As a permanent resident in Singapore, there is much I appreciate about the city-state I now call my home. This ranges from the relative absence of cigarette smoke to a government that takes a strong stance against corruption. I also appreciate that the country is multi-religious, with a healthy secularism that does not downplay the importance of religion but ensures that no single religion dominates the running of the country.
We are living in a time where religious and ethnic extremism is on the rise. I applaud the government for taking serious proactive steps to encourage interreligious and interethnic harmony. At the forefront of this campaign is K. Shanmugam, the Minister for Law and Home affairs. He deserves our prayers, encouragement and assistance.
In a recent speech he again challenged all religious communities in Singapore to intentionally work at building bridges of understanding and harmony. His opening paragraph summarises the situation well and reminds us why none of us can be complacent.
We live in troubled times. It has been the case for some years now.
Extremism is spreading in many parts of the world. Technology has been a big enabler in improving our lives, but it has also helped people who want to commit a variety of things, not just religious extremism, but also ethnic extremism, cybercrime.
However, there was one part of his speech that jarred me. He said:
We had to think about this, and the example I give to my people is, if you look at the Bible, there are also many passages. Of course at the time the Bible came out, there was no Islam, so it just talked about believers and non-believers. And there are passages there that invites Christians to go out and kill non-believers.
I have been a follower of Jesus Christ for close to 50 years and I wonder what passages in the Bible invite Christians to go out and kill non-believers?
I suspect the problem lies with the fact that the Christian Bible contains the Old and the New Testaments. Christians are under the New Covenant as recorded in the New Testament and have no justification whatsoever to kill non-believers. The Old Testament records God’s dealings with Israel and there are parts that record God’s ordering His people to war, passages like:
When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city. They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys. (Joshua 6:20–21 NIV)
I know the theological explanations for passages like these, but to this day such passages still disturb me. What is worse, there have been occasions throughout history where certain Christian groups have used such passages as justification for violence and war. I can understand why someone from outside the Christian tradition may conclude that there are passages in the Bible that invite Christians to kill non-believers.
But if we understand Christians to mean followers of Jesus then we must ask what did Jesus Christ himself say on the matter? And here Christ is utterly clear.
First, Jesus renounces violence as a means to accomplish His agenda.
While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.
Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.”
Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.
“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26:47–54 NIV)
More incredibly, He commands His followers to love their enemies.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43–48 NIV)
The above two passages alone make it abundantly clear that there is never any justification for Christians to kill non-believers.
The truth of the matter is that Christians and non-Christians alike may be ignorant of the actual teachings of the Bible. Part of the on-going commitment to interreligious harmony must include a commitment to help all understand the actual teachings of the holy scriptures of all faiths.
For followers of Jesus, we are called to do more than this. We are called to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). Followers of Christ should be at the forefront of any effort to foster interreligious harmony.