Zecharias Butros lives with a high price on his head. This gray-bearded, sagely Coptic priest from Egypt has dared to become one of the most outspoken experts on the subject of Islam. Because he speaks and reads Arabic, he can study Islamic documents in their original language, giving him an advantage over others, including hundreds of millions of Muslims who cannot understand Arabic. The reason he has a high price on his head, is because like his secular counterpart Salmon Rushdie, he has dared to question and dissent.
Recently on his television program aired internationally over satellite television and the internet, Butros fielded a question about religious violence. The viewer asked, “What can you say about the verse in the Bible where Jesus said he came to bring a sword and not peace” (Matt. 10:34). Butros replied, “First of all, Jesus was not speaking of a physical sword, he was not advocating violence. Otherwise, he would not have chastised Peter for cutting off the ear of the high priest’s servant nor would he have healed the man’s ear. What he did mean was that his words like a sword would separate good and bad, truth and falsehood. It would cause people to take different sides on life’s most important issues.” Later he added, “Even in the Old Testament, where the Israelites were commanded to engage real battles, the sword was not used to spread religion. They fought either to defend themselves or to exercise a penalty upon a specific society that had gone far beyond any hope of reform in their lawless and unjust behavior. Islam is different. The sword is not just metaphorical, but literal, used to spread religion. However, I challenge anyone to find one verse in the whole New Testament that commands Christians to use violence to advance their faith.”
Rev. Butros speaks frankly. We could wonder what he would say about the recent murder of the abortion provider in Wichita, Kansas and earlier killings when people used violence against abortion believing themselves acting upon Christian principles.
If one considers abortion morally wrong, what means may be legitimately employed to resist it? A century and half earlier, Christians and other objectors to slavery found themselves confronted with a similar question. Since the shooting in Wichita, many prominent Christian leaders from all denominations have strongly denounced the use of violence to stop abortion either on the small or large scale. Like Butros, many have concluded that Jesus neither taught nor modeled violence as a means to achieve personal or civil morality and justice. Since the times of Caesar, Christians have generally taken the position of civil obedience, leaving the punishment of unjust kings and presidents, judges and lawmakers up to the Almighty.
There are those hard moments, such as the one faced by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the famous Lutheran pastor who was executed by the Nazis for taking part in an eleventh hour conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. The early colonial American Christians also faced a difficult choice between pacifism and war when the colonies declared independence from the Crown of England.
Some complain that the New Testament does not more strongly denounce social ills like slavery at the same time it certainly never instigates violent revolution, promoting instead the principle of yeast slowly working out its presence and effect in the culture. Nietzsche saw Christianity’s emphasis on obedience one of its great weakness, holding the human race back from realizing its fullest potential. He wanted people to break free from the apparently docile, slave mentality of the New Testament and create the super-man, even if this meant becoming violent. The Nazis took his philosophies to the logical extreme.
Rev. Butros and other modern and ancient Christian leaders agree that the evils and ills of society cannot be corrected by violence. Martin Luther King, Jr. believed this and in fact succeeded to peacefully help overcome racial injustice. Abortion is an injustice against people, both the unborn and their mothers. We, “the born”, take breath and sustenance through our mouths while the unborn through the umbilical cord, yet we share a common humanity. One even wonders if another Shakespeare or Einstein, or someone like you or me has been swept away in an unwanted pregnancy. In the fight to end abortion, we must tell the story of Jesus, who offers an alternative way of life that not only includes forgiveness for past wrongs, but a topsy-turvy set of values diminishing the pursuit of self, with all its attraction to materialism and hedonism, and instead puts others first, including that little person in the womb who has entered this world quite unexpectedly.