Last week along Lexington Road in front of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, a lone young man held a hand-made cardboard sign with a simple, but somewhat disconcerting message.
It said “Christianity has failed.”
No reason given; no extemporaneous warnings; no fire and brimstone threats unless we change our ways. Just “Christianity has failed.”
There was another young man who approached the sign-carrier and began a discussion that seemed civil and polite. One couldn’t hear what was being said and then the traffic light changed and the moment passed.
Or did it?
The notion that the entire religion of Christianity has failed is, of course, inaccurate but unsettling, especially when you see what is happening to Christians and Christianity around the globe.
As we approach our annual celebration of Christ’s birth — as we prepare to celebrate the founder of this religion now spread across the face of the Earth — people in many areas are fighting for the right to keep Christianity alive in their homelands.
Just consider a few headlines from the last year or so:
- According to the Catholic News Service (CNS), Reuters and other international news agencies, earlier this year churches and monasteries in Turkey were, according to a CNS dispatch, “struggling to shelter a rising number of Syrian Christian refugees who are reluctant to seek help at government-run relief camps because of reported Muslim extremism” in them. That was in March, and the situation for Syrian Christians has only worsened since then, despite the threats against and dialogue with the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
- In April, several Catholic bishops warned the Nigerian government, according to the CNS, that Mass attendance has dropped because people in that country fear the violent Boko Haram that wants to impose strict Islamic law and has often targeted churches.
- Following the so-called “Egyptian Spring,” military leaders in Egypt have allowed supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood to target other religious sects — particularly Christians. The Christians, according to the Associated Press, have been assaulted and killed and their churches, schools and others institutions looted and burned.”
- In the Central African Republic last month, more than 35,000 people sought shelter on the 40-acre diocesan compound in Bossangoa, the CNS said, seeking protection from rebels who are targeting Christians. The Central African Republic is about 85 percent Christian and 12 percent Muslim, the CNS said, and the rebels perpetrating the violence are mostly foreign mercenaries called the Seleka Alliance.
- Bishop Nestor-Desire Nogo Aziagbia of Bossangoa told reporters that “Seleka’s violent attacks have targeted Christian homes, schools and places of worship while sparing local Muslim communities and mosques” and the property and lives of other religious minorities. “Christian communities have now begun to set up self-defense militia to fight back,” the bishop said. “Sadly, there are reports that they are attacking Muslim communities in retribution.”
- Last year a car bomb exploded outside a Syrian Catholic church in the northern Iraq city of Kirkuk leaving at least 20 people injured. Police told CNS reporters that they defused two others car-bombs — one in front of a Christian school and another in front of a Presbyterian church.
So what do all these reports have in common? They represent the failure of men, not of religion. And they certainly say nothing about the failure of Christianity.
While all this violence was being perpetuated in the name of one faith, one sect or the other, Christian organizations such as Catholic Relief Services were busy responding to the after effects of the super-typhoon in the Philippines; the earthquakes in central Asia, and the November tornadoes that devastated homes and communities throughout the Midwest.
Here’s the thing to ponder the next time you consider that simple “Christianity has failed” sign, or hear someone blithely criticize the nature of all religion as a fool’s errand or the famous “opiate of the masses.”
We are about to celebrate the birth of the one prophesied in the Old Testament to bring salvation to mankind. We are about to celebrate the birth of the son of God, the Lord made flesh in the tiny middle-Eastern town of Bethlehem, the one who, by his sacrifice and resurrection, put perspective on man’s shortcomings.
He looked at our silliness, our pettiness, our ability to inflict unspeakable harm on one another and told us that if we’d just turn to him and love one another, everything would be all right.
Christianity hasn’t failed; mankind has failed time and time again.
And each time, Christ in his grace has offered us forgiveness.
That’s not failure; that’s unimaginable success.