Blame Christians: An Old Practice Finds New Life in Malaysia

A recent editorial is making news in Malaysia. According to Free Malaysia Today (FMT), the Umno government in Malaysia is making scapegoats of Christians in order to turn attention away from their own failures.

The original scapegoat (Azazel of Leviticus 16) was an innocent goat who had the sins of Israel put upon its head and was sent away from the camp, signifying a removal of Scapegoat Azazel Lev 16 Christians Malaysia persecutionsins from God’s people. Since then, anyone who has taken the blame for another has been referred to as a scapegoat.

FMT argues that Christians are now being asked to take the fall for the sins of Malaysia’s government leaders. Things are going poorly in an increasingly Muslim Malaysia, so why not blame the Christians? Whether the accusations against Christians are true, these charges against Christians are nothing new.

From the beginning, Christians have been blamed: for unrest in Jerusalem (Acts 5); for social ills in Philippi (Acts 16:19ff); and for political unrest in Thessalonica (Acts 17:5ff). Less than four decades after the death of Christ, Christians were blamed for the destruction of Rome.  Nero famously accused Christians of causing Rome to burn in 64 A.D.  From that time forward, Christians were routinely considered a plague blighting an otherwise pristine and glorious Rome.

By the end of the 4th Century, Augustine had arrived on the Christian scene and finally had enough of the accusations against Christians.  As a result, he wrote his epic defense of Christianity, The City of God.  In that work, Augustine specifically addressed the folly of blaming Christians for the ills of Rome.  Christians, according to Augustine, actually brought light into the darkness of Rome. Consider this paragraph from the City of God (Book I, Chapter 7):

Window St. Augustine City of God Christian persecution
St. Augustine Window
Gnu Free License (source: Wikipedia)

All the spoiling then which Rome was exposed to in the recent calamity—all the slaughter, plundering, burning, and misery—was the result of the custom of war.  But what was novel, was that savage barbarians showed themselves in so gentle a guise, that the largest churches were chosen and set apart to whom quarter was given, and that in them none were slain, from them none forcibly dragged… Whoever does not see that this is to be attributed to the name of Christ, and to the Christian temper, is blind; whoever sees this, and gives no praise, is ungrateful; whoever hinders any one from praising it, is mad.

Augustine pointed out that Christians brought humanity to war through their church ministries. Still, Augustine understood that Christians would be easy targets as scapegoats.  He also understood that Christians had an obligation to be good citizens in the city of man precisely because they already were citizens of the city of God.  This clash between ruling powers and Christian citizens did not end with the fall of the Roman empire; it continued on.

Few people realize that John Calvin was not motivated to write his systematic theology for the purpose of fueling five centuries of debate in the western tradition of Christianity. Calvin actually wrote his Institutes of the Christian Religion to defend Christians from the persecution they were receiving at the hands of European rulers.  Christians were again being blamed for political unrest, and Calvin took up the pages of the Institutes for the purpose of stopping the slaughter. In his preface, Calvin addressed King Francis with these words about his reasons for writing:

For ungodly men have so far prevailed that Christ’s truth, even if it is not driven away scattered and destroyed, still lies hidden, buried and inglorious.  The John Calvin Institutes Christian Persecutionpoor little church has either been wasted with cruel slaughter or banished into exile, or so overwhelmed by threats and fears that it dare not even open its mouth. And yet, with their usual rage and madness, the ungodly continue to batter a wall already toppling and to complete the ruin toward which they have been striving.  Meanwhile no one comes forward to defend the church against such furies…

Calvin, obviously, hoped the Institutes would defend the church against the furies of persecution. What’s happening in Malaysia has happened before. There is nothing new under the sun with regard to persecution.  I am not surprised to read that the same scapegoating of Christians is continuing in Malaysia, but I am anxiously awaiting the next Augustine or Calvin to come to the aid of the Bride of Christ.

Then again, maybe we don’t need a single great man. Maybe, instead, we need the Lord to raise up an army of people like us to oppose injustice and exalt Christ. Why not us? History is certainly on our side. Even if history were against us, Christ would still be for us.

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