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WORLDVIEW: Thugs run Caesar’s realm, not God’s

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–If you’re disgusted and disillusioned by U.S. politics, I suggest you count your blessings.

There may not be any new Jeffersons or Washingtons on the horizon, but we’ve got it better than most. Many places in the world resemble the playgrounds where kids learn the law of the human jungle: Bullies rule.

Sure, schoolyard tough guys occasionally get what they dish out. But that’s usually the exception, not the norm. On the global stage, the same age-old story plays out. From neighborhood godfathers to national dictators, thugs thrive.

As Chairman Mao observed, power –- the power most people understand, at any rate -– “comes from the barrel of a gun.”

The age of the 20th-century “mega thugs” (Mao, Stalin, Hitler) who subjugated vast portions of humanity may have passed, but plenty of wannabes imitate them on a smaller scale.


— Strongmen and spies have reasserted control over some former communist states after an all-too-brief spring of freedom.

— The nine nations of central Africa, home to nearly 100 million people, are rich in natural resources and should constitute one of the globe’s most prosperous areas by now, observes mission strategist Justin Long. Instead, they are “devastated by coups, wars, repressive governments and mismanagement, [and have] become the second-poorest region in the world….”

— To maintain total control over their crumbling societies and economies, several dictators in Asia and Africa appear quite willing to allow significant percentages of their populations to starve.

— Some of the world’s most dangerous and unstable regimes possess nuclear weapons, and others are working hard to acquire them. Terrorists likely will obtain nukes within 10 years, predicts Forecasting International, an agency that tracks possible future scenarios. Smaller-scale terrorist attacks will increase and terrorist groups will multiply. Al Qaeda-inspired franchises and spinoffs might come to political power in “any of perhaps a dozen countries” in the Arab world, South Asia or the “stans” of formerly Soviet Central Asia, warns Forecasting International President Marvin J. Cetron. “As things stand,” he adds, “the war on terror will drag on for decades.”

True, some thugs have been brought to justice in recent years, including Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic. The five-year-old International Criminal Court is pursuing some of the worst African despots and mass murderers. Liberian warlord Charles Taylor is on trial for crimes against humanity.

“These are uncomfortable times for tyrants, past and present,” suggests The Economist magazine. “They used to be able to escape justice through brutality at home, or if that failed, fleeing abroad. Now justice’s arms are looking longer and more muscular.”

But long-term prospects aren’t encouraging when the supposedly civilized world can’t define what tyranny is. Six years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the United Nations General Assembly “lacks the moral clarity to even agree on a definition of terrorism,” wrote human-rights expert Joseph Loconte in Christianity Today. “Of the 53 member states of the [former U.N.] Human Rights Commission, at least 25 percent were considered ‘not free’ by leading human-rights organizations…. During the last two decades, attempts to produce resolutions critical of human-rights violators routinely died in their crib -– blocked in backroom maneuvers” by notorious state sponsors of human rights abuse who were commission members.

The U.N. finally abolished the Human Rights Commission last year and replaced it with the new Human Rights Council. But that body, Loconte reported, “appears to have the same hug-a-thug mentality.”

As much as international idealists and proponents of democracy want to believe otherwise, freedom does not easily bloom in the hard soil of human corruption. Some oppressed peoples even welcome the enforced stability of tyranny as an alternative to chaos, which can be worse.

“The end of the Cold War promised to heal the rift between democracy and dictatorship. More nations would be welcomed into the community of free peoples,” recalls New York Times columnist David Brooks. However, “The fall of communism hasn’t created a global community of democracies. It turns out the Russians don’t want to be like us. The Arabs don’t want help from infidels. The Iraqis’ democratic moment has turned into sectarian chaos. The Palestinians have turned theirs into a civil war.”

In such a world, should Christians hunker down and hope for better days? By no means!

Caesars of various sorts may dominate the political realm; Jesus acknowledged as much (Luke 20:25). But they don’t control human souls. They might slow the spread of the Gospel, but they can’t stop it. In many cases, they unwittingly hasten the church’s expansion by attempting to control or crush it. Christianity’s first great age of growth occurred amid the brutal persecutions -– and later the collapse –- of the Roman Empire. Most modern mission advances have come through storms of resistance.

The only force that effectively silences the Gospel is the reluctance of believers to share it. A follower of Christ recently attempted to tell a man about Jesus in a country long closed to missions -– and long ruled by a notorious dictator. The man immediately stopped him, saying, “Don’t talk to me about these things. I was in a Christian country for several years and nobody spoke to me of this when I was there. Why should I listen to you now?”

What a tragic indictment. Remember it the next time you have the opportunity to tell someone from an oppressed land about the Lord.
Erich Bridges is senior writer with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.

Listen to an audio version of this column at http://media1.imbresources.org/files/38/3817/3817-20522.mp3.

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  • Erich Bridges