Carl Medearis with Sheikh Nabil Qawouk - Hezbollah's number two leader.
Let's do an exercise. I want you to fill in the blank on what you think you know about me based on what I'm about to tell you.
Here goes: Twenty years ago, I became a missionary. My wife and I left our home in Colorado Springs, Colorado to move to Beirut, Lebanon. Our job description was to plant churches and evangelize to Muslims.
Based on what I just said, Carl Medearis is a ______________ .
Depending on your background, the blank may look something like this:
Carl Medearis is a... hero of the Christian faith, a saintly super-man willing to sacrifice the comforts of home in order to share the love of Jesus Christ with those who have never heard the gospel.
Carl Medearis is a... right-wing extremist who destroys cultures, tears apart families and paves the way for neo-colonialist crusaders to invade, occupy and plunder the resources of local populations.
Quite a range, isn't it?
For one group of people, the words "evangelist" and "missionary" bring to mind pious heroes performing good deeds that are unattainable for the average Christian. For another group, those same words represent just about everything that's wrong with the world.
I understand the confusion.
Based on my experiences of living and traveling around the world, I know that religion is often an identity marker that determines people's access to jobs, resources, civil liberties and political power.
When I lived in Lebanon I saw firsthand how destructive an obsession with religious identity could be. Because of the sectarian nature of Lebanese politics, modern Lebanese history is rife with coups, invasions, civil wars and government shutdowns.
When I tell my Christian friends in America that some of the fiercest militias were (and are) Christian, most are shocked. It doesn't fit the us-versus-them mentality that evangelism fosters, in which we are always the innocent victims and they are always the aggressors.
This us-versus-them thinking is odd, given that Jesus was constantly breaking down walls between Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, men and women, sinners and saints. That's why we have the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Jews in Jesus' day thought of the Samaritans as the violent heretics, much the same way that Christians think of Muslims today. The idea that a Samaritan could be good was scandalous to first century Jews.
Jesus was the master of challenging religious prejudice and breaking down sectarian walls. Why do so many Christians want to rebuild those walls?
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