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The Rev. Dr. Mark McKim.  Photo: Jodi Gillich.

by Jodi Gillich

In an increasingly secular culture, Christianity is struggling to remain relevant.

As a non-Christian, I attended a Lutheran (Protestant) and a Roman Catholic service.  As I sat in the very different churches and listened to a pastor and then a priest, I noticed one idea that consistently showed up in both services: peace.

How could peaceful words translate into such a warlike reality? One has only to think of the Crusades, the conflict in Northern Ireland, or the Christian themes surrounding the war in Iraq to witness extremism.

When so-called Christians use religious rhetoric to justify their actions, one wonders if Christianity is really that bad, that violent, and that hateful. 

According to the Reverend Dr. Mark McKim of First Baptist Church, extremists bring the cause of Christ and the Christian faith into considerable disrepute.

“People look at that and say, ‘If that is what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ – that I’m going to go and invade Iraq, and bomb people, and have hundreds of thousands of civilians die, and have Guantanamo Bay –well, I want nothing to do with that,’” said McKim.

 He tells people that none of these things correspond to anything he sees in the New Testament. 

 “In the days leading up to the invasion of Iraq, I have never seen such a unified response among churches worldwide, against (the invasion).”

McKim says that most Christians today believe that violence must only be considered when it is the lesser of a few evils.  And even if it is less evil, it is still a sin which must be repented.
There are three characteristics which define extremism, McKim explained.

The first characteristic is approaching scripture in a way that isn’t respectful of the text itself.

“Unfortunately, Jesus Christ gets blamed for a lot of stuff that people say is Christian, but why don’t you read the original (text) and make a judgment call for yourself,” said McKim.

Extremists interpret the text flatly, and do not consider whether it is poetry or prose, historical or allegorical, he said.

Secondly, he said that extremists feel they must impose their views on everyone – if necessary, by force. 

“I don’t think that as a person of Christian faith I have a right to impose my views on others, simply because they are Christian views.”

The third characteristic of extremism is a fear of knowledge or learning.  McKim, sitting in an office filled to the brim with books, said that anti-intellectualism is based on the idea that if we learn something new it will destroy our faith.

“All truth is one, and if I really believe that because of my faith commitment, I should have no fear of learning or knowledge.”

Speaking in a similarly book-lined office, Pastor Jim Chimirri-Russell of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church agreed extremists foster hate.

“Peace is a state that Christians work towards,” said Chimirri-Russell.

According to Chimirri-Russell, humility and service – and not profit – are trademarks of Christianity.

Christians are open to change and constantly ask, “How can we improve?” he said.

Peace is much-touted in Christianity but seldom observed by extremists. It’s too bad average Christians like McKim and Chimirri-Russell are among the millions affected by the high-profile views of a few who give Christianity a bad name.