The photo below was taken shortly after Somali terrorists were subdued at Garissa University in Kenya this past Thursday. The terrorists murdered 147 people, nearly all of them students, most of them Christians. News sources have reported that people were executed for answering yes to the question, “Are you a Christian?”
The photo reminds me of the first time I went to El Salvador and toured the dormitory where six Jesuits, their housekeeper, and the housekeeper’s daughter were butchered by an element of the Salvadoran Army in 1989 (below). The priests, teachers at the Jesuit university in San Salvador, were accused of aiding the rebels in a civil war that lasted from 1980-92. The civil war in Somalia started at about the time the Salvadoran one was ending. It is still going on. So far, nearly 500,000 people have died.
It would be naive to think that politics and economic interests do not play a role in Somalia, just as they did in El Salvador. But it would be just as naive to think that religion is merely a smokescreen for deeper issues.
In El Salvador, two fundamental ways of interpreting the Gospels clashed with one another, both influencing and influenced by their respective economic worldviews. Those with power and money tended to see faith in traditional, pious ways; those without money heard Jesus speak to them of liberation not in heaven but on earth. The great Reformation of Islam has not happened yet. Perhaps it is in the making. In the meantime, scripture continues to be used to justify horrific acts against those perceived to have power and money, whether civilians, businesses, or governments.
It was no different in the passion of Christ. Jesus may have been a pawn of the chief priests, but the Romans executed him for political reasons. He was dangerous not for the heavenly kingdom he dreamed of but the earthly one that would have challenged the power of Rome. His passion has now become our passion, and it is being lived out every day around the world.
Passion is a dangerous word. It came up the other day in my Business Ethics class. What students want more than anything else, they say, is to feel passion for something. They don’t find comfort in the status quo and conventional. They don’t want to learn only about financial audits; they want a cause, a reason to live that makes them feel inspired. “Where do we find it?” they ask. I am their teacher. I am supposed to know.
Not everyone the terrorists murdered at Garissa University was Christian, and, of the Christians, not all of them stepped forward to answer yes in a deliberate way. It is possible that many had no idea what was coming. But some must have. Some stood up and said yes. What made them do that? I would never ask students whether they would do the same, mainly because I am not sure what I would do. Does anyone really know what they would do when confronted with death? But I want them to consider the question. Peter thought he would stand up. Instead, he ran away.
Passion has a dark side. It is love of something, but it is also suffering for something. If we’ve reduced it to being passionate about digital marketing or iPhone apps, that’s because we can’t look at these photos and remain unmoved. We can’t. That’s passion.