John Lennox’s personal experience of sectarian violence influences what he thinks true Christianity looks like.
I’m often asked, how is it possible to be a person who was born and lived in Northern Ireland and still remain committed to the Christian faith? Because my country has got that kind of reputation for sectarian violence, for Protestants and Catholics fighting one another.
And it’s a very important question because it needs analysis. Historical analysis shows that it’s not just quite as simple as a sectarian war – but let’s assume it is. Because I grew up in a situation where my parents lived in a town that was divided, and my parents – who were Christian but were not sectarian – believed that every man and woman is made in the image of God no matter what they believe. So he put that into practice by employing equally across the Protestant-Catholic divide, and we were bombed because of that. So I’ve some experience of this kind of thing.
And my reaction to it is quite simple and very direct: I’m utterly ashamed of it. Ashamed as a Christian, but I’d like to explain why I’m ashamed of it. Firstly, I’m ashamed that the name of Christ has ever been associated with a bomb or an AK47 for the simple reason that people who do that are not following Christ they are disobeying him.
And historically I used to wonder why it is there’s so much detail in the New Testament not only about the death and resurrection of Christ but about his trial. And it’s then occurred to me that he was put on trial accused of terrorism – of fomenting political violence, which is exactly what many people, including the late Christopher Hitchens specifically, accused Christianity of. And the interesting thing about the history there is that he was exonerated by Pilate – who knew all about violence – because Christ said to him, look, my kingdom isn’t of this world, otherwise my servants would have been fighting. But to this end I was born, to this end I came into the world, so that I would bear witness to the truth. And Pilate had the sense to see, as anybody can see, that the one thing you cannot do by violent means is impose truth on people.
So the two reactions I have are I’m ashamed of it, but I want to point out very clearly that it’s not Christian. People who do this kind of thing in the name of Christ are not Christian, because he said you mustn’t do it. And people say, well that makes it very difficult for folks to decide – yes, of course it does, and it’s very sad. But I sometimes say the existence of counterfeit money does not prove that the real stuff doesn’t exist, but it may make it a little bit hard to find.