In Rolf Hochhuth’s thought-provoking play The Representative there is a memorable passage in which a young Jesuit in the Auschwitz death camp is protesting the massacre of Jews. Responds the camp doctor, himself a renegade priest, “It was your Church first showed that one could burn a man like coke. In Spain alone, and without crematoria, you incinerated three hundred and fifty thousand, and nearly all alive.…”

Terrorism in the Christian era began with Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents (Matt. 2), but there the target was limited. No such restraint characterized the Crusaders’ action in Jerusalem when in the summer of 1099 they indulged in indiscriminate slaughter of Muslims and Jews regardless of age or sex—and all done ostensibly in the name of the Prince of Peace. Soon afterwards began the series of inquisitions that lasted four centuries, when the church adopted savage measures to drive out demons in the name of a faith undefiled. A modern Irish atheist, indeed, could adduce sound historical backing for his demand that violence be got off the streets and put back into the churches where it belonged.

It is difficult to define terrorism or always to distinguish it clearly from violence. Terrorism depends on who is talking. One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. John Vorster’s odious regime in South Africa purports to base its apartheid policy on biblical principles, but so too does the World Council of Churches Program to Combat Racism (PCR). PCR grants help support what many people regard as a different but equally odious brand of terrorism. As a speaker euphemistically put it in the 1966 Geneva Church and Society Conference: “Christians might be called upon to participate in acts of revolutionary violence.” Either ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.