Responding to Evil Down the Street and Across the Ocean
by Jeff Ritchie
This month the United States has experienced violence during a white supremacy rally in Charlottesville that exposed once again racist and hate-filled ideologies among us. At the same time, we have seen a heightened tension with North Korea triggered by that country’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon that could threaten our country and North Korea’s near neighbors. The rhetoric from Pyongyang and Washington has escalated to the point that some fear we are on the verge of war.
These two flash points are by no means the only places where evil abounds in the world, but they raise the level of urgency to find answers to the question, “What can followers of Jesus Christ do individually, collectively as the body of Christ, and with other people of good will who are concerned to respond to evils such as these?”
The church my wife and I attend responded to the events of Charlottesville in a unique and inspiring way on the Sunday following the rally. An infant baptism was scheduled for the Sunday worship, and the pastor used the words of the baptismal service to call attention to what Christian discipleship is all about. In fact, he had all the congregation say what is normally for the parents of an infant to say. Those words took on a much deeper significance in the light of the events in Charlottesville.
One: Do you renounce evil, and its power in the world, which defies Christ’s righteousness and love?
Many: We renounce them.
One: Do you renounce the ways of sin that separate you from the love of God?
Many: We renounce them.
One: Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Lord and Savior?
Many: We do.
One: Do you intend to be Christ’s faithful disciple, obeying his word and showing his love to your life’s end?
Many: We do.
Baptism, the sacrament we receive at the beginning of our Christian journey, points the way for us to act as individual Christians, as a collective body, and as people who live alongside others who may or may not believe as we do. As disciples, we say “No” to some things. Our words and deeds must communicate our commitment to a life that repents of evil in ourselves and rejects it as a way of life for ordering society. There is no place, therefore, for considering one group of people—a race, an ethnic group, a class of persons—as superior to any other. We all are created in the image of the one God whom alone we worship and serve.
Secondly, followers of Jesus do not simply reject evil; we say “yes” to an active pursuit of what is good, right, and just. In our American context, this means that Christ-followers should look for ways to build bridges to persons not like us, to listen to them, learn from them, and seek their welfare even as we seek our own. For more on this see the Outreach Blog from May 3, "Seeing Our Neighbor through the Eyes of Jesus."
Where this gets really challenging is when we try to obey Jesus’ call to pray for our enemies and for those who persecute us. I find it most difficult to renounce and reject the evil in others without hating the persons themselves. The good news is that it is possible to call out evil deeds without hating the evil doers. A couple of months ago, for example, ISIS militants in Egypt bombed two Coptic Churches on Palm Sunday killing a number of people. The Coptic Christian community responded by forgiving the perpetrators, to the shock and surprise of the wider Egyptian society. Rob Weingartner shared this story and some reflections on it in "Forgiveness." I found it humbling and something to aspire to in the current climate in the US.
Moving on the crisis in Northeast Asia, I want to reflect on how Christians can renounce evil and its power in the world and follow in the way of Jesus Christ there. To begin with, there are no easy answers. A recent article by Mark Bowden in the July/August edition of The Atlantic Monthly, “How to Deal with North Korea?” lays out four military and political scenarios, none of which is very hopeful. What, then, can Christians do that will make a difference?
N.T. Wright in his Evil and the Justice of God, sets forth some specific ways that followers of Jesus can witness to God’s kingdom and make an impact here and now. The first act for Christians is prayer. Wright says, “The new life of the Spirit...consists...of the unending struggle in the mystery of prayer, the struggle to bring God’s wise, healing order into the world now” (p. 119). It may seem impossible, humanly speaking, to solve the crisis in Northeast Asia, but for God all things are possible. As God’s people intercede for our leaders, the leaders of North Korea, and the leaders of the countries most affected by the crisis in Northeast Asia, who can tell how God will act through the decision-makers and through others whom God might choose to use?
Another way prayer may help in overcoming evil with good in the case of North Korea is that in prayer we listen to God for God’s thoughts on the people of Korea. Does not the Lord who had compassion on the evil city of Ninevah (Jonah 4) and the people in towns and cities of Galilee who were like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9) also have compassion on the people of North Korea?
As we meditate on God’s heart for the people of the Korean peninsula, we may find that he wants to pour into our hearts some of that compassion as well. Compassion is one of the main attributes of God which we see throughout the scriptures. As we grow in compassion, we grow in holiness, the second way N. T. Wright calls for Christians to act in witness to the coming kingdom of God.
Two mission partners of The Outreach Foundation and other missionaries whom we know have been filled with just that kind of compassion and are putting it into active service in North Korea. The Rev. Choon Lim, a Presbyterian missionary in Northeast Asia, whom The Outreach Foundation has supported for decades, coordinates a network of persons active in blessing the people of North Korea according to their gifts and callings. One of those in this network, former Presbyterian missionary Sue Kinsler (also an Outreach partner), supports projects among persons with disabilities. Mennonites in the network have on-going agriculture projects. Children of former Presbyterian missionaries have banded together to support tuberculosis hospitals. Others are involved in education. All are demonstrating in word and deed the prayer of St. Francis, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”
May the God of compassion and justice form us, his people, to carry out our baptismal vows in the chaotic state our world is in. May we renounce evil in ourselves and in the world, on the one hand, and pursue the good that God has planned for us, on the other. Friends, the Lord is with you. Go forth in that confidence to be God’s heart, his hands, and his feet.