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          The amount of violence—hatred, murder, racism—committed in the Name of God is staggering. One would think it impossible that any level of violence could be committed in the Name of Jesus Christ. Isn’t His central message one of love? Not just for family and friends but love for enemies as well? And yet, as shocking and repulsive as it is, violence is committed every day by Christians in the Name of Christ.

          Edward Farley argues (Practicing Gospel: Unconventional Thoughts on the Church’s Ministry, Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003) that we commit violence in the Name of God precisely because in practicing our religion—in living out our faith—we have been lured into a malicious idolatry. Here is what Farley says: 

Religion, like all human institutions, has a dark side—a corrupted, ugly, and violent face. There is nothing secret or hidden about this face. It is displayed in the pages of history and in the daily newspapers. In its most banal sense, it is religion, lured by success, embracing popular culture, thus becoming slick, market-wise, malicious, manipulative, avaricious, and sometimes just plain silly. In its most virulent sense, religion’s dark side is a tale of religious wars, violent self-policing, and determined bigotry toward targeted groups. 

… Once a community or individual is certain that what it is, does, and believes is also ‘what God has willed’; once it identifies its own reality with what God has wrought, a contrast is constructed between that community or individual (namely, God and God’s side) and what is not God. Add to this the dynamics of tragic human [conditions] that ever plague human beings—the need to escape anxiety; the need for power, self-esteem, and cosmic or political security—and there is only a small step from [a lower form of] idolatry that [merely] claims divine status to malicious idolatry that will so absolutize the community and its traditions as to adopt fanatical and violent behaviors.

             It used to surprise me at how ugly Christians can be toward other Christians. Through the years (almost 30 now as a Christian) I have personally witnessed many character assassinations within “The Lord’s Church.” I’ve even played the role of the victim. What still surprises me—although, sadly, not as much anymore—is how little we reflect the Spirit of Christ. We may be absolutely “right” in our logic but dead wrong in our spirit. And, shockingly, not bothered in the least that we look so unlike Jesus.

             Perhaps Farley is right. Perhaps we have turned our religious institutions into idols. Perhaps our violence toward one another is nothing more than an uncontrollable expression of our malicious idolatry masquerading as Christian Discipleship.

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