What Makes Christianity Different

Forgiveness Benton Harbor Style

One aspect of Christianity is so amazing, that it impresses even the CBS Evening News.

 

Eric Metaxas

Quick, name the practice that most sets Christianity apart from the non-Christian world. Respect for human life? Not really. Religions such as Jainism have, if anything, an even more uncompromising prohibition against harming any living things.

Sexual morality? Again, there are religions—Orthodox Judaism and Islam immediately come to mind—that place an even higher premium on sexual purity than Christianity. If you doubt this, ask yourself when was the last time you saw a Christian woman in a burqa.

The answer to this question is forgiveness. No other belief system has the equivalent of forgiving your brother seventy times seven, i.e., every time—much less commands you to love your enemies, and bless those who persecute you.

The radical nature of Christian forgiveness is so startling, so overwhelming, that it made the CBS Evening News.

The story began in 2005 in the city of Benton Harbor, Michigan. On that day, Jameel McGee was, in his words, “minding his own business,” when he was stopped by a policeman, Andrew Collins. The encounter did not go well for McGee. Collins accused him of selling drugs and arrested him. At the time, McGee insisted that the charges were “all made up.” As CBS noted, “Of course, a lot of accused men make that claim,” and the outcome in McGee’s case was pretty much the same as in other such cases: He wound up serving four years in prison.

In McGee’s words, “I lost everything.”

Making matters infinitely worse was that McGee was telling the truth: He was in fact an innocent man.

We know this because the policeman, Collins, was subsequently “caught, and served a year and a half for falsifying many police reports, planting drugs and stealing.” Among the falsified police reports was the one concerning Jameel McGee.

While exoneration is sweet, it doesn’t make up for the four years spent behind bars. As McGee told CBS, “My only goal was to seek him when I got home and to hurt him.”

He appeared to have gotten his chance when both McGee and Collins ended up working at a café run by Mosaic Christian Community Development Center. As CBS put it, the “bad cop and the wrongfully accused man had no choice but to have it out.”

And that brings me back to what I said about Christianity’s unique emphasis on forgiveness. Collins told McGee “Honestly, I have no explanation, all I can do is say I’m sorry.” McGee’s response, “That was pretty much what I needed to hear.”

But McGee did not stop there: He befriended the man who wronged him, so much so that he eventually told Collins that he loved him. As Collins tells the tale, “I just started weeping because he doesn’t owe me that. I don’t deserve that.”

Thankfully, forgiveness, and the healing it brings in its wake, has nothing to do with “deserve.” As McGee, a Christian, understood, we forgive one another because, as Paul told both the Ephesians and the Colossians, God in Christ has forgiven us.

The power of forgiveness transcends personal relationships. Think of the reaction to the Amish forgiving the man who killed ten young girls back in 2007. There was a power at work there that even the most hardened skeptic could not deny.

Today, McGee and Collins share their story with others. At least one person seems to have taken its message to heart. The CBS reporter ended with the following question: “If these two guys from the coffee shop can set aside their bitter grounds, what’s our excuse?”

The answer, especially for the Christian, is “none.”

Further Reading and Information

What Makes Christianity Different: Forgiveness Benton Harbor Style

As Eric highlighted, forgiveness is one of the marks unique to Christianity. God has graciously forgiven us, and He commands us to forgive one another. To read more of Jameel McGee and Andrew Collins’ story, click on the link below.

Resources

Innocent man ends up pals with crooked cop that framed him
  • Steve Hartman
  • CBS News
  • April 15, 2016
Choosing Forgiveness: Your Journey to Freedom
  • Nancy Leigh DeMoss
  • Moody Publishers
  • April 2008
Amazing Love: True Stories of the Power of Forgiveness
  • Corrie ten Boom
  • CLC Ministries
  • January 2007

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  • WMD51

    TRUE CHRISTIANITY IS DIFFERENT; In more ways than one. All the other major religions automatically assume that man is perfectible; In one lifetime or in 888 or indefinitely’.
    Christianity starts with the premise that not only can a man NOT EVER PULL HIMSELF UP “BY HIS BOOTSTRAPS” BY KEEPING A SET OF RULES: HE CAN’T EVEN KNOW WHAT ALL THE RULES ARE!
    All of the other Religions are based on a man’s ability to keep a set of rules to earn a place in Heaven.
    The WHOLE CONCEPT demonstrates how arrogant and egocentric Man really is.to ever presume He is omniscient.
    Christianity does an “End Run” around this Idea by insisting that NO ONE can EVER keep a set of rules good enough to get into heaven and moreover, it is not even possible for him to know EVERYTHING GOD REQUIRES.TO DO THIS.
    Consequently Forgiveness is an essential part of the Christian message. If someone REALLY UNDERSTANDS CHRISTIANITY AND HIS OWN NEED FOR FORGIVENESS THEN HE IS COMPELLED TO FORGIVE OTHERS.
    True Christianity is not only true but It’s message for Mankind is “The Greatest Love Story Ever Told”!

  • Joel Stucki

    I’m sorry, Mr. Metaxas, but you are incorrect. Most of all of the injunctions by Jesus and the apostles to love our enemies, pray for those who persecute, forgive over and over, etc., came from Judaism, and to be specific from Rabbinic Judaism. The teachings of Jesus and the apostle Paul came, in general, from well within the stream of Rabbinic thought in the 1st century.

    The biggest things that Jesus, and subsequently the apostles, brought to the table are the ideas of a divine Messiah and that of a dying Messiah who is a sin-bearer. Neither of those two ideas are part of the Jewish Messianic hope. But any standard Rabbinic commentary on the scriptures would inform you that they are very big on forgiveness, loving one’s enemies, and the like.

    You cannot understand the entire scope of Rabbinic Jewish thought simply from Jesus’ arguments with the Pharisees. That isn’t the goal of the New Testament; the information just isn’t there. You have to research the way Jews understand Judaism, and to do that you have to consult extra biblical sources. This article sounds as if you simply read the Sermon on the Mount and assumed that it must be in conflict with Judaism, which it most certainly is not.

    What sets Christianity apart from Judaism is the identity of Jesus–his divinity and his high priestly role. Not forgiveness. This article is beneath you. I know you to be a very fine writer; you are capable of deeper analysis than this.

    • far2right

      Err, Jesus had to set the lawyer (expert in the Law) straight on loving his neighbor.

      How could the Rabbins teach something they were clearly wrong and ignorant about?

      • Joel Stucki

        Nope, sorry. He did not have to “set the lawyer straight.” The lawyer agreed with him (Mark 12:28-34). The same exchange is found in Matthew 22, except that the passage in Matthew does not include the response of the lawyer. But both accounts follow the same interaction with the Sadducees. We read the Matthew passage and we see the phrase “testing him” (Matt 22:35), and we assume sinister intent. But we shouldn’t assume that. The Rabbis were responsible for guiding and protecting the faith of the people. Testing a new teacher was their job, just like a responsible pastor will want to be sure of the teaching of anyone speaking to the congregation at his church. We have to differentiate between when people are testing him and when they are seeking to trap him. Those are two different things. In this case, this lawyer (scribe, Pharisee, Rabbi) wants to make sure that Jesus is a good teacher. So he asks Jesus one of the most fundamental questions he can think of regarding the basis of the Torah. Jesus answers correctly and the Lawyer is satisfied.

        If we approach the gospels with the preconceived notion that “The Pharisees are the bad guys,” then we will assume ulterior motives and evil intentions from everything they did and said. This is quite simply wrong. My family has been involved in Jewish Ministry for 40+ years, and I can assure you that Jesus’s teachings on the Law are well within standard Rabbinic ideals. The biggest obstacle for Jewish people is not Jesus’s teachings on the Law, but his teachings about himself. My point isn’t that the Pharisees were right about everything, but I do insist that we need to be more careful about how we interpret Jesus discussions with them. We need to notice what he says AND what he doesn’t say.

        But regardless of interpretation, it is a simple historical fact that Jesus was not the first person to suggest that loving God and your neighbor were the most important commandments. That is a standard Rabbinic axiom.

  • urbanvrwcmom

    Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and other clergy of their ilk, needs to read this commentary.

  • far2right

    Christianity differs from all other religions of the world as it is the only religion in the world that utterly excludes the least iota of self-righteousness to be accepted with God.

    Not even some thing as small as a so-called “free-will” choice.

    In Christianity, God has mercy and saves whom He will, and hardens and damns whom He will.

    No person can do one thing to change his eternal destination and state.

    All other religions of the world condition a person’s next life upon some thing he/she must do.

  • jason taylor

    The difference is not that Christianity is the only religion that has an emphasis on forgiveness: that’s as may be. The difference is that it is Christianity that provides a plausible ground for forgiveness. Vengeance is a recognition of dignity-it is the slave who is unavenged. When He says “vengeance is mine” he also says, “I will repay” and does so by paying weregild at the cross giving us a chance to forgive and be forgiven. Thus when we trust our honor to Him we find it given back and we are exalted as we humble ourselves.