Food for thought
SUNDAY 26th March 2017 AD
We’ve all heard the phrase: “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water”. No doubt we’ve used it a number of times ourselves. Its a phrase that means you need to be careful that, when you are throwing out something undesirable, you don’t also throw out something valuable.
I think our society is in great danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water when it comes to the issue of extremism. In our country, indeed in many societies around the world, ‘extremism’ is now considered the worst of all behaviours. It is something that western governments seek to control and prevent. This is happening because our society holds no belief in any god (secularism), and so therefore they lump all religions in the same basket, rejecting all religions, and any extreme expressions of belief. But they are throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Consider these extremists: you might even know of them – Ken and Jocelyn Elliott. They are couple of successful, capable, health professionals who left all the comforts, prosperity, security, and career advancements in Australia to help the desperately sick in an isolated, dangerous, impoverished, dysfunctional society. Not as a short-term stint to help the needy in a crisis but from 1972 they have continued for over 40 years. Here is a surgeon still working in his 80’s, for there is no-one willing to replace him, amongst the thousands of well remunerated, western surgeons that are able. He is the only surgeon for a couple of million people, building a hospital from nothing. He and his wife have not worked for money or fame but for their ultimate aim “to show the love of God”.
It would be true to say that Ken and Jocelyn Elliott are extremists. Their whole life is anything but normal, average, usual or mainstream. They are extremists: Christian extremists. They are not alone. All over the world there are Christian extremists like this: People who have voluntarily given up the great Australian life for something higher, grander, better. Extremists who have sacrificed the materialist dream to serve Christ by serving the poor, marginalised, endangered and sick.
Our own Tim Anderson is about to embark on something similar as he plans to return to Zambia in the coming weeks, to help the poor and needy, taking up every opportunity he can to spread the gospel. This is extreme behaviour – but it is for the good of others.
The story about Ken and Jocelyn Elliott came to be front page news last year when Muslim extremists kidnapped them. At first they were called ‘humanitarian workers’, as were the other seven who were killed at that time elsewhere in Burkina Faso. But their motivation was not simply humanitarian, it was their religion, Christianity, that made them extremists.
Each religion has its own ways of living the extreme – but sacrificing your life for the benefit of others is profoundly Christian. We do not follow a warrior prophet but the crucified Christ. Our extremism is good for the world, which is why wise governments have supported and promoted Christianity – because it is for the common good.
In fact, somewhat famously, the Reverend Martin Luther King was labelled an extremist. He did not initially like this title, but he came to see that it was right. In a letter that he wrote from gaol, he said:
“But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be? Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment.”
We must be careful not not to throw the baby out with the bath water. Extremism is not the problem – it depends on what cause you are extreme for, and how you go about it. The truth is, we need more extremists, not fewer of them. But we need extremists who follow the example of Jesus, laying down their lives for the good of others.