By: Paul Coleman, British solicitor and Executive Director of ADF International
Typically used to describe views with which the government or mainstream media disagree, the slur of “extremist” has grown in popularity in recent years.
In some countries, being an “extremist” is even a criminal offence.
In Russia, for example, engaging in “extremist” activities can be punished with up to six years in prison under the newly enacted “Yarovaya law”.
Donald Ossewaarde, a U.S. Baptist missionary living just outside St. Petersburg was labelled as an extremist by the Russian authorities for holding a small bible study in his home. He was found guilty, forced to leave the country, and his case is now before the European Court of Human Rights.
In the United Kingdom, the government is seeking to introduce a Counter-Extremism Bill that will prohibit yet-to-be-defined “nonviolent extremism” that is out of step with yet-to-be-defined “British values”. There have been repeated fears that such vaguely worded laws will lead to government oppression of those who, for example, uphold biblical teaching on the sanctity of life, the union of marriage, and the uniqueness of Jesus Christ.
With biblical views now being labelled as extremist, even by powerful governments, it is easy to get dismayed. But we must remember that the label of extremist is far from new.
Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr. passed away.
In his famous letter from Birmingham jail in 1963, Dr. King reveals that he was labelled an extremist for peacefully campaigning for the civil rights of African-Americans. He wrote, “Though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label.”
Realizing that Jesus Christ was considered an extremist, together with countless people throughout history who are now viewed as heroes, Dr. King concludes: “The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?”
The same questions apply to us today.
With the challenges we face around the world – the increased persecution of Christians in Asia and Africa; heightened government restrictions on religious liberty in the West, and the outright rejection of inherent human dignity and the devastating implications for Western society – now, more than ever, we need to take up the call of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Will we be extremists for love and justice? Will we follow in the footsteps of others throughout history who were labelled as extremists in their day?