LOUISVILLE, Ky. – In recent weeks bloody protests by Muslims, supposedly directed at an anti-Islamic film, have stretched from the Middle East to Indonesia and even Australia. In some cases, terrorist attacks accompanied the demonstrations. While some Muslims were simply using the film as an excuse for expressions of anti-American anger, it is clear that others were genuinely upset at what they perceived as denigration of their faith.
Christians rightly condemn the violence. Yet our response should go a step further by answering an important question raised by these events: How should followers of Jesus react when our faith is denigrated?
Thankfully, the New Testament is filled with material that helps us answer. Jesus predicted that His followers would face revile and slander, and He told us what to do under such circumstances. When the Apostle Paul encountered defamation (as, for example, in Acts 19:9), his responses served as helpful examples of how to live out Jesus’ instruction. From Paul and Jesus, several principles arise for handling the denigration of Christianity.
First, don’t let slanderous words intimidate you into remaining silent about the gospel. In Athens, Paul countered mockery by leading people to the Lord (Acts 17:32-34), a response entirely in line with the words of Jesus. Rather than cowering in intimidated silence when we are excluded, reviled and spurned as evil “on account of the Son of Man,” we should “leap for joy, for behold, [our] reward is great in heaven” (Luke 6:22-23).
Second, don’t respond in kind. “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek,” Jesus said, “turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39). Of course, this is not an instruction to allow opponents to perpetrate violence against us – the Bible has plenty to say about self-defense. A slap is an insult more than a genuine threat to physical wellbeing. Here Jesus was counseling restraint in the face of insults that pose no immediate physical threat. As Paul said, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Romans 12:19) – a notable contrast to angry Muslim mobs.
Finally, use wisdom and ask God for situation-specific guidance each time your faith is demeaned. Paul didn’t have a stock response to attacks. Sometimes he issued a pointed rebuke to opponents (Acts 18:6) while other times he left town to pursue more fruitful avenues of ministry (Acts 17:10, 14) or defended himself against unfair charges (Acts 21:37-22:21). When we face attacks to our faith, we can be certain that faith-filled prayers for wisdom will be answered (James 1:5-6).
Denigration of our faith is a sad evil, but we can be confident amid such challenges. For Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would be with us (John 14:16-17) and give us the words to say in times of trial (Mark 13:11).
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This column first appeared at the blog of BibleMesh, a website that teaches the Bible as a unified story pointing to Christ. David Roach is a writer and editor in the Louisville, Ky., area.)