Religious Extremism in Christianity and Dealing with the Stranger-Part 1
A man was walking on one of the famous bridges in California. He saw a woman who was about commit suicide. Hurrying over to her he said, “God loves you.” She shed a tear touched by his encouraging words. He said, “Are you a Jew or a Buddhist or a Christian?” She said, “A Christian.” He said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?” She said, “Protestant.” So he struck up a conversation with her. “To what denomination do you belong?”  She said, “Baptist.” He said, “Me, too!” He was touched that she was Baptist like him. He asked her, “ Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?”She said, “Northern Baptist.” He said, “Me, too!” He was overjoyed. “Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?” She said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.” He said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” She said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.” He said, “How amazing! Me, too!” Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879 or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?” She said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.” He said, “Die, die heretic!” – and he pushed her off the bridge.
This story demonstrates to us the mentality of multilateralism and the extremist mindset that is evident among some Christians. Many speak about Christianity in terms of its supremacy and greatness throughout the generations, as well as its contributions to people around the world. However, they don’t speak about the problems of Christianity. For example, in John Ortberg’s book we find a detailed description of the contribution of Christianity whereby the teachings of Jesus changed history and raised the standard of humans and humanity. In Bakke’s book we find the author writing about Christ showing the value of children by welcoming them and praising their faith, “But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’” (Luke 18:16). He made this statement in an age when children were viewed as a burden until they were able to contribute to the family’s livelihood. During this era, many pagans left their sick or handicapped children in the streets to die of hunger and exposure. Because Christians saw each child as a gift from God, they took in those who were abandoned or disabled. After monasteries were established, people often left unwanted children at their gates – this is how orphanages were established.
Without a doubt, Christianity that was committed to the teachings of Christ has made a particularly important contribution in valuing women and supporting their rights, as well as those of children. Christianity has acknowledged Mary to be a model of spiritual heroism. During His earthly ministry, Jesus took his twelve disciples with Him, along with some women (see Luke 8:1-3), demonstrating He wanted women to have an integral part in spreading the Good News of God’s Kingdom. Women were instructed by the teachings of Jesus, one in particular being Mary the sister of Martha, who sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught (see Luke 10:39). Jesus encouraged women to be an integral part of spreading the Good News of God’s kingdom and learning the doctrine of the Lord. God chose women to be the first to share the wonderful news of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead (see Matthew 28:1-8). Jesus defied the marginalization of women. An example of this is when He kindly and wisely ministered to a Samaritan woman (see John 4:1-26). Jesus was demonstrating that women have equal value with men in His Kingdom. Christians have also contributed mightily in the area of human rights. British statesman William Wilberforce is a well-known example. Because he was committed to Christian values, Wilberforce spent nearly forty years fighting against slavery. Although he faced great opposition, he continually confronted and challenged his fellow politicians in the British parliament, concerning the terrible injustice of slavery, until they finally banned slavery. Christians have led the way in serving the sick and offering medical care – often at the expense of their own lives. When others were afraid of epidemics and diseases such as leprosy, Christians nursed them back to health or kept them comfortable as they succumbed to their illness. Education would not be what it is today without Christians funding schools for children and establishing world-class universities and research institutions.
So Christianity has a good face, but unfortunately that is not its only face. Gandhi once said: “I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.’ It is as if Gandhi is saying, “I want your Christ but not your Christianity.” Gandhi looked at the darker side of Christianity that went astray from the teachings of Christ. In Ghandhi’s experience, some Christians failed many times to be like their Christ; unfortunately, many of them focused on superficial matters while ignoring justice, mercy and love.
Throughout history, there have been many Christians who have dishonored Christ and His teachings. I will refer to four areas where this has brought disrepute to the Kingdom of God: gender injustice, ethnic injustice, religious wars and Christian Zionism. First, Christians who are not truly committed to Christ can be guilty of gender injustice. Some Christians have contributed to this problem by treating women as second-class citizens. Even today in the twenty-first century there are churches that do not allow women to speak or teach or to be treated as equal to men. One example is that there are people have forsaken polygamy because of the teachings of Christ, but they still do not allow women to have a visible role in their churches. Some say that a woman’s place is in the home. Others would allow women to work and serve in society, but they do not consider it to be appropriate for women to minister in the church, or to be involved in decision-making concerning the church. Decision makers in many churches are men. Bible passages are taken out of their historical, literary and theological contexts and are used to insist that women should be silent in church and should submit to male leadership (1 Corinthians 14: 34). Some churches throughout history have forbidden women to sing in the church and have required them to sit in a separate section apart from men.
Second, racial or ethnic injustice has been prevalent in many societies. Some Christians approved of this form of injustice as evidenced by allowing slavery, anti-Semitism and racism in South Africa to continue. Many Christians argued that the New Testament does not object to slavery. For example in 1751, preachers like George Whitefield supported slavery and the owning of slaves based on interpreting God’s word in a literal manner. Those Christians emphasized that God required slaves to submit to their masters (Ephesians 6: 5-9, Colossians 3: 22; 1 Timothy 6: 1-5, Titus 2: 9-10, 1 Peter 2: 18). They maintained that every Christian should obey God’s Word without arguing. Others justified this cruel practice because the slaves were not Christians, and gave as their justification that their slaves were under the curse of Ham, son of Noah (Genesis 9: 20-27). According to their interpretation, God had made slavery legitimate since the time of Ham, son of Noah. This would mean that the lineage of Ham, who some believe to be today’s African nations, would be slaves to the lineage of Japheth and Shem, who some believe to be the Caucasian nations and the Jews.
Whilst Jews were Masters in the past, they have become people who are under God’s wrath and curse. Unfortunately, some people who purported to be Christians have displayed anti-Semitism, by supporting and participating in the murder of millions of Jews throughout Europe during the Holocaust of the twentieth century. Whilst some Christians connected Africa to the curse of Canaan, these people connected the Jews to the curse they believed they brought on themselves by stating, “His (i.e. Jesus’) blood be on us, and on our children.” See Matthew 27:25. They claimed that since some of the Jews demanded that Pontius Pilate authorise the crucifixion of Jesus, His blood was now on their descendants’ hands, and they believed, therefore, that any persecution of the Jews, was God’s punishment of them.
They may also have based their anti-Semitic attitudes and actions on such Scriptures as follows: Luke 13:34 records Jesus as saying, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers!” And in Matthew 23:31 Jesus says of some of the Jews of His day, “… you testify against yourselves that you are indeed the descendants of those who murdered the prophets.” “For you are the children of your father the devil,” John 8:44. Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 writes, “For some of the Jews killed the prophets, and some even killed the Lord Jesus. Now they have persecuted us, too. They fail to please God and work against all humanity as they try to keep us from preaching the Good News of salvation to the Gentiles. By doing this, they continue to pile up their sins. But the anger of God has caught up with them at last.” Paul also wrote, “But the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ.” 2 Corinthians 3:14. In Jesus’ message to the angel of the church of Smyrna Jesus said, “They say they are Jews, but they are not, because their synagogue belongs to Satan.” Revelation 2:9b. And to the angel of the church of Philadelphia Jesus said, “Look! I will force those who belong to satan’s synagogue – those liars who say they are Jews but are not – to come and bow down at your feet …” Revelation 3:9. Sadly, at times throughout history, some who claimed to be Christians practiced injustice towards Jews by killing them, particularly during the passion and resurrection period. 
Some Christians played a key role in establishing a system of social segregation called apartheid in South Africa. According to apartheid, people with lighter skin are superior to those who have darker skin. As their justification they wrongly cited biblical passages such as 1 Samuel 15: 3 which says: “Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.” They also believed that people groups should be separated one from the other misappropriating such Scriptures as Acts 17:26b, “He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.” They also forbade intermarriage between the races based on Genesis 1:11, “Then God said, ‘Let the land sprout with vegetation – every sort of seed-bearing plant, and trees that grow seed-bearing fruit. These seeds will then produce the kinds of plants and trees from which they came.” And also because God had forbidden intermarriage between Israel and other races. See Ezra 9 and Exodus 34:12-16.
Third, in addition to the racial injustice and ethnic injustice, some Christians have initiated and been involved in religious wars and inquisitions. The crusaders fought the people of the Middle East in the 11th – 13th centuries. They argued that their motives were holy and justified from the Word of God. For Christ said: 3″Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10: 34). Religious wars also occurred between the Catholics and the Protestants with violence and bloodshed. This was done by some who claimed to be followers of Christ, in the name of religion, and of God and by misinterpreting Scriptures in the Bible.
They killed and imprisoned people, and defamed the reputation of anyone who did not belong to their church denomination and religious persuasion. Without doubt the history of the church contains much religious injustice and shedding of blood between the different Christian families; and even people of the same religion have killed one another to defend their interpretation of Scripture and in quest of church purity.
The Spanish Inquisition prevailed in the years between 1480-1530. Some royal decisions were published in 1492 and 1501 that commanded the Jews and the Muslims to become Catholic Christians or to leave the country. During the period of the Spanish Inquisition, some of the Christians forced people of other religions to forsake their religion and convert to Christianity, sometimes under the threat of murder. They forced them to be baptized and then they would watch them to be sure that they were living as Christians; otherwise they would face the judiciary, be humiliated, tortured and murdered.
Fourth, some Christian Zionists justify the dispersion of Palestinians from their homeland based on their understanding of the Scriptures. They claim that God has given the land to the Jews. As a result, they ignore the injustices done to the Palestinians in the Al-Nakba (Catastrophe) in 1948 when Palestinians were forced to leave their homes. Christian Zionists discount the Palestinians’ claim to the land by pointing to Old Testament passages where the Israelites were conditionally promised the land as a permanent inheritance, without taking into consideration the whole of Scripture and the whole plan of God for Israel and the nations.
Based on their reading and interpretation of certain Scriptures they support the building of settlements with money from churches. And they dream of a future for the Middle East filled with war and bloodshed for all the people in the region. Zechariah 13:8 says, “Two-thirds of the people in the land will be cut off and die,” says the Lord. “But one-third will be left in the land.” Some Christians believe this will literally be fulfilled concerning the Israelis who live in Israel. In their interpretation, they refer to a literal exegesis of the books of Ezekiel and Daniel and other references in the Bible. These interpretations exclude the most important one – Jesus Christ, his birth and his life, his death and resurrection, his words and his works.
Unfortunately, Gandhi’s saying has much truth in it. The history of Christianity includes people who have claimed to be Christians, but who did not live according to biblical principles. They have treated “strangers” in an unChrist-like way. To counteract this flawed worldview requires a close look at what true Christianity is – not the Christianity of extremism that has arisen when people have interpreted the Bible in ways that they never should have. For this reason, we will now endeavor to reveal what we believe is the true face of Christianity in dealing with the stranger. We will present what we believe is the Christianity of Christ, not the Christianity of extremism.
I used the term “denomination” in this story to highlight the absurdity of denominationalism which is parochial and narrow-minded when compared with the rich diversity and plurality of Christ’s global body comprised of all the church families.
 This story does not aim to explain the history of the Baptists. Rather, it is designed to present Christian failure because of extremism and radicalism. For more information about Baptists in the United States and their contributions and their division, see Thomas Kid and Barry Hankin’s book below.
Thomas Kidd and Barry Hankins, Baptists in America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).
 The source of this story is the stand-up comedian Emo Phillips and it is an imaginary story that did not take place. I have translated it loosely from Dr. John Ortberg’s book. I added the idea that the woman was going to commit suicide whilst Ortberg says she was standing by the bridge. See John Ortberg, Who Is This Man? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 93-94
 Ibid. See also Jaroslav Pelikan, Jesus through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985).
 O. M. Bakke, When Children Became People: The Birth of Childhood in Early Christianity (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2005).
 حنا كتناشو ودينا كتناشو ووين جرودم وجون بيبر، أطلقوني: دور ومكانة المرأة المسيحية (القدس: كنيسة الاتحاد المسيحي، 2002)، 43 – 53
 حنا كتناشو، أنا هو . . فمن أنت؟ (القدس: كنيسة الاتحاد المسيحي، 2008)، 177 – 178
William Hague, William Wilberforce: The Life of the Great Anti-Slave Trade Campaigner (London: HarperPress, 2007).
 E. Stanley Jones, Mahatma Gandhi: An Interpretation (Lucknow: Lucknow Publishing House, 1948), 36; M. K. Gandhi, An Autobiography (London: Penguin Books, 2001).
 Unfortunately, interpreters do not notice that Paul speaks about three kinds of silence in the same chapter he says: “If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. 28 If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.” (1 Corinthians 14: 27-28). When Paul asks the prophets to practice silence he says:” Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. 30 And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop.” ( 1 Corinthians 14: 29-30). Then he says, “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.” ( 1 Corinthians 14: 34). The purpose of the context is peace and order – no matter whether the source of the lack of order was men or women. This is confirmed in light of what Paul says, “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head–it is the same as having her head shaved.” ( 1 Corinthians 11: 5). It is clear then that her voice is heard in the church.
 Thomas Kidd, George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014), 188-203.
 David Goldenberg, The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003); David Whitford, The Curse of Ham in the Early Modern Era (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009).
 Larry Morrison, “The Religious Defense of American Slavery Before 1830,” Journal of Religious Thought 37 (1980): 18.
 Lillian Freudmaann, Antisemitism in the New Testament (University Press of America, 1994).
 Miroslav Volf, “Christianity and Violence,” in War in the Bible and terrorism in the twenty-first century, edited by Richard Hess and Elmer Martens (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2008), 13.
 J. A. Loubser, The Apartheid Bible: A Critical View of Racial Theology in South Africa (Cape Town: Maskew Miller Longman, 1987).
 Thomas Asbridge, The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land (New York: HarperCollins, 2010); Henry Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014).
 Yohanna Katanacho, The Land of Christ: A Palestinian Cry (Eugene: Pickwick, 2013); Stephen Sizer, Christian Zionism: Road-Map to Armageddon? (Grand Rapids: Intervarsity Press, 2005). See also
يوحنا كتناشو، أرض المسيح: صرخة فلسطينية (بيت لحم: كلية بيت لحم للكتاب المقدس، 2016).