Faith That Goes Out on a Limb

Last year I wrote briefly about terrorism and martyrdom in the wake of the June shootings in Charleston, South Carolina. I’m sure every dedicated Christian recoiled at the thought of what if their warm fellowship, worship, or Bible study had been so heinously disrupted. Nine church members and one pastor were murdered. Those were killings more because of race than for faith, but their faith put them in the wrong spot at the wrong time.

It may not mean getting my tongue pulled out, but it may mean getting shredded for unpopular opinions or choices.

I was in my own house of worship that particular Wednesday night, giving out free clothing for people in need. All of our churches are vulnerable to shooters for a variety of reasons, and I’m sure many other Wednesday-night churchgoing persons had similar thoughts.


Women who shared their names as followers of Jesus at Mennonite World Conference, Harrisburg, Pa, 2015. Photo by Melodie Davis

For those of us in North America, we think we can safely put martyrdom out of our minds, as if it happens only in other countries, or at an earlier time. Dozens of pastors have been detained and beaten especially in rural parts of Vietnam for “undermining national unity.” Hundreds of pastors and priests over the centuries, who practiced and preached nonviolence, were themselves assassinated: Oscar Romero, Salvatore Colombo, Martin Luther King Jr. come to mind in the late 20th century. Christian Peacemaker Teams volunteers Tom Fox and United Methodist aid worker Dan Terry were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2006 and 2010, respectively. These individuals remind us that, like any modern solider, these Christians have gone to their assignments prepared to die, if need be.

Jesus’ own words in Luke 14:26 on this topic might also shed insight: “If people come to me and are not ready to abandon their fathers, mothers, wives, children, brothers, and sisters, as well as their own lives, they cannot be my disciples” (God’s Word Translation). Most other paraphrases or translations of that verse use the much stronger word hate in that phrase about their fathers, mothers, and so on. Or you could use the word despise. I don’t think God ever asks us to truly hate family in that sense. Bible Hub online commentary explains this terminology to mean “no early affection must ever come into competition with the love of God.”

Even abandon feels like a strong word to gulp down. Aren’t we to love our father, mother, spouse, children, and wider family? Of course, but just as enlisted soldiers willingly leave their families for a cause, the call of Christ and God are higher, theoretically, than human connection. I believe the call of Christ is higher than national priorities as well.

When we begin to try to swallow these teachings of Christ and roll them around in our heads for a while, we begin to understand the mental torture Jesus went through even before his physical torture of the crucifixion. The human side of Jesus did not want to suffer and die, either.

Out on a limb. How far dare we go?

Many don’t even go to first base in sacrificing—say, giving up a well-deserved Sunday morning of sleeping in and relaxing over brunch, rather than gathering with followers of Christ for worship, spiritual growth, and inspiration. We have a hard time giving even 10 percent of our wealth to spiritual causes. We wouldn’t miss Sunday afternoon football or baseball, but do I have time to help repair a house for an elderly woman in the neighborhood? Umm, way too busy. Sorry!

Die at the stake? Tongue pulled out for not being willing to stop talking about my faith? Jailed for preaching to an underground church?

I don’t even come close to that kind of suffering. But Donald Kraybill, in his landmark book The Upside-Down Kingdom (Herald Press), offers some cross-bearing for ordinary Christians that doesn’t leave me off the hook, even while likely avoiding torture and persecution. “The substance of Christian faith lies in our willingness to walk in the way of Jesus. He asks us to count the costs; following Jesus takes full dedication,” says Kraybill.

It may not mean getting my tongue pulled out, but it may mean getting shredded for unpopular opinions or choices. It may mean loss of friends, or acrimony in families. Where is the line between faith commitment and faith addiction—where people step over the line into irrationality, which is also a problematic issue?

What do you think? How do you follow the teachings of your faith?


I’d love to hear your comments; please post at the website or send to or Another Way, 1251 Virginia Avenue, Harrisonburg, VA 22802.