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February 06, 2009

’The Real Scandal of Religion’

The Pope's recent decision to revoke the excommunication of Bishop Richard Williamson, who has denied the Holocaust happened, has opened old wounds that never truly healed. As a result of the Pope's actions, Michael Gerson wrote this article that employs a sledgehammer against Christians who stood by, or even aided the killers, during two periods of mass murder, the Holocaust and the genocide in Rwanda.

Gerson writes, "It is difficult to understand how those who worship a man on a cross could help to drive the bloody nails themselves. But the record is clear. When religion is infected by racism, ideology or extreme nationalism, it can become a carrier of hatred instead of conscience. And when churches are concerned mainly for their institutional self-preservation, they often end up neck-deep in compromise or paralyzed by cowardice." 

It doesn't take much effort to come up with plenty of examples that back up his judgment. Nor does it take much thought to come up with examples that refute his judgment: there are many stories of Christians who did not stand idly by while the Nazis carried out their "final solution" or while the Hutus slaughtered the Tutsis. (Gerson mentions only one "rare" exception during the Holocaust, which suggests that he may be woefully ignorant of the story of the more than 10,000 rescuers who have been honored by Israel as "righteous Gentiles.")

What I found most convicting, however, was a comment voiced by a reader at the end of Gerson's article. The reader first cited a favorite passage from Corrie Ten Boom's The Hiding Place and then added, "Those whose hearts have been transformed act like Christians.... Those whose hearts have not been transformed act like pagans." Exactly. 

None of us knows what catastrophic events history may bring to our door, but we're all called to act like Christians -- transformed people, Christ-like people -- regardless. Gerson's criticism stings, and it makes me want to immediately leap to defend my faith by trotting out a list of exceptions. However, I think it's far more important that I simply live out my faith here and now.

We can't change what happened in the past. We can, however, make certain that when future generations look back on our time, they have better proof of the power and beauty of Christianity and of Christ because of how we lived. 

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