Denial and Survival?
When two Fox News journalists, correspondent Steve Centanni and cameraman Olaf Whig, were kidnapped in Gaza and forced by their captors to “convert” to Islam their experience raised the question of what Christians should do in a circumstance like that.
Many people are familiar with this story because the act of affirming Allah as god and Muhammad as his prophet the basic statement of faith for all Muslims was televised. These two men were forced at gunpoint to make this confession, a confession that we all knew was spurious. They weren’t converted; they did it to save their lives. In fact, Centanni said, “We were forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint….[I]t was something we felt we had to do because they had the guns.”
This raises a question. If you’re forced to convert, how is that a conversion? It’s nothing more than lip service.
A video was released showing Whig and Centanni dressed in beige, Arab-style robes. Whig, a New Zealander, delivered an anti-Western speech, his face expressionless and his tone halting. It reminded me of a U.S. airman who was shot down by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. As he confessed to war crimes, he was blinking the word “torture’ in Morse code to let everyone know he was under duress.
Centanni and Whig’s Muslim kidnappers claimed both journalists had converted to Islam. Are these people stupid? Just say this prayer. It’s magic. Say these words and you’re a convert. Isn’t there a Koranic version of James 2 that says words are not enough? Maybe they are enough in Islam.
Part of the quote Centanni was forced to say was, “Islam is not just for some people. It is the true religion for all people at all times. I changed my name to Kaleed. I have embraced Islam and say the word ‘Allah.’” That must have been enough to satisfy the kidnappers because these men were released.
I do not fault these two men in the slightest for having done what they did, but it raises a question for Christians. We all know they didn’t mean it and, very importantly for my comments, I have no reason to believe these men are followers of Jesus Christ. But what if they were? What if this happened to you?
Do you, as a Christian, think you have the freedom to go through the lip-service of affirming Allah and allegiance to Muhammad as his prophet, in denial of the One who suffered and died for you? Do you think you have the liberty to do that even with a gun pointed at you? Would God care that you didn’t mean it?
Let’s reflect on a couple of things, like 300 hundred years of blood shed by Christians who faced just exactly the same situation in the early part of the Christian era. “Recant! Swear by the spirit of Caesar! Bow down before Caesar and we will spare your lives!” Instead they were fed to the lions or made into human torches in Caesar’s gardens. Thousands were crucified because they wouldn’t recant.
Some of you have read The Martyrdom of Polycarp, a second century Christian disciple of the Apostle John, who was burned at the stake. He said, “I am a Christian.” He couldn’t recant.
Jesus said, “Do not fear him who can kill the body and not the soul.” Who can kill the body and not the soul? Anybody. Don’t fear people who can kill you. Fear rather Him who can throw both body and soul in Hell. He wasn’t talking about the devil. The devil doesn’t throw anybody in Hell. God throws people in Hell. The Father does. Do not consider your life as more important than your testimony of Jesus Christ.
Realize that this isn’t something that just reporters in Gaza or Baghdad or anywhere else overseas may have to face. If you’re traveling abroad, you can be snatched. If you’re a follower of Jesus Christ you can have a gun put to your head, or a saw, or an axe and be commanded to make the same kind of pledge. Then what?
Make up your mind now that you’ll never recant. Make up your mind now that you will not love your life even to the death. That’s what it says about the martyrs in the book of Revelation. They did not love their lives even to the death.
These statements in Scripture give some idea of what God expects of us in this kind of circumstance. It’s not enough to say, “I did it to save my life.” But you denied Jesus to save your life. “Do not fear him who can kill the body, but not the soul.” This verse tells us that there are people who are going to try to kill the body. And Jesus says to not fear them. “Fear rather Him who can throw both body and soul into Hell.”
I’m not suggesting, and I don’t think it’s true, that if you’re a follower of Christ, and you falter and are weak, and make up a story to save your skin, and deny Christ, that you’ve committed the unpardonable sin. This was an issue around the time of Constantine because there was a heavy persecution 20 years before the Council of Nicaea. There were Christians who recanted and then wanted to come back into the fellowship of the church, not having paid the price the others who didn’t recant had to pay. There was a big debate. Some said “yes” and some said “no.” I’m inclined to offer forgiveness from a human perspective, and I think God does from a divine perspective, but that’s hardly the point. The point isn’t whether if I sin, will God forgive. He does because forgiveness is complete, but that doesn’t give us liberty to sin, especially one as significant as denying Jesus.
God willing, none of us will ever be in that position. But it could happen and it’s not just overseas that you’re vulnerable because those guys “over there” are here. You could be grabbed, even in this country. Then what? Video turning, gun at your head, what would you say?
I hope you’d say something like, “Muhammad is Allah’s prophet but Allah is not God. Jesus is God. And one day you will bend your knee before Him when He stands before you as judge. As for me, I am a Christian.”
By the grace of God, that would be my response if I were in that circumstance. We have a better chance of responding properly if we make up our mind now.