What price the Christian conscience?

Mar 2006    

FLEMMING ROSE just doesn’t get it. Flemming Rose is the Culture Editor of the Danish Jyllands-Posten newspaper that printed 12 cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad on Sept 30, 2005.

As I write this, Rose has crazy plans to even things up by printing caricatures of Jesus. That will calm people down for sure, especially as the Muslims consider Jesus their prophet as well!

Well, I just noticed Rose’s latest decision to print Iranian cartoons of the Holocaust has finally resulted on him being sent on indefinite leave.

What Rose just doesn’t get is nobody likes to have his faith insulted.

Press freedom comes at a price. It could be at the price of responsibility and restraint, even self-censorship. Or it could be at the price of embassies being attacked and burnt and people being shot in the streets, which was what eventually happened in the wave of demonstrations, riots and violence that was unleashed around the world. You would have thought it was an easy choice to make.

The whole problem began when Danish writer Kare Bluitgen said he was unable to find an illustrator for his children’s book about the Prophet because Islam forbids portrayal of the Prophet’s image. Jyllands-Posten asked cartoonists to “draw the Prophet as they saw him”.

The resulting images show the Prophet in a variety of satirical or “humorous” situations, not all especially critical of Islam. I haven’t seen the caricatures, but BBC reports one cartoon showing the Prophet in the desert with the sun behind him.

In another cartoon the Prophet’s face is merged with the Islamic star and crescent. Two cartoons don’t even show the Prophet at all. One even has Jesus Christ in a line-up beside Kare Bluitgen.

Then of course there are cartoons which seem to have been especially mischievous and hostile to Muslims. If deliberately meant to be provocative, they certainly worked.

In addition, more obscene images were circulated that were mistakenly assumed to have been part of the original Jyllands-Posten collection. One was an old Associated Press photograph of a man wearing pig’s ears and snout. These only added to the anger and confusion.

To top it all, in a misguided stand for press freedom, other European newspapers reprinted the cartoons, including the France Soir whose editor was fired.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono wrote: “Reprinting the cartoons in order to make a point about free speech is an act of senseless brinkmanship.”

Insulting somebody else’s faith to his face goes beyond being senseless: it is just stupid.

SO HOW should Christians respond when Jesus is insulted?

We seem very docile, but if we do nothing, doesn’t that give the impression that we don’t care, that it is okay to abuse Jesus?

In 1999, the Shariah Court of the United Kingdom sentenced to death Terrence McNally whose London play Corpus Christi depicted Jesus Christ and his followers as homosexuals. Jesus was crucified the King of Queers.

On signing the death fatwa, Shariah Court judge Sheik Omar Bakri Muhammad also criticised Christians for not taking stronger action. “The Church of England has neglected the honour of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. It is blasphemy for them not to take action.”

Some Christians did demonstrate outside the Pleasance Theatre, but there was no “official” rebuke.

The Rev Leslie Griffiths, a former President of the Methodist Conference, was reported as saying that church authorities had softened over the years as these sorts of “artistic attacks” had become more common. “I think it is an indication of a resigned attitude. This is not the first or the last portrayal of Christ that is … a product of people’s imaginations,” he said.

I don’t think it is right to be silent, but it is true that many Christians couldn’t be bothered to do anything.

John Piper, in a beautiful piece on his website www.desiringgod.org dated Feb 8, 2006, reminds us that the work of Christ is based on being insulted. Piper points out that if Christ hadn’t been insulted, there would be no Cross. “This was his saving work: to be insulted and die to rescue sinners from the wrath of God.”

We know how the Roman soldiers mocked Jesus as they tortured him. All this had to be done.

So what happens when we come across something like the 1989 “Visions of Ecstasy” movie on sensual visions between Jesus and St Teresa of Avila? Or Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel, The Last Temptation of Christ, made into a movie in 1988, with Jesus imagining himself falling in love with Mary Magdalen? Or even the best-selling Da Vinci Code series? How should we respond?

Piper writes: “On the one hand, we are grieved and angered. On the other hand, we identify with Christ, and embrace his suffering, and rejoice in our afflictions, and say with the apostle Paul that vengeance belongs to the Lord, let us love our enemies and win them with the Gospel. If Christ did his work by being insulted, we must do ours likewise.”

Our work is not to remain silent or be resigned, but to love our enemies and win them over with the Gospel. That’s very tough! But nobody said being a Christian was easy. The price for our freedom was the death of Jesus. What price do we put on our conscience?


Love through unity in action

Love through unity in action

Aug 2020     Families in mission fields bringing home their relief packages The COVID-19 pandemic has escalated at an alarming speed, infecting millions and impacting economies as countries imposed tight restrictions to halt its spread. Even as Singapore battles and grapples with the crisis, the three Annual Conferences of The Methodist Church in...
Never too young to make a difference

Never too young to make a difference

Aug 2020     MWS FDP volunteers share experiences on Zoom “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (1 Tim 4:12) A passionate volunteer with MWS Family Development Programme (FDP) since July 2019, Joanne Chua from Changi...