The long-awaited release of American soldier Bowe Bergdahl from his five year captivity at the hands of the Taliban in Afghanistan last week has produced a firestorm of reaction. In short, Barak Obama authorized Bowe’s release through a controversial exchange of five GITMO prisoners in order to achieve political gain. In a knee-jerk reaction, right-wing Conservatives leveled a full-force attack of criticism against Obama. But the stunning, intensely tragic result of it all has been that the Bergdahls– a devout Presbyterian family– have been caught in the middle of the crossfire, and are currently the recipients of death threats, death wishes, unimaginable slander, and a deluge of undeserved hatred being spewed upon them. From fellow Americans, not the Taliban.
Even after a full week of debate, the fact still remains that there are many, many details of this whole affair that are just not known yet. Although Bowe, still in a hospital in Germany as this is being written, has apparently started talking about his captivity– about being held in complete darkness in a metal cell for days at a time–he has not yet told his own account of why he left the base, leading to his capture.
The story is complex, and there is still far too much we don’t know. Within the insurmountable deluge of information that has been posted in the last week, there are still multiple conflicting accounts about the five Taliban members who were released and how much of a threat they really are; there are conflicting accounts about whether or not six American soldiers were actually killed in their search to rescue Bowe; there are conflicting accounts of Bowe’s service as a soldier and how he was captured; there are conflicting accounts about his father Bob’s religious inclinations and charges that he is a Taliban sympathizer; there are conflicting accounts about why Bob has a beard… and on and on and on….
In light of this, I completely understand the anger, slander, and accusations from those who don’t know Christ. Even the ones who are “conservatives,” but still non-Christian. We already knew that reaction and retaliation are the unfortunate immediate responses in the nature of the human heart and mind. But the far, far greater concern is over how too many Christians have also been responding in the same way during all of this.
With only a very few exceptions, the greatest portion of my “friends” list on Facebook are Christians. The posts I’ve been finding in the last week– without exception– are from Christians. And therein lies my great concern. No, my great sadness.
Bowe’s story is stirring, and depending upon our individual perspectives, we are understandably opinionated as we read about it. But in the heat of it, as Christians we must cautiously remember that our faith can never be separated from any aspect of our lives. A Christian’s faith cannot be separated from the way he conducts his business, his education, his economics…. or his politics. Every detail of the way a Christian conducts his or her life is a perpetual witness to the world of Christ– even in the way they conduct themselves in their political ideas. We may have neighbors– or others who are young in the faith– whose only picture of Christ is what they see or hear in us. What have they seen of Christ in the way we have communicated our thoughts over Bowe’s situation– where the family we are voicing strong opinions about are our brothers and sisters in Christ? The world may react, but Christians are called to a higher standard– not for their own sakes, but for the sake of the world’s perception of Christ.
I have read some comments or posts from some Christians that have immediately ministered peace to me, and a confidence that God will bring righteous judgement in the end. And yet at the same time, in a far greater number of posts, the ease with which many Christians have entered into participation in stirring up the mob by instigating or passing on unproven facts and slanderous allegations for the purpose of stirring others up, has been the saddest commentary on much of evangelical Christianity that I have ever seen in my life. Ever.
Christians should not need to be reminded about the evil result of individuals unjustly stirring up the crowd, as they did to stone Stephen in Acts 6:12 or Jason in Acts 17:5,6 , or to rise against Paul in Acts 19, or (most famously) to crucify Jesus– who, unlike the rest of them, was sinless! Only God and time will reveal the truth about Bowe. And we may all very well be in for a surprise, as we see the story unfold.
The Bible– as we also know– is replete with commands to refrain from slander and unfounded accusations. This morning in picking it up, I happened to read, “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness… he has an unhealthy craving for controvery and for quarrels about words which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are… deprived of the truth…” (1 Tim. 6:3-5)
At this point, too much damage has already been done. The Bergdahls have received multiple death threats, and Bowe has walked out of one living hell only to enter another, perhaps worse. He has already been wrongfully judged as “guilty” before having had the chance to be proven innocent by lawful means– and the consequences he and his family suffer for it are already unimaginable.
Bowe deserves no less than the chance to tell his side of the story in the proper setting, to the proper people, at the proper time. More than ever, this Christian family needs the prayer and support of fellow Christians reaching out to them as brothers, in compassion extending the same grace to them that we ourselves have been the recipients of. We do not know the facts yet, and if we are to err, may we err on the side of mercy.
There is an amazing story here that we will eventually be uncovered. I suspect it will be one about a young man who had to make some very difficult choices (and perhaps ended up making a wrong one…) because his conscience forbade him to continue participating in man’s inhumanity to man. Much will be uncovered, and perhaps this will lead the way to some very good ends. After he has been tried by the proper process, he will live– one way or the other– with whatever consequences result from the choices he made.
And so will we. And I think I already know which of these was the greater sin.
Thank God that there is forgiveness and amazing grace in Christ, both for Bowe and for us.Thank God.
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