inability to divide the two – either we seek to love the sinner by accommodating the sin, or fail to stop short of hating the sinner when we hate the sin. We must, as Christians, learn to hate the sin but love the sinner.
I have also seen this kind of wrong-headed judgmentalism by Christians on either side of the Israel debate several times recently, and it makes me feel rather despairing. Ultimately, it does damage to the cause, (the charity in question in this case) and ultimately the world that we are supposed to be trying to heal, because if we fail to offer the transforming love and spiritual rebirth that Christ makes available to those who need the light so badly, the darkness will be unstoppable.