Even as Tobias Ellwood MP was trying to get the blood to flow once again through PC Keith Palmer’s heart, tweets of blame and judgment were flying about like a swarm of hornets, and some of them stung. Perhaps none more painfully than the red-hot nail hammered into the skulls of Christians and people of all peaceful faiths by talkRADIO journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer. “Can everyone stop all this #PrayforLondon nonsense,” she scolded. “It’s these bloody stupid beliefs that help create this violence in the first place.”
She drives the point in, cruelly twisting the glowing shaft as she does so, and then applies a blowtorch to fry the heads of the helpless thousands whose simple impulse was to pray for the victims of the attack, and for their families, and for the emergency services which responded so swiftly and brilliantly, and for Tobias Ellwood as he was administering CPR to PC Keith Palmer, who tragically died.
But don’t pray for him, or for his family, or for any of the victims or their families, or for London. Because it’s bloody stupid beliefs like that which cause acts of terrorism.
Prayer helps to cause terrorism? It is causal? Really?
Had Julia Hartley-Brewer tweeted thoughtlessly in haste? Was it just a poorly-worded tweet of ill-considered religion-bashing, even before anyone knew very much at all? An instinctual prejudice that the perpetrator was a professing Muslim, which some call ‘Islamist’, and so all the bloody stupid followers of all bloody stupid beliefs must share the culpability: if you pray, you give succour to terror. She didn’t mean that, did she?
She clearly meant it: prayer causes terrorism. The motivation of the prayer is unimportant: all bloody stupid prayer is the same. The faith behind the prayer is immaterial: all bloody stupid faith is malignant. The doctrine of God behind the faith behind the prayer is irrelevant: all bloody stupid doctrines of God lead to mutually destructive anarchy and hate.
So the next time you see a knife-wielding man ploughing a 4×4 through crowds of pedestrians over a London bridge, consider that only moments earlier he had been praying about blessing his neighbours and loving his enemies. Just before he slices into a policeman, remember that he had been meditating on the Prince of Peace and how best to turn the other cheek. He might even have been contemplating how to put away his weapon, for all who live by the sword shall surely die by the sword. Servanthood, peace and reconciliation will have been the burning desire of his heart. He doubtless intercedes daily for those who oppress him, and seeks healing, sharing, loving, giving..
But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life (Rom 5:8-10).
Doesn’t it matter to Julia Hartley-Brewer that, rather than killing one’s enemies, Christians believe that God gave his Son to die for them? Doesn’t it matter that this has implications for their behaviour and the motivation of their prayers; that to be ‘saved by his life’ means to enter into a life which recapitulates the pattern of Christ’s self-giving? To imitate Christ is to be empty of self and to serve, heal and love..
Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure (Phil 2:-313).
Those who follow Christ – that is, Christians – are reshaped in Christ, remoulded in grace and peace, and must deal with their enemies in the same way that God in Christ dealt with His enemies:
Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not..
Be of the same mind one toward another..
Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.
If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.
Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.
Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.
Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom 12:14, 16a, 17-21).
Here is no seed of vengeance, no exhortation to mass slaughter, no hate or terror: Christians are to bless their persecutors and minister to their enemies, returning good for evil.
A bloody stupid belief, indeed.