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Becoming a Christian Extremist

The term “Muslim Extremists” has become popular in the news. Muslim Extremist is the label attached to Islamic suicide bombers and other terrorists inspired by their faith in Islam. I am sure that there are Muslims who are sick of hearing the extreme of Islam described in this way. I am not in a position to determine whether the actions of those so-called extremists are being true to Islam or not. Instead, the term Muslim Extremist has caused me to wonder what a Christian Extremists would look like.

I don’t doubt that some writers would chose to label a person who shoots a doctor specializing in abortions as a Christian Extremist, but that doesn’t make it so. Killing a doctor because they perform abortions is extreme. However, even if someone comes to decide to take that action because of their views of Christianity, it does not mean that their actions are in fact Christian.

How can we know what a Christian Extremist would look like? I think actions are the key to determining who is and who is not a Christian Extremist. For Francis of Assisi, the teachings of Christianity were not precepts to be learned but a life to be lived. Francis was a 13th century Christian Extremist who put it like this, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”

Francis preached with his own life. He renounced his own claims to his father’s not inconsiderable wealth as a successful merchant. Francis quite literally stripped himself of everything his father had given him and walked off to become a beggar for Christ. Francis lived out his faith by caring for lepers and other outcasts. His way of life provided one extreme example of what it meant to be a Christian. Thousands were drawn to Francis. Monastic communities for both men and women sprouted up, grew, and flourished following his example.

Francis’ story of leaving the security of his middle class background behind to live among lepers and other outcasts has been repeated in our own time. Mother Teresa of Calcutta left her family in Macedonia to live among the lowest of the low in India’s strictly structured caste system. Teresa and the nuns of her Missionaries of Charity order specialized in reaching out to the deprived and diseased.

Mother Teresa challenged the Christians who visited her community to become extremists. A retired Bishop told me this story of when he was a young minister sent to work for a time among Mother Teresa’s community. Soon after his arrival, the young minister was sent with a team to go change lepers’ bandages in the streets. One leper saw the minister working at the station and asked him to lay hands on him and pray for healing. Horrified by the disfigured face, he ran to the nun leading the group.

“That man wants me to lay hands on him and pray for him. What should I do?” the nervous minister asked.

“What would our Lord do?” the nun asked.

“I know what our Lord would do. I want to know what I am to do,” he stammered back. “How is the disease transmitted?”

“You want a medical answer, and I will not give you one,” the nun replied. “The man wants God’s healing touch. If you are a priest, you will do what your Lord would do. As you walk back over there, decide whether you intend to be a priest or not.”

The now retired Bishop said that the nun’s insistence on following Jesus’ example was the kick in the seat of the pants he needed to become a real minister of Gospel.

For Teresa, being a Christian flowed out following Jesus’ example of love. Teresa considered the love God had for her and found that the best response was to love others.

Jesus himself summed up all the teachings of scripture with love, saying you are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and to love your neighbor as yourself. For Teresa of Calcutta, as for Francis of Assisi, to be a Christian is to love. To be a Christian Extremist is to love the unlovable even more.

The extremists in the news seem to get big results with their actions. Can we counter their great violence with love? How can we get big results by loving?

Mother Teresa knew better than to concentrate on results. One quote of hers sums up for me what it looks like to be a Christian Extremist, “We can do no great things; only small things with great love.

(The Rev. Frank Logue is pastor of King of Peace Episcopal Church in Kingsland.)

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