A good friend sent me this message earlier today, and by his permission, I have copied it here with my response. [In case anyone is wondering, I sent the whole thing to him for his approval before posting it.]
My friend wrote:
So today on one of the morning shows, they were talking about banning protests at military funerals. I find it incredibly sad that we even have to consider passing laws like this. There were people at this Marine’s funeral that were holding signs that said “God is punishing you for your crimes.” All I could think about is what Jesus said in a couple of the Gospels about removing the log from your own eye before pointing out the splinter in your brother’s. Servicemen do not make the decisions to go to war. The people we vote in make those decisions, and therefore those people are as much to blame as the servicemen. They would rather stay at home with their family and friends and just be a deterrent.
What good can come out of protesting a dead Marine? He can’t hear you. You’re not going to change his mind. All they are really doing is hurting the family and friends of the deceased. In no way is that appropriate. Note that what I am about to say is not even a close comparison, but Jesus gave His life for us, and that Marine was thinking he was there for our country and the very people who are protesting him, defending the very right they have to do so. One might say that they are brainwashed to think that way but I can assure you many servicemen feel that way. Protesting a funeral of a serviceman is like taking a janitor from AIG and blaming him for the economic downfall. May the Lord forgive these people, because I am not sure I am strong enough to do so.
What I want to know is whether these protesters are going to take their idea of truth-talk to every funeral of every person who dies in any way connected to sin. Are they protesting at the funerals of gang-members? Are they protesting at the funerals of smokers and over-eaters? Given that we are all sinners and all deserve death, maybe they should just protest at all funerals.
But I have another line of thought. If I were allergic to bananas, and my friend who did not know this fact, lovingly made and brought me a banana cream pie as a gift, what would be my attitude? Obviously, I could not eat it, but there is no reason I should not be very thankful and show my appreciation for the thoughtfulness of the gift.
But suppose, instead of a pie, my friend brought me a big box of homemade cigarettes. Suppose he no less lovingly and painstakingly rolled each cigarette, thinking only of the pleasure of serving me and giving me such a nice gift.
Now suppose that there is very little awareness or belief out there that cigarettes are seriously harmful. But, let’s say, I am one of the few who knows that they are. And also, suppose that my friend, who is not really so aware, actually belongs to a club of (mostly) well-meaning people who get together to roll cigarettes by the hundreds and thousands, with the purpose of giving them as gifts to their loved ones.
Okay, let me carry the analogy one step further: Suppose that, once in a while, someone from the cigarette roller’s club dies from tobacco-related causes (it doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch to say that most of the members of this club would be avid smokers). Do I take it upon myself—maybe with a few freaky friends—to show up at the funeral of one of these folks and hurl curses (in the name of God!) at his family, saying that he deserved it?
I don’t think this question really even needs to be answered.
But let’s go back now to the moment in which my friend is giving me the gift box full of cigarettes. He is standing there, grinning ear to ear, believing with all (or at least most) of his heart that he is doing something both good and loving for me. What should my response be?
Given that he really means only to bless me and to show his love for me, my response should be more or less the same as it was regarding the banana cream pie, right? I am not going to smoke the cigarettes, but I certainly can show appreciation for my friend and his desire to do something nice for me.
But here is the next question: Do I leave it at that? Or should I try to help him understand the real nature of cigarettes? Knowing that most people who receive these gift cigarettes happily light and smoke them, should I not try to help my friend understand what cigarettes really do? Would it be inappropriate for me to tell him what I believe are the real consequences of all the hard work of his cigarette roller’s club? If I don’t say anything, why don’t I? Am I afraid of hurting his feelings or damaging our friendship? Is that good enough reason to say nothing? (You can see where this line of thinking goes.)
The complicating factor in all of this is that I share with the foolish protesters the general belief that cigarettes do great harm to people. But that doesn’t mean that I can condone the stupidity and calumny of the protesters. In fact, I will go so far as to say I am not sure which is more harmful—the cigarettes or the opposing of them which claims to speak for God but does so in a spirit totally contrary to His.
Analogies are never perfect. This one certainly isn’t. One very big difference between this cigarette analogy and the reality of military service is that the latter is not seen as a mere gift but as a critical necessity for life and freedom. Consequently, those of us who would hold to a view of Christian non-violence can be seen, not only as ungrateful, but illogical and even bratty, as if we would cut off our nose to spite our face or bite the hand that feeds us. While I do not agree that I owe my life to the American soldier, I understand that most people in America think I do. And I do understand that I do enjoy a certain kind of life with a certain level of freedom and opportunity (which I cannot help but enjoy, unless I leave the country) that are related in some not-totally-indirect way to the fact that men and women have served in this country’s armed forces.
From time to time, I see bumper stickers that say things like, “If you can’t stand behind our troops, stand in front of them!” And the thing is, while only a few people in society actually put such stickers on their cars, a great many more would certainly agree with the sentiment. And I would suggest that this is something of the opposite error of those who protest at military funerals.
To respond directly to the analogy at the end of my friend’s e-mail, I would say that it is possible that the janitor at AIG might have done his homework and found that his salary, benefits and 401k were all based on corrupt business practices and/or illusory capital. And such a janitor might then have decided that the right thing to do—both practically and ethically—would be to leave AIG. But my friend is right. The janitor himself is not to blame for the collapse of AIG. And standing around laughing at his family as they are forced to leave their foreclosed home and move into a shelter only demonstrates the cruelty and gracelessness of the mockers… to say nothing of the crime against heaven, if they claim to be serving God in their cruelty.