Having the Salt

The young Iraqi pictured here is dead.  I don’t know his name.  I don’t know how old he was.   I don’t know about his family, and  I don’t know about his politics or his relationships.

What I do know is how and why he died.

He’s dead because he was murdered by men who believed that he was gay.  In the past 3 weeks at least 14 young men suspected of being homosexual have been beaten to death with stones and bricks.

There have been more than 200 similar murders reported since 2006.


Unlike other Middle Eastern countries it is not illegal to be gay in Iraq, it just isn’t advised. Since it’s difficult to determine a person’s sexuality from their outward appearance, it also isn’t exactly safe to be an “Emo” Iraqi either.

For the uninitiated, “Emo” is a branch of pop-punk music originating in the United States during the early part of the last decade. Fans are known for dressing to fit the “scene”: tight jeans, T-shirts with band logos and distinctly long bangs or spiky haircuts.

In recent days, Shiite militia’s have taken to the streets to stone youths who appear homosexual at worst and Emo at best.

“Iraq’s government, dominated by the Shi’ite majority that was oppressed under Saddam, may not be helping. The Interior Ministry added to the atmosphere of menace last month by releasing a statement that labeled the Emo culture “Satanism”.

What saddens me is that this emerging trend, in a newly freed Iraq, isn’t necessarily disturbing to many people who claim to follow Christ.

I recently received a chain Email that described the hanging of a Christian Pastor in Iran.  The email called for international outrage in the face of Iran’s militant Shiite oppression.  After a little research I found that the pastor, Youcef Nadarkhani, is still alive but imprisoned.  He faces hanging for his “crimes”.

I wondered if anyone I knew would have the salt to send out a chain Email bringing to light the Shiite slaughter of young homosexuals, confirmed or suspected.

I couldn’t think of anybody off the top of my head.

Not even me.

As a Christian, I used to read the words of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and, believing myself to be on “God’s team”, find comfort in them:

…“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you…”

As I’ve gotten older I’ve also realized that following Jesus comes with commands that make “playing for his team” a lot more difficult than sitting around finding comfort. I don’t often find the same solace in Jesus’ sermon that I used to.  Usually I find myself being disturbed and confronted:

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness… It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out… I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?”

In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus puts us on notice that our faith is not judged by how we treat the people who agree with us, it is measured by how we live alongside those people who don’t agree with us.

Jesus words were supremely convicting to me as I realized that I was a person that he was asking to “have the salt” to say something about the killing of young men, gay or not, in Iraq.

For this post to make any sense to you it will be helpful to understand two things:

This issue doesn’t hinge on homosexuality’s rightness or wrongness.
Because we all understand that murder is evil.
and,
Scripture tells me that God was generous and kind to me before I ever met him.
And I’m called to live the same way.

As a human being I am guilty of the sin of rebellion against God, yet instead of capital punishment he offered me grace in the person of Jesus Christ.  Since trusting him I have been taken on a journey that exposed my deep self-centeredness to the mercy of God.

This means that I desire grace and mercy for all people;
even if we do not,
and may never,
play for the “same team.”

Could the overwhelming hypocrisy of expecting the world to be outraged by the “legal” death of a Christian in Iran, while turning a blind eye to the suffering of a community just one country away, be a reason that Christians feel marginalized by contemporary American society?

2000 years ago Jesus took on human flesh and stepped out of time and space to travel to our sin sick world… and then die for our ability to be made right with God.  Does fighting for the lives of endangered human beings, especially lives that we may find “distasteful”, tarnish the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

…or does it actually prove it?

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” -Matthew 5:43-48

 Amnesty International – The United States Department of Justice – Human Rights Watch – U.N. Council on Human Rights

8 Responses to “Having the Salt”

  1. Rodney March 14, 2012 at 1:43 pm #

    I can’t agree with you enough, Jon. Thank you for speaking out about this, not just the crimes at hand, but the hypocrisy in our own approach to them. You cast a necessary light on something we should all consider and be aware of. Thank you for that.

    • Jon March 14, 2012 at 2:06 pm #

      Thanks Rodney, I really appreciate your feedback. Always means a lot to me.

  2. Emily March 14, 2012 at 1:44 pm #

    I completely agree with you: it’s really sad to think we can become totally outraged over a pastor facing hanging for his “crimes”, yet we can’t muster an ounce of sadness for young men losing their lives simply because of the way they look or how they live their lives. I don’t support homosexuality, but I don’t NOT support the person because of their chosen lifestyle.

    We are called to “love the sinner, and hate the sin”. That is what we as Christians are supposed to be demonstrating; otherwise, what makes us any different from the men casting the stones?

    You have some amazing points, and I really enjoyed this post!

    • Jon March 14, 2012 at 2:08 pm #

      Hey Emily,
      Loved your point about supporting people, regardless.

  3. Kimberly Kyllo March 14, 2012 at 5:16 pm #

    Love it. Overwhelmed by my own lack of compassion on so many issues due to the fact that my world tends to be so “small”. I sometimes feel like if I care for these types of things….. where will it stop?! That’s when I realize…my God is TOO small. I am so thankful for people like yourself who make me aware of issues like these and also thankful for the scriptures telling of the GREATNESS of the One we serve. Thankful that He by His Spirit urges us to lay down our lives for His sake. Yet…His burden is light and His yoke is easy. The prayer of a righteous one is both powerful AND effective. The least we can offer is prayer. Thanks again Jon for another great one~

  4. Jason March 14, 2012 at 8:34 pm #

    A principle test of anyone’s humanity: Love someone with whom you do not agree. You don’t have to be Christian-or even “Religious”-for your point here to ring true. Very well put, John.

  5. Kevin Elwell March 14, 2012 at 9:33 pm #

    Jon – love the article and the conversation it provokes. I wanted to share what I thought after reading it. I realize that there is gospel intent to what you are doing as this story has contextualized value to who you are reaching in Oregon. So be gracious with me, and don’t take it out on me next year in our league!

    While taking in your article I wondered why you were not saying that we should be praying for the muslims who are doing the killing? As I read the scripture passages you are applying to this story I can’t help but see the murders as the “enemy” Christ is speaking of who we should be praying for? They are persecuting. I hear you saying that we are hypocrites to be outraged at the Christian dying and not the homosexual. Muslim extremists are attacking anyone not of the same worldview, so we would need to be equally outraged for all, or be hypocrites. Are you saying that the silence of the church, or world, towards the death of the man pictured is connected towards disdain for his lifestyle, or homophobia? For some that may be true, but I think it can come from something else as well.

    I often hear in the news about people being killed in car crashes by drunk drivers. When I do I think it is wrong and I am saddened by it. But if the news I hear is that it is my brother who was killed in an accident by a drunk driver – well I will respond differently. Not because of how I feel about the others killed, but because of how I feel about my brother. I may even be moved to take action. Organizations such as MADD were formed this way and the positive effect they have had has application to everyone living here, not just their family.

    I think it is deplorable that this man pictured was killed for being different, and I have no problems stating such. I confess though, when I heard about the pastor I was drawn into the story more because he is my “brother” in Christ, and he is a pastor like me. There is a lot of empathy that wells up inside me for a man who could be killed for doing the very same thing I do. In this way the story itself is personal to me. And if I were moved to action, say to change the political environment in the Iraqi culture, it would be for all those who live there based upon the belief that there should exist a respect for all view points, not just Christian.

    Life can draw us into the story as we find emotional connections or see ourselves in others. In this same way I think a homosexual could be drawn into this story because they will resonate with the man pictured above. That doesn’t imply hypocrisy towards Christians.

    I have no idea what the spiritual condition of the man pictured above was, but his greatest need was not the freedom to express his orientation. I recall an old saying: Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach him how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. I fear many churches are distracted from their mission with concern for giving a fish. What a shame to win greater freedom for people here on earth to only see them eternally lost. In 1991 there were more than a million Christians in Iraq, but today there are fewer than 345,000. They are diminishing in numbers. So there is a real need for people like this pastor on trial who will carry the gospel message throughout the Middle East because it is the REAL hope for freedom, and that draws me in to the story unlike anything else.

    Anyways, these are just my thoughts that I hold to loosely and don’t throw in the faces of others as superior.

    Blessings!

  6. Jon March 15, 2012 at 8:23 am #

    Hey Kev,
    For the most part I don’t disagree with you. In any endeavor there is a limit to the scope that can be addressed, and in this case one of the limiting factors is 800 non-quotation words.

    Because of this the post was narrowly focused on advocacy as a opposed to intervention. Why did I choose to advocate for the Iraqi men as opposed to the equally deserving Pastor Youcef? Because that story is already being told. The U.S. State Department and the American church are driving that story to headline status. There is no need for advocacy, merely intervention. That’s why Pastor Youcef is still alive…

    There is a global stare down happening, one that the American Church is already a part of.

    I do believe that justice is a human-right regardless of whether or not we emotionally identify with someone, so I felt called to speak up for those who can’t speak up for themselves and aren’t easily emotionally identified with. It’s precisely because of this difficulty that I used the sermon on the mount to point out this need. How we engage with any “unrighteous” group is the mark of our “sonship”, not how we engage with our “brothers”.

    The church is already standing alongside our brother in Iran.

    I agree with you that some Christians do not have hypocrisy as a motivation for their ignorance of this issue. My point about hypocrisy was made in regards to the chain email. Christians who expect the world to stand up for “our brother” while we are ignorant of “their brother” is a point of hypocrisy that we are called to go beyond.

    I agree that we should be praying for everybody, even the Shia hit squads, and if my post in any way gave the impression that I believe that Muslims are the problem here then I apologize because I believe that the human heart is the problem… I believe I made it clear that mine is chief among the instigators.

    I listed places where readers could visit to voice their concern for this issue at the bottom of the post because I believe that taking action to stop the murders comes before praying for the murderers, in the same way that Jesus put an end to the money changers misdeeds immediately… Then went to work, dying for their sins and forgiving them.

    We would follow the same course of action if someone were persecuting our loved ones. We just have to be willing to see an effeminate Arab as a loved one, something that is emotionally difficult for the average, evangelical, non denominational, suburban, Christian.

    Which is what set the scope of the article.

    While outside the scope of the post, Praying for the murderers is implied (this is another reason why I included the sermon on the mount). Hope this helps. I agree that the most pressing need for any human being is Jesus Christ, I also believe that you need to be alive to meet him.

    Much love bro. Miss you guys.

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