Tuesday, April 19, 2011

When Americans were Foreigners, and Christians were Marked for Extermination

     Everyone has been a victim of bigotry at some time or other. When fair-minded people seek solutions to problems caused by bigotry, they tend to focus on where blame may be assigned. Many of us try to empathize by uttering such remarks such as, "What if we Americans were foreigners, or what if Christians were marked for extermination?"
     Unfortunately, blame and empathy too often don't go far enough. If we also tried to assign responsibility, we may come closer to resolving the problem.
     One of the toughest lessons to learn about bigotry is that blame and responsibility are not the same thing. It's tougher still to accept that, while blame belongs to the bigots, the victim often has to accept responsibility.
     Let's look at one example.
     A friend of mine (let's call him Jack) attended an Ivy League college during the late 1970's and earned a master's degree in comparative religion, but he wasn't allowed to receive it. The person who had the power to approve or reject Jack's dissertation chose to reject it. Another professor told Jack that his dissertation was of doctoral level quality.
     Jack later learned that this person had boasted that he had never approved a dissertation of someone from the Deep South. Having hit a brick wall, Jack went to another university and received a master's degree in library science.
     For many years, Jack had to endure bigoted comments from people who regarded Southerners as inferior beings. Nonetheless, he overcame their bigotry.
     How? He did it by taking their sin on himself without believing that their rejection of him had any validity. Jack did what Jesus does when we sin: He looked beyond their sin and met their real needs.
     The bigots were to blame, but it would have been ridiculous to expect them to accept responsibility by recognizing their wrongdoing and correcting their behavior. If Jack had waited for them to correct their behavior on their own, he would have been placing his future happiness in the hands of those who manifestly disliked him.
     I often get emails from unhappy people who deal with their unhappiness by expressing anger toward people from other countries or of other religions. They're so befuddled that they're incapable of producing the kind of propaganda pieces that they forward to others. When offered reason and facts, they first attempt to refute both reason and the facts. When they fail at both, they lash out in blind anger.
     This level of anger and hatred is not due a deficiency of facts or intellect.  It's a problem of low self esteem, and they fail to realize that they're being manipulated by profiteers who feed on the anger of other people.
     I'm reminded of a story I heard when I was a boy.
     In the story, two women and a man were locked in a cell and could see no one but each other. As the two women competed for the attention of the same man, the women grew to hate each other. When the man became arrogant over the women's competition for him, they began to hate him, and he grew to hate them in return. Over the years, their hatred grew until it was all they knew. Finally, their cell door was thrown open and they were allowed to leave. Instead of leaving, they chose to stay in the cell for the rest of their lives expressing their hatred for one another. They lived in a hell of their own making.
     We all have reason to be angry at one another at one time or other. We have enough problems with people who are like ourselves, let alone those we see as different from ourselves.  It may not be true that "it takes all kinds to make a world;" but we have all kinds anyway.
     One unhappy bigot recently attempted to justify his hatred by quoting Psalms 5:5, “God hates all workers of iniquity." In Luke 14:26, the Bible also quotes Jesus as saying, "Unless you hate your father and mother, you can not be My disciple.” If that's the way that person understands the Bible, Father's Day and Mother's Day at that person's house must be pretty depressing. Of course, any understanding to the Scriptures should be based on the Scriptures in their entirety, and not just a few cherry-picked verses.
     I mentioned that I often receive emailed propaganda urging me to hate people from other countries and religions. I'm expected to believe that hatred of other people is the sort of thing that is required of an American patriot and a Christian.
     Any reasonable person can see that they're being manipulated to give assent to war and other forms of taxpayer-sponsored cruelty. Man's inhumanity to man is profitable for a few at the expense of the many.
     It's one of my hobbies to research America's role in China during the Boxer Uprising of 1899-1900. Both sides had ample reasons to be angry at one another. Both sides made unwise decisions and committed unfair acts.
     Wise decisions broaden our future possibilities. Unwise decisions narrow options. At 1:20 A.M. on June 17, 1900, both sides ran out of options and the war began.
     Tens of thousands of innocent people died along with the guilty. That's the nature of bigotry; all are blamed for the actions of a few. Most of the victims of the Chinese militants were Chinese. Exhibiting the same attitude as bigots today, the Boxers declared that they would exterminate all foreigners and Christians. These deluded people were being manipulated by a comparative handful of powerful Machiavellians in the Forbidden City.
     On the positive side, Prince Fu of the peace faction was persuaded to allow 3,000 Chinese Christians to take refuge in his mansion and gardens, under the protection of Japanese who were themselves under attack.  Prince Fu must have known that his property would be ruined in the 55-day siege.  Out of respect for innocent human life and a desire for future peace, he willingly made the sacrifice.
     Many victims of the militants refused to give in to hate, even at the cost of their lives. By repaying hatred with love, they set the stage for future reconciliation.
     One missionary, after driving off his attackers, wrote in his diary, "Thank God I didn't have to kill any of them."   It was one of the last things he wrote before his attackers came back and killed him.
     As another missionary lay dying, she said to her husband, "How I wish I could have lived so that I could go back and tell the people more about Jesus."
     When the war was over, every affected nation and almost everyone who had suffered at the hands of the Boxers demanded reparations from the Chinese government. Even Christian missionary groups joined the hate-fueled feeding frenzy.
     The China Inland Mission (CIM) suffered more deaths and more property damage than any other missionary group operating in China. It then came as a shock to everyone when CIM leader Hudson Taylor said that he would not ask for reparations. He said it was more important to display "the meekness and gentleness of Christ."  "If I had 1,000 lives," he said, referring to his own life, "I'd give them all for China."
     A lot of professing Christians these days like to wear bracelets bearing the letters, "WWJD."  It stands for "What would Jesus do?"
     (In an earlier article, I described events leading to the Boxer Uprising and the eight-nation war with China.  In essence, both sides made a series of selfish and bigoted decisions that progressively narrowed their options until they had no remaining option but a war that neither side wanted.  See "Leo Tolstoy and the Three Little Wars.")
     It's easy for people to make excuses and imagine that Jesus would put His stamp of approval on whatever we want to do. It's quite a bit more sobering to try answering the question, "What did Jesus do?"
     If we're honest with ourselves, we already know what Jesus did.
     He spoke firmly but kindly to a sinful woman and led her to repentance.  He told a parable that praised the behavior of a member of a hated minority group.  He humbled Himself in many ways to offer forgiveness and reconciliation to wrongdoers.  That includes you and me.  In his Eight Woes of the Pharisees (link), he blasted the bigots of his day for being too proud to do the same.  Almost word for word, the woes could have been written for bigots of our day.
     Jesus humbly looked beyond blame and took responsibility for reconciling us with our Heavenly Father. He looked beyond our guilt and saw our need. We should not be too proud to make the attempt ourselves.

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