Then They Came for Me

The headline read, “New Jersey School Stages Practice Hostage Drill—Portrays Killers as Fundamentalist Christians.” This was not something out of a Michael Moore movie. It was, according to news reports, a real-time drill staged to prepare local agencies to handle another Columbine. That, you will remember, is when two students shot up their local high school outside Denver, Colorado, in 1999, killing 13 people and wounding 24 others.

Burlington School Superintendent Chris Manno praised the New Jersey drill saying, “You perform as you practice. We need to practice under conditions as real as possible in order to evaluate our procedures and plans so that they’re as effective as possible.”1

However, this drill should have sent a chilling message to conservative Christians because the hostage-taking attackers were depicted as “members of a right-wing fundamentalist group called the ‘New Crusaders.’’’ According to an article by David Levinsky in the March 23 Burlington (NJ) County Times, the “Christian gunmen” were “seeking justice because the daughter of one had been expelled for praying before class.”

In response to the “disaster,” faculty, local emergency personnel, and county officers were dispatched to rescue the “hostages” and evacuate the building.

While county officials praised the exercise as the first live test of their ability to respond to extremist attacks, they ignored the fact that praying before class is not only lawful but the right of every student regardless of religion. Bob Pawson, national coordinator of the Scriptures in Schools Project, contested the claim that the drill anticipated a possible reality when in essence it was nothing of the sort. Pawson, a New Jersey public school teacher, called the drill an excuse to denigrate Christians with “a grotesque scenario saturated with Christian-bashing prejudice and bigotry; a scenario which could never possibly occur.”2

The incident, thoroughly unsophisticated in its bigotry, was hatched from a secularist culture of hatred for Christians, which allows such vicious episodes to be considered acceptable in some circles. After all, evangelicals are regularly savaged and ridiculed without consequences. So it is no surprise that the national news media takes little note of such incidents.

Silence from the left-leaning Fourth Estate has prevailed for so long that few are surprised or outraged at the lack of balanced reporting when such events transpire. It’s simply the same story one more time. Why, however, are more evangelicals not sounding an alarm over where this phenomenon is taking us? Have we become self-inflicted victims of tunnel vision? Or are most evangelicals so uninformed that they are ignorant of the serious problems looming over the horizon? Perhaps the average Christian in Western society is so comfortable that indifference has become a state of life and people say to themselves, Well, as long as it doesn’t affect me or mine.

A Lack of Context
A problem we must address is what one might call a lack of historical and cultural context. For example, the apostle Paul in his epistles repeatedly referred to the suffering of fellow believers: “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Phil. 1:29).

The apostle was speaking to people who lived every day with severe persecution and suffering for their faith in Christ. Theirs was a world dominated by pagan forces dedicated to wiping them out by every means possible. In the West, our situation is different. So far, we are safe, are comfortable, and live in relatively stable conditions. Thus we tend to relate passages concerning biblical suffering to our existing circumstances, which are trivial by comparison. The persecution experienced by the early church cannot be reduced to merely sniping criticism or social shunning at the hands of those who found faith in Christ distasteful.

Also, we seem inclined to internalize the concept of suffering and relate it to a transient, personal state of mind that, while unpleasant, can-not compare with the biblical situation. Perhaps this is why many Western Christians have developed the tunnel vision that extremely limits their perception of what it means to taste the type of suffering that occurs outside the reality of their own experiences.

But there is a world of suffering out there where believers know precisely what Paul was talking about. They experience it every day. There is Darfur, Southern Sudan, Indonesia, Nigeria, Eritrea, India, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Iraq, China, Vietnam, Somalia—and a list too long to register—where death, starvation, unspeakable atrocities, and rotting jail cells are the cost of being a Christian.

Yet there is a virtual pale of silence on the subject among evangelicals. Why? Have we chosen to live in a state of denial? Is there no spirit of caring for those who exist outside our little circles of life? Do we choose to live in blissful ignorance instead of living with the truth of what our world is coming to? As painful as it may be, we will all one day be forced to face our obligations. Like it or not, the tide is running toward us; and there is no way to escape it.

When the Moral Compass Is Broken
In America, we have lately become fragmented by arguments over what constitutes acceptable conduct and conversation and which elements in the culture are granted a pass on reprehensible, offensive behavior. And while journalists huff and puff over solutions to our problems to suit all parties, it is safe to say the problems will not likely be corrected because there is now no moral compass by which to set a corrective course. Morally and functionally, it is every man for himself; and everything goes, as long as it makes a profit.

In the Western world, standards of proper conduct were established and maintained on a Judeo-Christian foundation. That foundation has been the cornerstone of success for the democratic process. The radical Cultural Revolution, however, has jackhammered away much of that foundation. To the purveyors of indecency and social and moral degradation, the only standards and rules that apply are those that they fashion themselves. There are no prescribed standards and absolutes. Thus, with a considerable assist from liberal theologians, the proverbial applecart has been overturned; and the so-called bigots and intolerant pockets of resistance are now identified as those of us who fear God and don’t fit the mold of politically correct conformity.

Therefore, it is perfectly acceptable to create a fantasy of fundamental, right-wing, wild-eyed Christian hostage-takers and call it an “as real as possible” example of a situation that would require SWAT teams to subdue. Say the same about any other group or minority on the planet, and you’d spend the rest of your life in court or hiding out to escape lifetime social detention.

A Lesson From History
On April 15, 2007, Israelis and Jewish people the world over paused to observe Holocaust Remembrance Day. Thousands gathered at the memorial to the Holocaust at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem for the commemoration. As always, the theme was quite properly “Never Again.”

Ironically, at the same time, there was a move in some schools in Great Britain to expunge the Holocaust from school history lessons. Prof. Barry Rubin, an expert on Middle East affairs, commented:

And here’s the really scary sentence in the press reports: “Some teachers are reluctant to cover the atrocity for fear of upsetting students whose beliefs include Holocaust denial.” Get it? They are told at home or by Muslim preachers that the Holocaust never happened, and rather than challenge this misinformation, [some] teachers are shutting up so as not to disturb a worldview based on lies.3

Considering that anti-Semitic attacks in the UK were up by 50 percent in 2006—as many as 590 cases of violence and vandalism were reported against Jewish people and their institutions—failing to teach the facts of the Holocaust not only magnifies the breach of faith with truth but fans the flames of intolerance.

Equally disturbing is a report that the UK has decided to stop using the term war on terror. The reason given is that it strengthens terrorists by making them feel part of a larger struggle. British International Development Secretary Hilary Benn reasons that terrorists are not an organized enemy with a clear identity and a “coherent set of objectives.” Rather, said Benn, they are a “small number of loose, shifting and disparate groups who have relatively little in common apart from their identification with others who share their distorted view of the world and their idea of being a part of something bigger.”4

In other words, we’ve badly overstated the case and there is no global war of terror. We’re simply dealing with a ragtag band of misfit thugs who want to puff up their own egos through our use of the term. Not only is such a view an extreme case of denial, but it also will reap dire consequences for those ostrich-like thinkers who insist on thrusting their heads into the sand.

So What’s the Message?
First, we must recognize that we do not live in a tolerant, loving, caring, want-to-do-the-right-thing world. In fact, much of humanity doesn’t have a clue about such niceties. And hostility toward serious believers is growing more intense each day.

Second, we cannot create Christian cocoons, or safe zones, that minister only to those we can touch or feel. We must have a coherent understanding not only of the needs of those in our circles—be it church, family, or friends—but of conditions outside our immediate spheres. To have a “worldview,” one must be exposed to the facts of life in the wider world fellow believers occupy.

As a former pastor, I would suggest that it is essential to weave into pulpit and teaching presentations information (even if it is unpleasant) that affects us and our extended Christian family, meaning believers around the world.

Third, as people charged to obtain and exercise discernment, we must understand the facts, trends, and prophetic implications that are developing. We can only do so if guided by a biblical intimacy that means being grounded in the Word.

I am reminded of the words attributed to the Rev. Martin Niemöller, a German pastor during World War II who fell out of favor with Hitler, was arrested for treason, and spent time in concentration camps. He wrote the following:

First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.5

Then they came for me. May that never be said of us because of our failure to stand up, speak out, and extend a hand of help to the oppressed.

  1. Meg Jalsevac, “New Jersey School Stages Practice Hostage Drill—Portrays Killers as Fundamentalist Christians,” April 3, 2007 < 07040301.html>.
  2. “NJ School Mocks Christians with Columbine-Style ‘Mock Hostage Drill’—Offends Students and Parents,” April 2, 2007 < 600472683.html>.
  3. Barry Rubin, “Good-bye to Western Civilization,” The Global Research in International Affairs Center (GLORIA), April 13, 2007.
  4. “Benn speech: key quotes,” BBC News <>.
  5. Pastor Martin Niemöller, “First They Came for the Jews,” Holocaust Poetry, Hilda Schiff (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995), 9.

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