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An Assault on Christian Sensibilities, Ultimately, Backfires
If a true Christian turns the other cheek, Kenny, a TV show co-host, must have been trying to offend the “untrue” kind.

It's the ultimate irony.

“Forgive him for he doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

A young man – co-host of a TV show – competing to determine "who can piss off the most people," commissioned a plane to fly over Canada's largest city trailing the message, "Jesus Sucks!"

All in a quest to create entertaining television.

It's ironic, because the people he chose to offend are those who follow the man who famously prayed for His persecutors: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And that while nailed to a cross.

When asked how he expected Christians to react, media reports quote the young man, Kenneth Joel Hotz, (Kenny of the Showcase TV show Kenny vs. Spenny) as saying, "a true Christian would turn the other cheek." I suppose in order to win his competition then, he must have been counting on offending an awful lot of the "untrue" ones.

But Kenny, who says he's "studied the Bible a lot," learned at least that part of his lessons well. Because Jesus was pretty clear about how He wanted His followers to treat those who offend them. The first part of the biblical verse, which Kenny chose to omit in quoting Matthew 5:39, spells it out, "Do not resist an evil person," Jesus taught, before adding the bit about turning the other cheek. Then later, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."

Still, it's a tall order for the most faithful believer. I've yet to meet a Christian who doesn't struggle with the principle, no matter how much they know it to be right. It's not easy to want the best for those who cause us pain, especially when they do so deliberately. And it's not easy to stand by and allow someone to slander the Lord you love.

And yet on the very day that Kenny's provocative message was saddening the hearts – if not firing the passions – of Christians across Toronto, a couple of what can only be described as the "true" kind arrived back in Canada, beautifully illustrating the reality and power of Jesus's teachings in action.

Missionaries Eloise and John Bergen arrived home to a hero's welcome at Calgary airport Monday evening, still recovering from a brutal assault in Kenya three weeks ago. Sporting bandages and fresh wounds from machete-wielding robbers (among them, it's alleged, were men who had been hired to provide security for the couple), John Bergen told reporters, "we hold nothing against our assassins." The couple has pledged to return to Africa, and have already voiced their forgiveness toward the six men who beat John, left him for dead, and then raped Eloise.

At 65 and 70 respectively, Eloise and John set up housekeeping in Kenya in March, the result of a seven-year dream. "They could have chosen to go into a comfortable, Canadian retirement as so many people do," said Ralph Bromley, president of Hope for the Nations Canada, the organization with which the couple served. "Instead, they decided to go where they could serve the poorest of the poor."

Initially working in a Kitale refugee camp among thousands of refugees displaced as a result of the electoral crisis, the Bergens ran a school for children. When the camp closed, they devoted themselves to the problem of food security, establishing a farm and teaching local children and villagers gardening techniques.

Mr. Bromley said the Bergens are just "humble, grassroots people" who decided to follow Jesus's teachings to love and care for the poor and orphans. "They're weakened," he said, "both because of their age and what's happened to them. But they still have their hope." Not to mention their faith in Christ.

And it's only a guess, but I think that if the Bergens heard about Kenny's stunt on the day they landed back home in Canada, they might have felt a little pain and sadness at it. And then they might have chosen to further follow Jesus's example and pray, "Father, forgive him. For he doesn't know what he is doing."

Patricia Paddey is a member of The Word Guild, an association of Canadian writers and editors who are Christian.

Originally published in The Globe and Mail, July 31, 2008.




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