Je ne suis pas Charlie! I am not Charlie. But I am learning to love him while disagreeing with everything he stands for.
After the horrific events in the last week, I saw a number of Christian leaders and social commentaries lead with the French slogan “I am Charlie” or Je suis Charlie. This strikes me as extremely shortsighted. I know the impulse. There is a victim, and we want to identify, empathize, and support victims. We fear terrorism too. We value freedom of the press. We are love the French, sort of, in America.
But, I am a little horrified too. I am familiar with Charlie Hebdo. I have read the magazine and seen the comics over the years. And I have to say, “No. I am not that.” And I don’t think Christians should be so quick to claim something that is not good, may even be evil, either in the name of empathy or freedom. Charlie was and is a source of horrific themes of misogyny, racial and religious stereotypes, and sexual and gender ridicule. We cover these things politically. We allow them as a matter of social order. I am not going to argue for censorship. But as a Christian, I have found this magazine to be offensive at a level that would make Alfred P. Newman blush with shame.
We have to be more discerning than Je suis Charlie. We don’t have to become neonazis to stop on the side of the road and change their tire. We don’t have to become prostitutes to care for them in the hospital. And we don’t have to think every kind of speech or action is okay, even if we allow it politically.
My fear is that the United States is losing its ethics. We are losing our ability to think and reason beyond the soundbite. And this is incredibly dangerous. The tendency to think thin thoughts that are not centered in a way of being that is deeper than the current context is not simply a symptom of our age; it is a loss of an internal moral compass. It hearkens to 1935.
We see this everywhere in media. The bad guy does bad things, so we do bad things to the bad guy and cheer. We torture our enemies. We murder their children. We hate them. We call them names. We ridicule them. We kill them and anyone around them out of the clear blue sky. And we call it good.
But we are not Americans first or French. We are Christians. And our Lord has told us how to respond when someone hits us, when someone calls us names, when someone hates us. He showed us on the cross. And those commands are not conditional demands. They come before the pledge.
I do not condone the violence done in Paris this week. No one should. It was evil. The people who were shot were human beings who were loved by God and us. We, as Christians, must love them and do. All of them.
This is the brutal end of our Gospel. It may cost us our very lives, but we even then we have nothing to fear. We are a people of love. Charlie Hebdo did not represent that. Neither did the terrorists. Neither do our drones. We must find a new way forward.
I am not Charlie, but I love him, even if he hates me. But I don’t have to pretend like he is right, either. I can love my enemy and bandage his wounds.