Scores of churches around Australia have been displaying large posters with the words, “Jesus loves Osama”. The poster is part of a series of advertisements designed by Outreach Media to promote what it sees as “the heart of the gospel”.
But the notion that the Son of God would demonstrate affection for the world’s most wanted man, and that Christian churches might want to point out this gospel truth to commuters and pedestrians, is news to Australia’s news media.
Sydney tabloid journalist Luke McIlveen broke the story on February 1 in the Daily Telegraph, and various news media have followed his lead. To my knowledge, McIlveen has not spoken to a spokesperson of the Baptist Union of New South Wales, and incorrectly assumed from a conversation he apparently had, with an administrative support person, that the Baptist Union of NSW distances itself from the signage. In fact it does not; to do so would be an implicit denial of the validity and significance of the teaching and example of Jesus.
Fellow journalist Andrew Bolt’s blog features a photograph of the sign on the wall outside Sydney’s Central Baptist Church, along with the comment that the church has “chosen from among all the people to remember in its prayers the one who’d most want them dead”.
The sign outside Central Baptist Church, George St, Sydney, as shown on Andrew Bolt’s blog.
Bolt also makes a connection between the sign and Michael Leunig’s distasteful image, from Christmas 2006, of a blood-spattered Prime Minister and Foreign Minister above the caption, “Celebrating another successful year in Iraq”.
Apart from the fact that there is no credible evidence of a link between Osama bin Laden’s terrorist activities and Saddam Hussein’s regime, the sign outside Australian churches this week has nothing to do with the war in Iraq or the activities of al-Qaida. Nor has it anything to do with the moral character or evil actions of Osama. The sign has everything to do with what God is like, how wide God’s love is, and what is distinctive about the Christian gospel.
Through propositions and narratives, the Bible teaches that God is love, and that God loves all people without reserve (for example, 1 John 4:8; John 3:16; Luke 15). Jesus Christ perfectly reflects the loving nature and actions of God. So it is true to say that Jesus loved Judas Iscariot, Pilate and Nero as well as Peter, James and John. It is equally true to say that Jesus loves Stalin, Hitler, Pinochet and Pol Pot just as he loves you and me. Yes, Jesus even loves George W. Bush, Tony Blair and John Howard.
I am not suggesting that we are irresponsible or unaccountable for unjust and selfish actions we may choose to take. The point is that the love of God is as boundless as the justice of God is universal.
Assertions like this may be offensive to some, particularly those who have personally suffered, or whose loved ones have suffered or died, under the regimes of monstrous tyrants such as Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot. It may well seem impossible for family members of the innocent victims of 9-11 to love and forgive those who were responsible, either directly or indirectly, for the terrorist attacks in 2001.
But that sentiment, while understandable, does not change the Bible’s teaching, or the nature of God, or the mission of God in the world. We do well to reflect on those profound and radical words of Jesus:
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