What links Jesus, EastEnders and the assassination of Salman Taseer? Death and bloody revenge, of course. In EastEnders, the common link that binds unlikely people together in loyalty is ‘family’. Family unity, though always stretched, becomes stronger during persecution. If you attack my family, then we will attack you. It is the classic revenge cycle. Let’s call it The EastEnders Principle.
The assassination of Salman Taseer also follows The EastEnders Principle, only this time it is much more deadly. And it is not about family unity, but religious unity. You insult my religious community, and I will attack you. Mr Taseer spoke up for a Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi, a woman from the only Christian household in their village accused of blasphemy – insulting the Prophet Muhammed – and sentenced to death. He spoke up for her, and has paid with his life.
Religion often seems to follow The EastEnders Principle. Religion seems to be concerned with preserving and protecting dogma, beliefs, reputation. Extremist Islam certainly does. Insulting the Prophet Muhammed or the Qu’ran cause such grievous insult that the only response is angry revenge. It is within this sort of ‘justice’ environment that ‘an eye for an eye’ seemed so radical to the Israelites, as it limited angry revenge to a like for like system instead of limitless mob justice.
Jesus shows us a completely different way of responding to grievous insult. He was mocked, beaten and murdered, responding with calm, peaceful words of forgiveness. When his friend Peter tried to respond violently at his arrest, he rebuked him and healed the wounded soldier. After being raised to life Jesus didn’t seek out his betrayers or his executers to teach them a lesson. Jesus commanded us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Jesus wouldn’t allow us to justify anger as a religious principle because he said that harbouring angry thoughts is tantamount to murder, as harbouring lustful thoughts is tantamount to adultery.
So when people insult Jesus or the Bible, our response is not to follow The EastEnders Principle and seek revenge. Some Christians want to. Some Christians think we should tackle extremist Islam with equal violence, for fear of being ‘taken over’ and ‘defeated’. And when you are the only Christian in the village, when you are surrounded by extremist Muslims, it must feel like a war. But we do not support extremist Christian responses that include violence, because followers of Jesus follow Jesus, and he wasn’t violent. I do not say that lightly however, because I do not know what it is like to be in that position.
I believe we are called to take a stand, but a peaceful stand. Following Jesus’ example in the face of humiliation and persecution, we stand; and when we have done that, we still stand, with the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation (Ephesians 6). Our only offensive weapon? The sword of the Holy Spirit. And praying always.
Insulting Jesus cannot defeat him; it cannot wound him any more than he was; and nothing can hold him in the tomb. Jesus was and is raised to life. So we do not need to be afraid. We do not need to seek revenge. We need only to love in the face of hurt and hate.
We can only do that when we are filled with his life-soaked, resurrection love.
Which doesn‘t happen very often in EastEnders. As a principle.
We can support Christians who suffer like Asia Bibi through organisations like Open Doors, not in a partisan us vs. them way but peacefully challenging injustices to the Christian minorities around the world. We can support Christians working for people of all religions in challenging environments like Iraq, Israel & Palestine through organisations like BibleLands.