For the record, I didn’t wake up this morning and think to myself, “I’m going to write about Joseph Kony today and try to stir up some controversy.” Instead, I read Acts 22 this morning, and reading that eventually led me to think about Joseph Kony and “Kony 2012.” So before I get to the part about Kony, it’s important to walk through how I got there.
In Acts 22, Paul has been brought before an angry crowd made up mostly of Israelite people, people who are loyal to God and to Israel but are angry with Paul because of what he’s been doing. Paul has been busy traveling around the known world and sharing the message of God with people who were different than the Israelite people, outside the scope of their nation and their religion (the “different” people were known as “Gentiles.”) Most of Acts 22 is Paul’s speech that he gives to this crowd of people to try to explain what he’s been doing. The very end of his speech and the crowd’s response go like this:
“Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go! I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”
The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they shouted, “Away with this man! He’s not fit to live!” (Acts 22:21, 22 CEB)
Paul tells the crowd that God has sent him far away to the Gentiles, people who are different, who don’t live and act the same way as the people gathered in front of him. When the crowd hears this, they go nuts, suggesting Paul should be killed. It’s not real clear why they get so angry, but it could be because this particular group of people is so inwardly focused that the idea of Paul taking the message of God to “outsiders” makes him a traitor in their eyes.
If you read the book of Acts, you see that Christ followers are people who have been sent out to the ends of the earth to share the good news about Jesus and the coming of the kingdom of God. As Christ followers today, we’re also not asked to focus inwardly and only take care of our own. This means we’re asked to be in relationship with people who are not like us. People who look and think differently than we do. People who don’t speak the same language. People who don’t dress and act like we do. People who don’t have the same political ideas. People who don’t love America like we do. Why? Because the love of God is available to all people. We don’t have a monopoly on God.
God loves Americans and illegal immigrants and terrorists and everyone in between. It’s sometimes shocking for us to hear that, and like the people assembled before Paul in this story, many of us might be tempted to get angry at the idea that God’s love is much bigger than we expected. For Jews, Gentiles were those “other people.” They were radically different in their beliefs and culture and lifestyle, but Paul knew God loved them. Paul was willing to make such a radical statement and live such a radical lifestyle because he understood that what God did through Jesus was, well, radical.
All of which makes me ask myself, when’s the last time I stood up for the radical nature of God’s love so much that it made people really angry? When’s the last time the church did something radical? When’s the last time I suggested we reach out to a person or a group of people that was shocking and even offensive because it crossed the boundary of common sense?
Those questions have led me to think about and ask several questions about a story that’s dominated the news the past week: Kony 2012. What about Joseph Kony? Does God love him? Is he beyond God’s forgiveness and would he be better off dead?
When Jesus said in Matthew 5:44, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” did that include people like Joseph Kony? Should Christians join a movement to have him arrested (and probably killed), should we pray for him, should we do both? What if we started a “Pray for Kony 2012” campaign as an alternative? That would sure be shocking and radical, and it would certainly make people angry.
The question (or at least a question) is how do you reconcile the fact that the Bible calls for justice yet Jesus tells his followers to love their enemies and to pray for them? You’d think justice would include bringing people like Joseph Kony down, but then what do you do with Jesus’s words to love our enemies and Paul’s example of radical inclusion of those people who are far outside the norm of who people think God loves? To be clear, there is no doubt and no question in my head that what Kony has done and continues to do is unacceptable, horrendous, and needs to be stopped immediately. I’m simply asking “how big is God’s grace? Does it have limits?” Sometimes I wish it did have limits, but if it did, would those limits include or exclude me?
I don’t claim to have the answers, I’m just asking some questions.