Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: peace

Doesn’t everybody want to change their life?

Jim walked into the small town grocery store, a bundle of tracts in his hand. He looked around, found the tract rack and saw it was almost empty. He dropped the tracts in his had on the counter and went out to his car to get more.

The clerk was reading one of the tracts when he returned. “Don’t read that!” he said. “Unless you want to change your life.”

She looked up at him, smiling. “Doesn’t everybody want to change their life?”

I’ve pondered that for a long time. I don’t think we do. We want our life to be different, but it’s other people and the circumstances of my life that need to change. I am not the problem here, my life will never change unless someone else makes some changes in the way they treat me.

It’s like banging my head against a brick wall. I get a headache, the wall is just the same, has no idea why anyone would expect it to change.

One day God says “You are the problem. You need to change.”

That’s ridiculous. I’m doing the best anyone could hope to do when he has to live and work around all these turkeys.

God persists. I begin to see little things where I might have said things differently, done things differently. But what would that really help? The turkeys are the real problem.

One day things go really badly, and I know that I caused this problem. A light goes on. “OK God, I don’t know how to get out of this mess I’ve made. Please help me.”

Nothing great happens, except I’m a little calmer, now. After a few days I realize that the turkeys don’t seem much like turkeys anymore; they’re pretty much the same as me. I even start to like them. I don’t often see them making mistakes any more but my own mistakes are becoming painfully obvious. I find myself saying “I’m sorry” quite often. I never used to do that. 

One morning I realize that I am looking forward to the day, the little interactions that I might have with all those interesting people around me. Something has changed, and it’s not them. I am different, but it is God who has made the difference in me. I didn’t have a clue where to begin.

Do you want to change the world?

So does God.

He wants to begin with you.

Abraham our father

The apostle Paul tells us that Abraham is the father of all who believe (Romans 4:11-16). If we want to talk about faith then, discovering who Abram was, and what he did, seems a logical starting point. We first encounter him in Genesis 11, still named Abram, one of the three sons of Terah.

The family lived in Ur of the Chaldees. For many years the only Ur known to Bible scholars was the large city located south of the mouth of the Euphrates on the Persian Gulf. The difficulty is that this Ur was Sumerian, not Chaldean. More research has led to the discovery of references to a smaller Ur, far to the northwest, between the Tigris and Euphrates. This was in Chaldean territory and was no doubt referred to as Ur of the Chaldees to distinguish it from the larger Sumerian city.

The Bible does not tell us the circumstances of God’s call to Terah to leave Ur and go to Canaan. Perhaps we can take from references in the Bible that God spoke to Abram and all his father’s family went with him. Genesis 11:41 tells us that Terah and his family left Ur to go to Canaan, but stopped at Haran. This may have been halfway or less. By this time Terah’s son Haran had died, but Haran’s son Lot accompanied his grandfather and his uncles Abram and Nahor.

The family lived in Haran until Terah died. Then God again spoke to Abram, telling him to leave and go to Canaan, promising him “in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Lot and his family accompanied Abram, but Nahor remained in Haran. When Abram and Lot arrived in Canaan, God appeared to Abram again and said “Unto thy seed will I give this land” (verse 7). Abram was already an old man, and he had no children, yet he believed the promise.

Abram and Lot lived close to each other until their flocks increased so there wasn’t enough pasture for both. Abram gave Lot the choice of where he wanted to go with his flocks. He chose the plains near Sodom where there was abundant pasture and water, leaving the mountains for Abram.

Abram continued to trust God and prosper. His herdsmen dug a well and their Canaanite neighbours filled it with rocks. He didn’t protest, just moved further away and dug another well, with the same result. Finally he found a place where he could dig a well for his flocks without opposition from his neighbours.

A picture emerges of Abram as a man who often has encounters with God and fully trusts His promises. He is a man of peace, avoiding quarrels with his family and his neighbours. Lot was not as trusting, seeking an assurance of prosperity for his flocks. His choice had disastrous consequences for his family and he barely escaped with his life when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.

There are spiritual parallels in the lives of Terah and his family. God calls them to depart from wickedness and travel to a land that He promised to them. Nahor is content to go halfway. Abram and Lot get to the promised land, but Lot does not fully trust God to provide for him and reaps the consequences. Abram believes the promises of God and trusts that God will make them happen in His own way, in His own time. This faith echoes through all the subsequent pages of the Bible.

Get out of the bus and walk

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Sunday morning. Dad had come in with pails of steaming milk and was cranking the cream separator, Mom was getting breakfast ready and I was setting the table. Over the radio came the voice of Ernest Manning, telling us again how world events were shaping up just as foretold in the book of Daniel and in Ezekiel 38 and 39. Gog and Magog (Soviet Russia) and their allies were on the verge of attacking Israel, which would trigger the Battle of Armageddon.

Dad had experienced crushing disappointment when the Wesleyan Methodist Church that he had been raised in disappeared into the United Church of Canada. This was a church that now taught that Jesus, if he ever really existed, was our model for setting to rights the evils of society. Dad had no use for this Social Gospel, he wanted to hear about the Jesus who could save us from our sins.

Shortly thereafter he heard William Aberhart preaching on radio and had gone to Calgary to visit the Prophetic Bible Institute. When Aberhart formed the Social Credit Party (which was the complete antithesis to the social gospel) and was elected Premier of Alberta in 1935, Dad decided the way to defeat the Social Gospel, Socialism and Communism was to elect Christian statesmen to government. When Aberhart died in 1943, Ernest C Manning took his place as head of the Prophetic Bible Institute, speaker on Canada’s National Back to the Bible Hour and Premier of Alberta and held those roles for another 25 years.

We listened to Manning every Sunday morning and once when the broadcast team held a service in Regina we went to hear him preach in person. I suppose he spoke about other things in all those years, but all I remember is Gog and Magog and the Russian bear.

I was aware that there were people propounding other versions of Bible prophecy. I had listened to the Voice of Prophecy a couple times, out of curiosity. According to them, the “voice of prophecy” the only reliable source of Bible truth, was the writings of Ellen G White. They also talked about a millennium, but had a different interpretation. And they had a lot to say about the Sabbath day. People calling themselves Jehovah’s Witnesses occasionally showed up on our doorstep. Dad called them Russellites, after Charles Taze Russell, their founder. They had another explanation of how things would work out when Jesus returned.

In 1970 I was converted and then married. In the winter of 1971-72 an aged minister conducted a series of Bible studies in which he expounded the dispensational pre-millennial doctrine. We drank it all in. After all, he had Bible verses to prove every point and the way he told it, it seemed completely relevant to events in the world at that time. I got myself a Scofield Reference Bible and read books by Lewis Sperry Chafer, Dwight Pentecost, John Walvoord, Hal Lindsey and others.

Those four were all prominently associated with Dallas Theological Seminary, but I began to note a few discrepancies. Then I began to wonder if those Bible verses the old preacher had quoted actually fit together the way he said. It seemed that it would not be possible to find those meanings just by reading the Bible, you needed a guide to show you how to take the Bible apart and put it together the right way. At that point, my confidence in their teachings crumbled.

It seemed to me that all the different prophetic teachings that I had ever heard were like tour buses, taking people on a tour of ancient cities and each one only showing the sites they wanted you to see, in the order they wanted you to see them. I decided it would be better to get off the bus and hike through the Bible myself, with only the Holy Spirit to guide me.

Later, I have read how that the whole millennial fever was sparked by Jesuit writers trying to counter evangelical criticism of the papacy. Anabaptists identified the papacy as the Antichrist hundreds of years before the Reformation. Luther and Calvin picked up on that and repeated it in their attacks on the Roman Catholic Church.

In order to defend itself, the Roman Catholic Church first decreed that its members could only read books approved by the church. Two 16th century Jesuits wrote books explaining how Antichrist was not the papacy, but an individual who would appear at the end of the Christian era, become ruler of the world and abolish Christianity. Those books weren’t read by many people, but in 1791 another Jesuit, Manuel Lacunza of Chile wrote a book under the assumed name of Rabbi Ben Ezra. This book was translated into English and French and seems to have been the springboard for the millennial fervour which followed.

Edward Irving, a former Presbyterian, formed the Catholic Apostolic Church in England and began to expound on Lacuna’s teaching of the end time Antichrist. John Nelson Darby, a former Church of England clergyman joined the Plymouth Brethren, took on Lacuna’s teachings and expanded them into the dispensational pre-millennial doctrine that I was taught 45 years ago.

A fifteen-year-old girl from Irving’s church had a dream that Christians would be removed from the earth before the coming of Antichrist. Darby also went to hear the young lady tell her dream. This is the origin of the secret rapture teaching. No one has ever found that teaching in the Bible, since all the mentions of Christ’s return talk about the trumpet sounding, the voice of the archangel, and “every eye shall see him.”

Many different millennial fever tour bus companies were spawned in the mid 1800’s, each offering their own unique view of future events. As you can see, I have gone along on a few of those rides and eventually decided they were leading me away from Jesus, rather than closer to Him.

What I was longing for, and not finding on those bus tours, was a place of rest and joy near to the heart of my Saviour. I have realized that anything that comes between me and that place of rest and joy is Antichrist. That word means “in place of Christ” or “in front of Christ.” If we forget the tour guides and search for Christ alone, we will find Him.

The threefold purpose of the church

As I read the New Testament, the evidence accumulates that there is a threefold purpose for the existence of the church. Each of these purposes is connected to, and dependent upon, the other two. Perhaps we could call this a three-legged stool and whenever one of the legs is shorter than the others it creates an unstable situation.

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1. To Glorify God
The first purpose is to glorify God. “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 7:9-12). This passage is set around the throne of God in heaven, but we must begin glorifying God here and now in order to be able to continue in eternity.

The fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace and all the rest, must be evident in the church. Joy should not be muted in the name of humility, or forced, out of a sense of duty. Peace must be genuine, based on thankfulness for God’s forgiveness and readiness to forgive others.

2. To be a safe place for God’s people
The second purpose is to provide a sheepfold for the God’s flock – a place where they can be fed, have their wounds cared for and be protected from the enemies seeking to harm them. “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:13-16).

The church should be a place where the wounded and weary can find true brotherly love that will be a balm to their wounds and speed their recovery. Yet the church must also be pure. Weak members should feel welcome, those who live in wilful disobedience must be reproved and if they do not repent they must not be retained in the sheepfold lest their disobedience be a snare to others.

3. To make new disciples in our home communities and in all the world
The third purpose is to proclaim the saving gospel of Jesus Christ to others. “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:18-20). “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).

The Great Commission says to teach, make disciples of, all nations. Proclaiming the gospel is only the beginning. When those who here are converted, that is still the preliminary stage of fulfilling the mission Jesus has given to us. New converts need the help of seasoned Christians to discern if a new life has sprung up within them, or merely a desire for a new life. They need teaching, support and encouragement as they forsake their old pathways and learn to walk with Jesus. We all need the support of genuine believers all through our Christian life.

I don’t know that any one of these three purposes has preeminence over the others. If we are truly led of the Holy Spirit, we will accomplish all three. If we let the Spirit do His perfect work in us, there will be no wobbliness in the way the church is perceived by others.

Peacemakers

We took a trip yesterday to visit my cousin Paul We being my wife and I plus our daughter and her husband. Somehow Michelle and Ken have never met Paul, although he and his wife live only two and a half hours away.

Maybe it’s because we older cousins mostly meet and visit at funerals. Our last uncle passed away at the beginning of the month, at the age of 95. I guess his children have had very little contact with the extended family and didn’t know how many nephews and nieces would want to say their good-byes at a funeral. So they didn’t have a funeral.

My wife suggested a couple weeks ago that we should take that day we would have spent going to a funeral in Alberta and go visit cousin Paul and his wife instead. Ken & Michelle were interested, so yesterday was the day.

Paul and Vivian have lived on their farm in the South Saskatchewan River valley for forty years. They had a herd of registered Simmental cattle grazing on the hills and raised chemical free hay on irrigated land in the valley. Some years ago they cut back on the farming operation and began to operate a guest ranch. Since they live beside the river and Paul had never used pesticides or herbicides on his land they have an amazing variety of bird life that appealed to nature lovers.

Now they have sold most of their land and quit the guest ranch business. But Paul hasn’t quite got farming out of his blood yet. He has built up a small herd of registered Texas Longhorn cattle and  has a few Appaloosa horses.

Paul is 77, a year older than me, and has accumulated a lifetime of stories. I’ll just repeat one I heard for the first time yesterday. One day when Paul was 11 or 12 his best friend, a peace-loving boy, came to school with a full package of chewing gum in his pocket and proceeded to give sticks away to the other boys. When it was all gone, one more boy came around the corner of the school and asked for a stick. When he was told there was no more he punched Pal’s friend in the mouth, splitting his lip and knocking him to the ground. Paul helped him get up and then started out to catch up with the attacker and teach him a lesson. His friend caught him by the arm and said “You’ll not get into a fight on my behalf.” According to Paul, his friend maintained that peace-loving attitude all his life.

I remember a story my mother told years ago about Paul’s parents. Uncle Hank, my mother’s oldest brother, had always admired his uncle’s farm and yearned to have a farm just like it. His uncle was a very good farmer and his prosperity was evident in the impressive and well maintained buildings on his yard. However, he wasn’t so wise when it came to investing his extra cash, and lost large sums of money on the stock market.

One day uncle Hank came home and excitedly told his wife, “I just heard that the bank has foreclosed on uncle Jake’s farm. I’m going to get cleaned up and go to the bank and swing a deal to buy that farm.” His wife said, “If you do that, everybody is going to say that you took advantage of your uncle when he was down.” Uncle Hank’s dream of owning that farm he had always envied ended right there.

I want to be an L.E.D.

We all know what led’s are, right? Those things that give off a nice clear light but won’t burn you if you get too close to them. That’s what I want to be – a Light Emitting Disciple.

There is a problem, though – I am not capable of producing light by myself. But I sure am capable of producing heat. Far too often I have tried to enlighten someone else and that person had to back off for fear of getting burned.

That has never been what I wanted to do, but it took me years to realize that when I begin to get hot under the collar the possibility of convincing someone else of what I believe to be right drops to zero.

I had a lesson on this in my youth – from a cow. The cows were coming into the barn and I needed to get this cow into a different stall than the one that had been her home up to then. She had no idea what I wanted her to do or why, she just wanted to get into her old familiar stall. I started to yell and to slap her. She was frightened and tried to get away from me. Finally I realized that I had lost this battle. I waited until we had both cooled off, then took her by the halter and led her to the stall where I wanted her to go. Once she understood what I wanted she settled right down.

You’d think a lesson like that might have stuck, but it took quite a few more, with people and animals, before the lesson was learned. If indeed it has been learned, and I think it has for the most part.

Through all this, I have come to understand what James was talking about when he wrote:

But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. James 3:14-17

He is saying that heat comes from below and light comes from above. If I truly want to be a Light Emitting Disciple, I need to disconnect myself from the source of heat and connect to the source of light.

Fire Road – a book review

FIRE ROAD – The Napalm Girl’s Journey through the Horrors of War to Faith, Forgiveness and Peace, by Kim Phúc Phan Thi.

June 8, 1972, a nine-year-old girl had the clothes burned off her back by napalm during the Vietnam war. The photo taken by AP photographer Nick Ut won him a Pulitzer Prize and became one of the most iconic news photos of the twentieth century.

This is the first person account of the girl in the picture.  To his immense credit, Nick Ut gathered up the children burned by the napalm and drove them to a hospital in Saigon. Kim Phúc was the most badly burned and doctors doubted that she could be saved.

But survive she did. When she started university, news got out around the world that she was still living and reporters began coming to Vietnam wanting to meet and interview her. The communist government seized upon this as a propaganda opportunity.  Kim Phúc did not understand the words interpreters spoke in foreign languages when she answered the interview questions but realized they were not repeating what she had said, but telling a story that the communist officials wanted the world to believe.

These interviews came several times a week and prevented her from continuing her university studies. She finally got permission to go to Cuba to continue her studies. There she met Toan, a Vietnamese man and they married. They could only go to another communist country for their honeymoon, so they chose Moscow. The choice was not made because of the appeal of a trip to Moscow, but because Kim Phúc had no intention of returning to Cuba, or any other communist country.

She had learned that the return flight from Moscow to Havana would make a refuelling stop at Gander, Newfoundland. The passengers all disembarked from the plane into the terminal at Gander. Kim Phúc didn’t know what to do next, who she could trust. After some time, she decided to pray; when she opened her eyes she saw a door that she had not noticed before, leading into a narrow hallway. She knew this was the way she had to go. She took her husband’s hand, went through the door and soon came to an office where an official said “Welcome to Canada.”

Doctors have done all they can to lessen the effects of the brutal scarring on Kim Phúc’s back and arm, but she still lives every day with pain. The emotional pain she suffered was even worse. Her family, like most South Vietnamese, were devotee’s of the Cao Dai religion. She found no help, no solace in this religion. While still in school she met a Vietnamese Christian minister and found peace and strength to face her problems through faith in Jesus Christ.

Toan and Kim Phúc have become Canadian citizens, they are parents of two grown sons and now grandparents. She has speaking engagements around the world to tell her story of hope, that the only way to peace is forgiveness and love, which is only possible through faith in Jesus Christ. Her story will move you, perhaps even change your life.

FIRE ROAD, © 2017 by Kim Phúc Phan Thi, published by Tyndale Momentum, Carol Stream, Illinois.

Can there be peace in Babylon?

Jerusalem had been destroyed and the Jewish people carried away as captives to Babylon. There were prophets among them telling them that God was soon going to set things right, punish the horrible people of Babylon and bring them back to their own land. Jeremiah sent a letter to the Jews in Babylon, saying essentially, “Not so fast. You are going to be there a while. Build houses, plant gardens, raise families and just make the best of it.”

Then he added this shocking admonition: “And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.”

Well, here we are in the 21st Century, smack dab in the middle of Babylon. There are prophets, from the political, ecological, sociological and religious spheres, loudly and incessantly warning us of impending doom if we don’t implement their solutions right here and now. And there is is truth in all that is being said.

Two thoughts lead me to believe it would be wise to ignore those prophets:

  1. Didn’t we get into this mess in the first place by believing them?
  2.  Won’t their solutions squeeze out the good that yet remains in Babylon?

Jeremiah’s admonition offers direction for us today. Why don’t we just ignore all the doom and gloom talk and look for the good that remains around us? Let’s open our eyes to all that is good and beautiful, talk about it, encourage it. It may be that there are many people around us who would blossom into influences for good with just a little encouragement. The more that we can encourage peace in our own neighbourhood, the more we will be able to live in peace.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offense, let me bring forgiveness.
Where there is discord, let me bring unity.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in forgiving that one is forgiven,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.

Looking for real Mennonites

All I learned about Mennonites while I was growing up was that my mother had been one and had left because the German language was more important than the faith and that my grandma, a dear sweet old lady, was one and wanted me to learn German so I could be a Christian.

Perhaps there was one more thing. My mother, though no longer member of a Mennonite church, seemed to have carried some of the faith in her baggage when she left. There was something about her that was more peaceful and attractive than the argumentative faith of my father.

In my mid twenties I decided I wanted to know more about Mennonites. This was half a century ago, long before you could go to your computer and ask google to find the information you wanted. Encyclopedias offered a little information, but I wasn’t sure they were getting it right. So I bought a book, probably more than one, I forget.

As I read Mennonite history I discovered a group of people who truly believed in God, who loved God, knew they were loved by God, and believed God wanted them to love everyone else. For some reason the state churches believed such a faith was subversive and persecuted the Mennonites. The Mennonites treasured their faith more than their homes, material possessions, even their lives. They were burnt at the stake and kept telling the bystanders about the love of God as long as they had breath.

I read about a time when soldiers seized a stock of books written by Menno Simons and were about to burn them in the town square. Several daring men began grabbing books from the pile and passing them to the bystanders, who immediately fled. It all happened so quickly that the few soldiers present were unable to prevent it and were left with almost nothing to burn.

There had been a power in that faith that I longed for. I knew there were many kinds of Mennonites in our province and hoped that somewhere I could find that old faith sill living.

I got up early one Sunday morning, dressed in my best clothes and drove into a nearby city to attend a Mennonite service. I was impressed by the simplicity of the non-liturgical service, don’t remember anything about the sermon, but hoped to learn more about this church. However, it appeared that I was an invisible person. One or two people nodded to me as we left that service, but none appeared interested in the stranger in their midst. I tried again several weeks later, with the same result.

I still thought that the faith I had read about must surely exist somewhere, but I gave up looking until after I was married. We experienced more disappointments and came to realize that most churches that called themselves Mennonite had no idea what the name meant. But we still kept looking.

Manchester and the Crusaders

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Islamic extremists are telling Muslim youths that it is their religious duty to strike back at Christian nations because they are descendants of the Crusaders who wreaked havoc upon Muslims many years ago. There are serious flaws in this simplistic approach:

1. The Crusades were efforts by the popes to expand their political influence. Religion was only a camouflage for their real purpose.

2. Crusades were directed against people who also called themselves Christians but were not Roman Catholics: The destruction of Constantinople, the seat of the Greek Orthodox faith; the Albigensian Crusade that soaked the south of France in blood.

3. The Crusades were manifestly contrary to the true faith in Jesus Christ, a fact recognized even by most Roman Catholics of our day.

4. It is absurd to label the nations of Europe and North America as Christian nations when the majority of people have no connection to a church.

5. The Crusades probably did as much harm to Christianity as they did to Islam. Besides the slaughter of innocent non Roman Catholic Christians, they have left a lasting stain on many people’s perception of Christianity.

In the same way, Islamic extremists of our day are doing more harm to their fellow Muslims than they are to Christians.

Leaving aside all thoughts about the nature of the Islamic faith, I believe most Muslim people want to live in peace. They don’t really want to be looked upon as accomplices or sympathizers of the extremists. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Muslim parents and Imams everywhere could find a way to teach their children that acts of brutality and the slaughter of innocent children are doing more harm to other Muslims than to anyone else?

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