After the recent mass shooting in Orlando, there has been a renewed rise in discourse surrounding “radical” religion. With all of the talk about radical Islamic terror, we can begin to feel that the problem is found in being too radical. If the problem is being radical then the solution to this senseless violence must be moderation. After all doesn’t the common proverb say, “In all things moderation?” The not so subtle message is, “Don’t take your religion too seriously. Be moderate and everything will be OK.”
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines radical as, “very different from the usual or traditional: extreme.” If being a Christian means anything then it means following Christ. What does Christ require of his followers? “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me (Matt 16:24).” Christ’s call to discipleship is a call to complete self sacrifice. It is a call to death. In this respect, the call of Christ is very similar to the call of radical Islam. We are both called to die for our God.
However, we find the crucial difference in the goal of our radical extremism. This difference becomes markedly manifest upon a comparative study of the lives of Muhammad and Jesus. Jesus, through his life and actions, clearly and consistently taught the fundamental principle of a God pleasing life. Simply put, the radical calling of the Christian life is to love to the death. And that radical love knows no bounds or limitations, such that Jesus taught and demonstrated in his death on the cross, “Love your enemies. Bless those that curse you (Matt 5:44).” In fact, each one of us were enemies of God when he chose to die on the cross for us.
The center of the Christian faith is a radical Love to the death. We should not run from the label of “radical extremist” because our extremism is the only balm strong enough to heal those forms of extremism in the world that are bent on violence. Moderation is fool’s gold, providing no enduring solution.
How do we live out our Christian extremism? In this moment we are called to radical love in word and deed. Even though we disagree with their lifestyle, we are called to love those who have been traumatized and deeply wounded by the events of the last week. If the Holy Spirit is in us, he will turn our hearts to have compassion on those who are hurting and to weep with those who weep. Whether we agree with someone’s lifestyle is quite beyond the point. If Christ died for them (and he did), then we love them too.
However, our extremism doesn’t stop there. Remember, God’s love has no bounds or limitations. The Holy Spirit also turns our heart to love the radical Islamic extremist. It appears that this poor man was caught between his confused sexuality and a religion that only provided him with rules and consequences but not with the unconditional love and forgiveness that only Jesus can give. How I wish that Omar Mateen had found himself forgiven at the feet of Jesus! And like the woman in our Gospel lesson on Sunday (Luke 7:36-8:3), experienced the joy of his guilt completely released and his body re-purposed toward radical love instead of sin. As Christ’s disciples we are called to bring that message to others who may be in a situation similar to Omar.
So through the events of this week, do not let seeds of hatred be sown in your heart. But rather embrace the radical message of Jesus. Be a love extremist. And find ways, through word and deed to demonstrate that love to all. The radical love of Christ is this broken world’s only true hope.
Father Kurt Hein