I may be asking for a bit of trouble with this posting, because I am far from being a Christian scholar, but I would say confidently that I am a Christian and a practicing Catholic. If you are of the “right-wing” persuasion, a classical liberal or a conservative, then these are trying times to be a Catholic when the current Pope and clergy seem to asking you to view the world and behave as a progressive might.
What prompts this post is an experience yesterday whence I had to listen to a homily at church and my priest speak about not creating “others” to demonize in life; migrants, immigrants, refugees, gays, lesbians, trans-gender… He went on to quote Barack Obama and Pope Francis extensively, the quotes being mostly typical progressive stuff about going out of our way to embrace “others” of differing cultures, races, sexuality and views. Some stuff about Brexit being unfortunate and a vote against immigrants, ignoring the fact that in polls of Brexit voters last week immigration was a distant third place in terms of concerns behind political sovereignty and economic opportunities.
But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Now, I repeat, I am not a Christian scholar. But I always have thought of Jesus not as some hippy-dippy flower child but as One who preached love, strength and personal power. This passage in the Bible I believe is an exhortation to resist provocation, not to tolerate or be indifferent to bad actions, not to be pacifist. What He was suggesting is who is stronger, more powerful, more in command than the person who can restrain themselves from lashing out? Perhaps some of our modern-day snowflakes attending universities and are so afraid of people saying controversial things or using words that they find offensive or “triggering” might take something from this passage. The old “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is derivative and still a good adage for everyone to try and live by but seems to be forgotten by the political correctness crowd.
We can infer that what Jesus was concerned about when He said to turn the other cheek was the example His followers would set in how they reacted to future persecutions. He wanted people to come to Him and not be turned off by violence.
But again, He was not one to take things lying down; consider John 2:15:
And when He had made a scourge of small cords, He drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables.
That doesn’t sound like someone who passively tolerated or was indifferent to bad behavior in His midst.
But nonetheless, Matthew 5:39 gets used to berate us into thinking that we can only be a good person if we “turn the other cheek” which has been twisted into modern times to be synonymous with the idiom “turn a blind eye.” Case in point, let’s discuss a recent story about “others”; grown men (some with beards even), Syrian refugees, attending high school in New Brunswick and harassing female students, refusing to speak English and giving Jewish students a hard time. One might think the story is being actively repressed, to the point where it’s hard to even find it on a Google news feed. Heaven knows CBC or CTV wouldn’t touch it with a 10 foot pole. It has taken a small upstart media outlet to do a FOI request to get their hands on emails between teachers and the school, emails that show the teachers have gone out of their way to accommodate these students and make the best of a bad situation and not gotten any help or seen any improvement.
This is just a very recent Canadian example, but one could add to it literally hundreds of recent stories from Europe. What does a Christian do when the Others are “others” because they are choosing to be “others” and have no interest in peaceful coexistence or conformance with even the most basic ideas we have here in the West about treating women and other religions with respect? Where is the Christian responsibility to protect the weak and those unable to protect themselves? Is it Christian to ignore the plight of teenage girls being harassed in our high schools because we want to be “tolerant” and avoid demonizing people? No, it is not. That is wrong, it has to be. I can’t conceive of a Jesus who would have suggested Christians just roll over or allow evil behavior to proceed unchecked. Should we ignore the plight of Yazidi and Christians in Iraq being slaughtered, or maybe just try to talk with ISIS and make them see the light? No, we need to go destroy them because they are evil. It is justified.
There is a difference between being tolerant and being indifferent. We should strive to be tolerant of other people, their creeds, sexuality and beliefs. We should try to understand them to the extent possible. No question, and as I’ve written in past posts we have come a million miles in the last hundred years on this front. A diverse society is a stronger one provided everyone is on the same page as far as respect for each other and rule of law.
But that doesn’t mean we have to be indifferent to events, actions and persons who either knowingly or unknowingly are having an adverse impact on our way of life. It’s not wrong to defend who and what we are without being called un-Christian. I wish my church would stop implying otherwise.