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.

Who Is Valentine? What Is Love?

As the breezy wind sweeps across the Kentucky hills this morning, I cannot help but think of spring.  For the first time in months, we began our day with the thermometer above 40 degrees—a sure sign that spring is in the air.  And where there is spring, there is love.  When spring is in the air, love is there, too.  Spring and love are natural thoughts this time of year.  In just over a month, spring will officially begin—birds, bees, flowers, trees, fish and even fleas (I suppose) will repopulate the earth with their supply.  And today—Valentine’s Day—is the day we have set aside to celebrate romantic love.  How fitting this day comes just before spring arrives.

Surely, part of the reason romantic love is celebrated on Valentine’s day is connected to the natural arrival of spring.  As Tom Jones once sang, “Love is in the air in the whisper of the trees.”  The natural awakening of love in springtime was connected to St. Valentine in the Medieval literature of the 14th century.  So, in time for Valentine’s day in 1383, Chaucer wrote of the love-filled air in his poem, Parliament of the Fowles,

309  For this was on seynt Valentynes day,

310  Whan every foul cometh ther to chese his make,

As far back as the 1300’s, then, Valentine’s day has been related to the “Love-is-in-the-Air” theme.  Already, St. Valentine was venerated and celebrated.  Chaucer simply made the connection to human love more prominent.

Before Chaucer, Valentine’s day already honored Valentine.  Although there has been much discussion over who this St. Valentine may have been, the most consistent answer is that he was a Christian leader (Bishop? Presbyter?) during the reign of Claudius II of the Roman Empire (the late 3rd Century A.D.).

As the story of St. Valentine goes, he was committed to helping Christians in their faith at a time when the Emperor ordered just the opposite.  Under Claudius, there was to be no aiding of Christianity or the Christians who practiced it.  Valentine apparently thought his obligation to Galatians 6:10 overrode his obligation to Romans 13.  Emperor Claudius in Valentine’s view had attempted to usurp his God-given authority by commanding people to disobey God.  Such disobedience Valentine could swallow. So, he helped Christians.

In particular, Valentine is said to have helped young Christians preparing for marriage, a fact which explains why Valentine is the patron saint of young couples in the Roman Catholic tradition today.  Even in his own day, it seems, Valentine had a love for love.

Valentine was arrested for his ministry.  He was beaten and tortured, but, strangely, is said to have had a positive impact on Emperor Claudius, at least, a positive impact until he called the Emperor to repent and believe Jesus.  Apparently, the Emperor did not appreciate Valentine’s gospel plea.  When the Emperor could not get Valentine to retract his own confession of faith, he had him beheaded.

Valentine brings out all that is good in human love and, especially, all that is noble about love.  He demonstrated at the cost of his own life what the value of love is.  Love is worth dying for.  So, it is obvious why we would celebrate love and Valentine on the same day.  The celebration is more than an adaptation of nature’s springtime song.  Though it probably includes the natural love emerging in spring, still, the love which drove Valentine to die was a much greater love than that which Tom Jones enshrined in music.  The love which Valentine displayed was the greater love of Jesus Christ, the kind of love that is not afraid of death, knowing that death itself has been defeated, knowing that the grave is overwhelmed, knowing that the victory is won.  Indeed, even marital love is supposed to sing in the key of Jesus, as men are instructed in Ephesians 5 to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.

The sacrificial love of Christ, giving himself for his bride, the church, is perfect love. It is a love which gives itself over to the earthly and eternal well-being of another.  St. Valentine apparently loved the church of the 3rd century this way.  He gave himself for her good, and, as a result, he was killed—just like Jesus was killed for the love he showed his church.  Truly, a greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life to love another.  Thank you, St. Valentine for the Christ-like example.  Happy Valentine’s day indeed.