Over the last week, U.S. embassies and facilities around the world have become targets for demonstrations and violence. First in Libya and now in multiple places, outraged crowds of people protest what they understand to be profoundly offensive and blasphemous portrayals of their religion and its founding prophet. Reportedly, an Egyptian born Coptic Christian man stands behind the film, “Innocence of Muslims,” which depicts Muhammad variously as a womanizer, a homosexual, and a child abuser. In response, a wave of protest has rolled across the Middle East focusing on U.S. embassies because the man behind the film lives in the U.S. For much of the Muslim world the film feels like an assault with the endorsement of Christians living in the center of the “Christian World,” the U.S.A.
I believe followers of Jesus should be quick to denounce this film and express grief over the evils that have followed in its wake. Let me explain why.
First, the portrayals are false. They are a lie. Followers of Jesus do not remain silent in the face of lies and slander. Perhaps some are reticent to protest the lie (or it doesn’t even occur to them to do so) for fear of supporting Islam. I contend that denouncing a lie is simply the right thing to do and is, in fact, one of the best ways to express true support for the way of Jesus. We do not honor the One who is the truth by allowing lies to stand.
Second, followers of Jesus practice the golden rule. If Jesus were slandered, which he often is, we would appreciate others who seek to correct the lies. I remember several years ago when a major film came out portraying our Lord in false and offensive ways. The outcry from much of the Christian world was massive. How we would have appreciated persons of good will from within the film industry expressing sympathy with our sense of offense over the misrepresentation of Jesus! “As you would have them do to you … “ Jesus teaches.
Third, followers of Jesus are also called to be peace-makers. That is, they are called not only to avoid fighting when possible, but to bring the resources of grace and love into situations of anger and hostility and show a better way. Followers of Jesus who, in the name of Jesus, denounce the lie of this video will, in so doing, also demonstrate that the film does not reflect the view of Christian people, that the film comes from an individual whose aims Christians do not support. This seems a small gesture perhaps, but doing the right thing, even if small, can affect good disproportionately large.
Fourth, followers of Jesus will pray for those who hate them and will not return evil for evil when attacked. At the very least, not returning evil from those who oppose us (as at various U.S. embassies around the world) will require us to name the lies that poison the world scene in this matter—the lies in the film itself and the lie that this film expresses the view of Christian people or even the secular Western world for that matter.
Fifth, followers of Jesus seek the well-being of all people who are made in God’s image. We believe the person of Jesus and the way of Jesus to be the hope of the world. We are committed to showing the way of Jesus as faithfully and attractively as possible, convinced that Jesus will draw people from everywhere to himself. Yes, Jesus is that compelling and powerful. And we wouldn’t want to impede what Jesus is doing. Thus, we treat all people with respect and honor—even or especially those who we’re convinced are wrong. We do this not only because it’s right, because it comports well with the way of Jesus itself, but also because we are confident that Jesus knows how to draw people to his way. Our role is to show his way to the world and point people to Jesus. Critical to our showing and pointing is removing as many barriers as possible. On any reckoning, the lies of the film are barriers.
The film is just wrong.
I would not be surprised if some who read this will wonder why I haven’t also denounced the violence and killing of the crowds who have protested. Well, everyone has and is—our President, his political allies and opponents, and most of the world. This is indeed wrong, self-evidently wrong in my judgment, though there is nothing peculiarly Christian about such denunciations.
The film, however, for more than the reasons cited above is just wrong.