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The Challenge of Malala to the Church

I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but it’s Malala Yousafzai appearing on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show.

At the age of 14 Malala was shot in the face at point blank range by the Taliban while riding to school on a bus, all because she wouldn’t stop speaking up for the right of girls to get the same educational opportunities as boys. Her survival was nothing short of miraculous, and the fact that she lost none of her mental or speaking capacity and suffered only slight facial disfigurement is even more miraculous.

The courage of this beautiful young woman is breathtaking. She tells Jon Stewart that, when the Taliban began to blow up hundreds of schools for girls and to routine slaughter people in the Swat valley where she lived, she said to herself: “Why shall I wait for someone else? Why shall I be looking to the government,  or the army that they will help us? Why don’t I raise my voice? Why don’t we raise up our voice? I need to tell the world what is going on in Swat.” Although she received threats from the Taliban, she continued to speak up.

Even more remarkable than her courage, however, is her kingdom demeanor. She told Stewart that when she began to think what she would do if the Taliban came one night “to skin her,” she initially thought to herself, “Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.” But upon further reflection, she thought to herself, “Malala, if you hit the Talib [member of the Taliban] with your shoe, then there will be no difference between you and the Talib…You must fight others, but through peace and dialogue and through education. I’ll tell him how important education is and I even want education for your children as well.” And then giggling, she says, “I’ll tell him, that’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.”

Such Kingdom insight, from a Muslim girl who was 14 at the time! When Jesus and Paul taught us to love and serve enemies, to turn the other cheek, and to never return evil with evil, they were essentially making the same point Malala is making. When we respond to force with force, we have allowed aggressors to define us and we have sunk to their level. When threatened, the only way to continue to allow Abba Father to define us rather than the “enemies” who threaten us is to rise above their aggression and instead fight with love, peace and dialogue. This is why Jesus told us to “love our enemies, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Mt. 5:45).

Of course, there is no guarantee that this will “work.” You may end up getting killed, which is why the way of the kingdom requires courage. Like Malala, one must be willing to bear witness to the way of love and then say with a giggle, “now do what you want.”

The thought I’m struck with watching this interview is this: if a 14-yr-old girl, raised in a culture that does not look to Christ or the NT for guidance, can see the truth and beauty of this insight, how is it that the vast majority of professing Jesus-followers in the western church today cannot see it, despite the fact that Jesus and the NT so emphatically and so clearly teach it (e.g. Mt. 5:38-48; Lk.6:27-36; Rom. 12: 14-21)? I’m reminded of the fact that Jesus taught that certain cities that were judged in the OT would stand in judgment over certain cities that rejected Jesus, for if they had received the revelation these cities received, Jesus says they would have repented (Mt 11:29-34). So too, while I make no claim to having any insight on who will receive what on the judgment day, it seems to me that the spiritual insight of this young Muslim girl stands in judgment over the the western church, to the degree that this church continues to advocate for the “righteous” use of personal and national violence against personal and national enemies who allegedly deserve it.

To Malala’s credit, and to the shame of so much of the western church, we discern a whole lot more of the loving way of Jesus in her than we do in much of the church – the church whose main job is to put his character and his way on display.

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