Christian extremism in action
This is a column that I didn't publish at the time of a horrific event in Pennsylvania five years ago. I am not sure why I didn't but I thought I would share it now on the occasion of the anniversary of this tragic yet heartening day.
AGAIN THIS WEEK violence and religion have converged. After month after month, year after year of Sunni Muslims killing Shia Muslims, and vice versa in Iraq, of Hindus and Muslims killing each other in India, of Arab Muslims killing African Christians in Dafur, you would think we had seen it all. But no, religious violence took a new twist this week in Pennsylvania.
You probably already know the story. On October 2, 2006, Charles Carl Roberts, a milk-truck driver, entered and took over the one-room West Nickel Mines Amish School in Georgetown, Pennsylvania, and shot ten young Amish girls, killing five. The explanations for Roberts' acts vary from his having been molested as a child to he himself molested small children as a boy to he hated God because Roberts' own child died in infancy. The only thing that is clear in all of this is that the children he shot, and apparently had planned to molest, had nothing to do with any of this. They were true innocents.
As the story unfolds, it turns out they were better than innocent. One of the girls who died in Pennsylvania's Amish schoolhouse massacre, Marian Fisher, age 13, is reported to have asked the killer to shoot her first because she thought it might allow younger girls to survive. Fisher's 11-year-old sister, Barbie, appealed to Roberts to shoot her next, according to Rita Rhoads, a nurse-midwife.
"It was very courageous of the girls to offer themselves," Rhoads said. "God was really present to give the girls that kind of courage."
An Eye for an Eye
The bumper sticker says: "An Eye for an Eye Leaves the Whole World Blind." A good sentiment, but not really a good exegesis of this particular Bible verse. Mathematically, it is two eyes for an eye that will leave the whole world blind. An eye for an eye leaves two people with one eye. This Old Testament teaching can be seen as one of proportionality as a means of preventing an escalating sequence of revenge. The teaching of "an eye for an eye" says the punishment should fit the crime: for example, the death penalty for first-degree murder, prison time for assault, no cutting off a hand for stealing a piece of candy.
Jesus also taught proportional response -- but in reverse -- and he lived it out. Jesus knew the teaching of "an eye for an eye" but preached a higher way. "If someone strikes your right cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your coat, let him have your sweater as well," taught Jesus. His proportions were to reverse the flow of hate, not just to stem it.
The Amish, quaint in their old-fashioned ways, would hardly seem to be role models for the modern world -- but they are. The Amish don't normally take charity. (More of their out-moded ways, I guess.) In this case the Amish community in Georgetown decided, albeit reluctantly, to accept outside donations. At the behest of Amish leaders, a fund was set up for the gunman's wife and his three children. Reports were that half the people paying respects at Charles Roberts' funeral were Amish. Wonder where the two Fisher girls might have gotten their ideas about sacrificing their lives for the others?
Our Daughters in Heaven
For many of us the Golden Rule is our goal: that is, to love our neighbors as well as we love ourselves. But for many of us "loving our neighbors -- and hating our enemies" is the highest ideal we strive for. Jesus said, "But I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven." If we can't learn from Jesus, maybe we can learn from the Christian extremists in Pennsylvania, those Amish girls. As Jesus said, "The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."
Gary D. Gaddy would hope to be considered this kind of Christian extremist.
A version of this column was published in the Chapel Hill Herald, Sunday October 2, 2011.
Copyright 2011 Gary D. Gaddy
Authored by Gary G. Gaddy
at 11:19 AM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, June 20, 2012 2:13 PM EDT