Just a Minute is Mike Burnard’s monthly column

MAY 2017: The Third Way


“He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.”

Benjamin Franklin

This past month I had the privilege of attending a round-table discussion on the topic of RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM. The meeting took place in a week that witnessed the killing of Coptic Christians in Egypt, bomb explosions in Manchester, Indonesia, the Philippines, Somalia and Syria – all in the space of seven days. The group of 10 consisted of Muslim scholars and researchers, a professor in Islamic studies, a medical doctor, two Dutch Reformed ministers and two INcontext team members. A number of topics were addressed, ranging from youth radicalism in Africa to the victimisation and discrimination of Muslim women in France (not being able to wear the hijab).

We left the meeting deeply concerned. Every act of Islamic terror and Muslim radicalism we discussed was met with excuses and rationalisations. Nobody wanted to take ownership of the fact that, even though not all Muslims are radical, Islam has become the ‘vehicle’ for radicalisation. Not once was there an acknowledgement that the root of the problem might be found within the doctrine of Islam. The fault was attributed to secular Europe, political instability, autocratic regimes, poverty, disenfranchisement, despair, economic factors, a lack of education and the misinterpretation of the Quran. All of these excuses were offered by the Muslim delegation to explain, if not to justify, terrorism as an act of desperation.

The question was asked why these same factors do not lead to Christian terrorism and only to Islamic terrorism, but more excuses were offered – how Muslims are victimised in European nations and how young people seek a Utopia where they can all live in peace. Instead of a healthy discussion and deep introspection, required when addressing issues of cultural dialogue, a ‘defence system’ was put in place that offered no solutions. One rationalisation followed the next and every excuse negated responsibility.

The sad reality is that when we make excuses and repeat them often enough, they become part of our belief system.  The act of rationalisation (or making excuses) becomes a defence mechanism where we justify and explain our controversial behaviours in a seemingly rational or logical manner to avoid the true explanation.

But what about excuses within Christianity?

As Christians, we too do not always infuse our theology with a deep and continued sense of self-examination. Making excuses is far easier than forgiving, and rationalising hatred and prejudice is far easier than seeking reconciliation.  These attitudes are as old as creation. In fact, we can trace this undesirable habit all the way back to the Garden of Eden. For when God asked Adam if he had eaten of the tree he was commanded not to, Adam created the world’s first excuse: “The woman You put here with me–she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (Genesis 3:12). And, when God asked Eve what she had done, she gave the world’s second excuse: “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Genesis 3:13).

Sadly, Christians are often notorious for a kind of emotional terrorism: judgemental attitudes and spiteful comments. Just visit Google and type in the name of any prominent Christian leader – the praise and criticism from anybody with an opinion can be overwhelming. Some of the emails we receive at INcontext are sometimes just downright mean.  Jesus addressed this issue in a very uncompromising way in Matthew 7:3-5. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Why is it so easy to point fingers, to find excuses and to spot the sawdust in the eye of your neighbour? There are numerous contributing factors to this problem. Jeremy Myers, in an article FREEDOM FROM RELIGION, writes the following on reasons why Christians are mean[1]:

“Some of it is our theology. Many Christians develop a sense of entitlement because we are the ‘chosen ones’, the ‘elite’, the members of the family of God. We feel this gives us the right to look down upon others who are not one of us.

 Sometimes, our behaviour is a result of our understanding of God’s grace and forgiveness. We feel that because God forgives us for all our sins, we can treat others in terrible ways, and God will still forgive us. His grace is never a licence to treat others so shamefully.

Then there is the critical, judgmental, legalistic attitude so often taught and practised in churches. Since we feel we have a corner on the truth and that we are the ones who are always right, this makes us believe that it is our responsibility to be the world’s policemen, going around pointing out where people are wrong and how they are sinning. This is rarely received well by anyone, especially when we have glaringly obvious sins in our own life.

Finally, there is the fact that Christians love to pick and choose which sins are the worst – things like homosexuality and murder – while ignoring sins that are prevalent within our own congregations (which might actually be much worse) – sins like gluttony, greed, and pride. The watching world sees our blatant hypocrisy and criticises us in return for our unjustified criticism of them.”

Whether it is Islamic extremism or Christian hypocrisy, we should stop rationalising, and deal with the planks before focusing on the sawdust.



Click on the image below for a PDF copy of last month’s edition.

The Third Way