(photo credit: Christian Coalition of America web site)
The headline read, "New Jersey School Stages Practice Hostage Drill - Portrays Killers as Fundamentalist Christians." This was not something out of a Michael Moore movie. It was, according to news reports, a real-time drill staged to prepare local agencies to handle another Columbine. That, you will remember, is when two students shot up their local high school outside Denver, Colorado, in 1999, killing 13 people and wounding 24 others.
Burlington School Superintendent Chris Manno praised the New Jersey drill, saying, "You perform as you practice. We need to practice under conditions as real as possible in order to evaluate our procedures and plans so that they're as effective as possible."
However, this drill should have sent a chilling message to conservative Christians because the hostage-taking attackers were depicted as "members of a right-wing fundamentalist group called the 'New Crusaders.'" According to an article by David Levinsky in the March 23 Burlington (NJ) County Times, the "Christian gunmen" were "seeking justice because the daughter of one had been expelled for praying before class."
In response to the "disaster," faculty, local emergency personnel, and county officers were dispatched to rescue the "hostages" and evacuate the building.
While county officials praised the exercise as the first live test of their ability to respond to extremist attacks, they ignored the fact that praying before class is not only lawful but the right of every student regardless of religion. Bob Pawson, national coordinator of the Scriptures in Schools Project, contested the claim that the drill anticipated a possible reality when in essence it was nothing of the sort.
Pawson, a New Jersey public school teacher, called the drill an excuse to denigrate Christians with "a grotesque scenario saturated with Christian-bashing prejudice and bigotry; a scenario which could never possibly occur."
THE INCIDENT, thoroughly unsophisticated in its bigotry, was hatched from a secularist culture of hatred for Christians, which allows such vicious episodes to be considered acceptable in some circles. After all, evangelicals are regularly savaged and ridiculed without consequences. So it is no surprise that the national news media takes little note of such incidents.
Silence from the left-leaning Fourth Estate has prevailed for so long that few are surprised or outraged at the lack of balanced reporting when such events transpire. It's simply the same story one more time.
Why, however, are more evangelicals not sounding an alarm over where this phenomenon is taking us? Have we become self-inflicted victims of tunnel vision? Or are most evangelicals so uninformed that they are ignorant of the serious problems looming over the horizon? Perhaps the average Christian in Western society is so comfortable that indifference has become a state of life and people say to themselves, "Well, as long as it doesn't affect me or mine."
A PROBLEM we must address is what one might call a lack of historical and cultural context. For example, the apostle Paul in his epistles repeatedly referred to the suffering of fellow believers: "For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake" (Phil. 1:29).
The apostle was speaking to people who lived every day with severe persecution and suffering for their faith in Christ. Theirs was a world dominated by pagan forces dedicated to wiping them out by every means possible.
In the West, our situation is different. So far, we are safe, comfortable, and live in relatively stable conditions. Thus we tend to relate passages concerning biblical suffering to our existing circumstances, which are trivial by comparison.
The persecution experienced by the early church cannot be reduced to merely sniping criticism or social shunning at the hands of those who found faith in Christ distasteful.
Also, we seem inclined to internalize the concept of suffering and relate it to a transient, personal state of mind that, while unpleasant, cannot compare with the biblical situation.
Perhaps this is why many Western Christians have developed the tunnel vision that extremely limits their perception of what it means to taste the type of suffering that occurs outside the reality of their own experiences.
But there is a world of suffering out there where believers know precisely what Paul was talking about. They experience it every day. There is Darfur, Southern Sudan, Indonesia, Nigeria, Eritrea, India, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Iraq, China, Vietnam, Somalia - and a list too long to register - where death, starvation, unspeakable atrocities, and rotting jail cells are the cost of being a Christian.
Yet there is a virtual pale of silence on the subject among evangelicals. Why? Have we chosen to live in a state of denial? And how did it become perfectly acceptable to create a fantasy of fundamental, right-wing, wild-eyed Christian hostage-takers and call it an "as real as possible" example of a situation that would require SWAT teams to subdue? Say the same about any other group or minority on the planet and you'd spend the rest of your life in court or hiding out to escape lifetime social detention.
SO WHAT'S the message? First, we must recognize that we do not live in a tolerant, loving, caring, want-to-do-the-right-thing world. In fact, much of humanity doesn't have a clue about such niceties. And hostility toward serious believers is growing more intense each day.
Second, we cannot create Christian cocoons, or safe zones, that minister only to those we can touch or feel. We must have a coherent understanding not only of the needs of those in our circles - be it church, family, or friends - but also of conditions outside our immediate spheres. To have a "worldview," one must be exposed to the facts of life in the wider world fellow believers occupy.
As a former pastor, I would suggest that it is essential to weave into pulpit and teaching presentations information (even if it is unpleasant) that affects us and our extended Christian family - meaning believers around the world.
Third, as people charged to obtain and exercise discernment, we must understand the facts, trends and prophetic implications that are developing. We can only do so if guided by a biblical intimacy that means being grounded in the Word.
I am reminded of the words attributed to the Rev. Martin Niem ller, a German pastor during World War II, who fell out of favor with Hitler, was arrested for treason, and spent time in concentration camps. He wrote the following:
First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.
"Then they came for me." May that never be said of us because of our failure to stand up, speak out, and extend a hand of help to the oppressed.
The writer, a retired pastor, is a leader of the Christian Zionist movement in the United States.