Rector's Letter - September 2002
A young woman called Amina Lawal may be not be a household name in Astbury, but her plight at the hands of an Islamic court in Nigeria has brought her story into most of our living rooms. She has been prosecuted under the provisions of Shar'ia Law for the offence of Adultery, and sentenced to be stoned to death. Her final appeal has yet to be heard.
I couldn't help thinking of the story from John chapter 8 of Jesus and the woman caught in Adultery who received the exact same sentence. Jesus turned the anger of the crowd into shame by the suggestion that perhaps a man without sin should cast the first stone. No stones flew that day, and I hope and pray none will in this modern example.
Is Adultery wrong? Well yes, of course. But even if Amina Lawal is guilty, the inhumanity of stoning a young mother to death for such a "crime" we should all find completely abhorrent (as, I might add, many moderate Muslims do in both Nigeria and the West). Surely, stonings are examples of primitive behaviour from backward societies? We couldn't possibly fall into similar traps, could we?
My point is, there are right ways of being right, and there are wrong ways of being right. And we should be aware that it is possible to commit terrible wrongs in the name of being right!
The gravest danger for everyone who seeks to uphold principle is that we might lose our humanity. Pharisees accused Jesus of a breach of the 10 commandments by healing a man on the Sabbath. Jesus had no intention of diminishing any commandment one jot, but to suggest a man's suffering shouldn't be relieved because it was the wrong day of the week is just absurd.
We are called to seek righteousness in a complex world. It may be right to work for the downfall of Saddam Hussein, but would it be right to initiate military action in Iraq? It may be right to uphold the sanctity of marriage, but should the Church deny another chance to those who are prepared to try again? We may believe homosexuality is wrong, but has our inhumanity toward gay people been much worse?
Whatever the eventual outcome of these particular debates, we shouldn't expect to hear any praise from God if we preach righteousness like a Pharisee. And woe-betide any of us if we are tempted to pick up that first stone.
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