All ideologies are dangerous. Every system of ideas has its breaking point. Most people seem able to recognize the lines that should not be crossed within the system of their own beliefs, but we see evidence of many who cannot.
The Islamic State is reading the same Quran as the Muslims that fear them more than we do. These radicals sentence Muslims to die for refusing to adhere to their strict interpretation of the Quran or for refusing to pledge the allegiance to their leader and self-styled Caliph, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. This is why so many of the Syrian refugees are Muslims. ISIS has driven out those who recognize that they have taken their fundamentalist Islamic ideology to its dangerous extreme.
The Westboro Baptist Church is reading the same Bible that you and I read. We share a belief that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. We share a desire to live lives that are shaped by Scripture. Yet they obsess over OT passages that condemn handpicked sins from the OT and conclude that God hates one kind of sinner. Not only that, they believe it is their mission to spread the word of God’s hatred for this type of sinner across the country. We look at them and shake our heads. How are they not able to see where they have crossed a dangerous line in their application of some passages of scripture at the exclusion of the broader message of God’s universal love for all sinners and saints alike?
Almost every week now, we are inundated with images and soundbites relating to another mass shooting. Is it a white supremacist? An apocalypse junkie? A jihadist terrorist? Or a mentally deranged psychopath?
But does it even matter? Whether the violence is born of ideologies of hate, fear, religious zeal, or a sick person’s paranoid delusions, they are all evidence of our inability as a species to develop any system of ideas that, when taken to a dangerous extreme, don’t threaten the lives of others. Yet, there is another way. Jesus lived another way. Jesus lived out the way of love.
Many people were threatened by Jesus, but he refused to be a threat to anyone. Even when his enemies came to the Garden of Gethsemane to take him by force, Jesus showed more concern for his arresters than he did for himself.
Love is a single idea. It is not a system of ideas and, therefore, cannot be termed an ideology. But love is dangerous. Love may not be dangerous to our enemies, but it can be dangerous for us. Love is always a risk. Love is never a sure bet if our goal is to preserve our own lives or to overcome our enemies. But love is what our world needs.
There are threats everywhere. Outside threats. Inside threats. Threats that look like us and speak our language. Threats that don’t. In the face of those threats, we who call ourselves Christians have to decide whether we will live our lives by the same code of love that Jesus did. Will we choose to live as people who refuse to be a threat to anyone? Even our enemies? In other words, are we ready to love our enemies?
Some of you are thinking, “That’s too risky. It’s just too dangerous. Our enemies cannot be trusted.” I don’t think Jesus would argue any of those points, but he would challenge us to decide whether we are going to live his way of love or live according to some human ideology.
I don’t believe that all ideologies are the same. Some are better than others. Most are not that threatening when held in humility and moderation. I suspect that most of us hold ideologies we barely recognize as such and that they are fairly innocuous in nature. But if you want to be an extremist, there is only one choice for those who would follow Christ:
Be an extremist of love.
Refuse to be a threat to anyone.
Resolve to be a friend to all in need.
When struck across the face, turn the other cheek.
When insulted, offer blessings in return.
Do not repay evil with evil.
Do your best to live at peace with everyone.
Don’t take revenge.
Love your neighbor.
And love your enemies.
That is the extremist way of Jesus. The way of love. And if we can't trust this way when we feel threatened, then we never really trusted Jesus' way in the first place.