No Conviction

February 25, 2010

No Conviction

In a world where following Christ is decreed to be a subversive and illegal activity you have been accused of being a believer, arrested, and dragged before a court.

You have been under clandestine surveillance for some time now, and so the prosecution has been able to build up quite a case against you. They begin the trial by offering the judge dozens of photographs that show you attending church meetings, speaking at religious events, and participating in various prayer and worship services. After this, they present a selection of items that have been confiscated from your home: religious books that you own, worship CDs, and other Christian artifacts. Then they step up the pace by displaying many of the poems, pieces of prose, and journal entries that you had lovingly written concerning your faith. Finally, in closing, the prosecution offers your Bible to the judge.

This is a well word book with scribbles, notes, drawings, and underlinings throughout, evidence, if it were needed, that you had read and re-read the sacred text many times.

Throughout the case you had been sitting silently in fear and trembling. You know deep in your heart that with the large body of evidence that has been amassed by the prosecution you face the possibility of long imprisonment or even execution. At various times throughout the proceedings you have lost all confidence and have been on the verge of standing up and denying Christ. But while this thought has plagued your mind throughout the trial, you resist the temptation and remain focused.

Once the prosecution has finished presenting their case the judge proceeds to ask if you have anything to add, but you remain silent and resolute, terrified that if you open your mouth, even for a moment, you might deny the charges made against you. Like Christ, you remain silent before your accusers. In response you are led outside to wait while the judge ponders your case.

The hours pass slowly by as you sit under guard in the foyer waiting to be summoned back. Eventually a young man appears and leads you back into the courtroom so that you may hear the verdict and receive your word of punishment. Once you have been seated in the dock the judge, a harsh and unyielding man, enters the room, stands before you, looks deep into your eyes and begins to speak.

“Of the charges that have been brought forward I find the accused not guilty.

“Not guilty?” Your heart freezes. Then, in a split second, the fear and terror that had moments before threatened to strip your resolve are swallowed up by confusion and rage.

Despite the surroundings, you stand defiantly before the judge and demand that he give an account concerning why you are innocent of the charges in light of the evidence.

“What evidence?” he replies in shock.

“What about the poems and prose that I wrote?” you reply.

“They simply show that you think of yourself as a poet, nothing more.

“But what about the services I spoke at, the times I wept in church, and the long, sleepless nights of prayer?”

“Evidence that you are a good speaker and actor, nothing more,” replied the judge. “It is obvious that you deluded those around you, and perhaps at times you even deluded yourself, but this foolishness is not enough to convict you in a court of law.”

“But this is madness!” you shout. “It would seem that no evidence would convince you!”

“Not so,” replies the judge as if informing you of a great, long-forgotten secret.

“This court is indifferent toward your Bible reading and church attendance; it has no concern towards worship and a pen. Continue to develop your theology, and use it to paint pictures of love. We have no interest in such armchair artists who spend their time creating images of a better world. We exist only for those who would lay down that brush, and their life, in a Christlike endeavor to create a better world. So, until you live as Christ and his followers did, until you challenge this system and become a thorn in our side, until you die to yourself and offer your body to the flames, until then, my friend, you are no enemy of ours.”


I remember first reading this parable and being incredibly disappointed about half-way through. What a lame story, and I’d heard it before. It is a favorite of a certain branch of Christians, those who imagine that all of the structures of the world are oppressing them and that they’re being discriminated against. They’re already beset, and the triumphal outcome of the story is their joining a long line of Christian martyrs. I was disappointed in Pete; I shouldn’t have been. This twist is glorious, and ties well (again) with previous parables.

What’s the line from James? “Faith without works is dead”? Of course the counter-argument is always “We were saved by grace through faith…” to do good works is how that bit ends. It usually gets omitted. Clean clay pots, we are. The story plays upon the reader’s confidence in their faith. “Of course the evidence would convict me. I’m a model Christian.”

But really, how dangerous are you? (Or I, for that matter?) Income disparity in the US has never been greater than it is now. Who’s protesting that? One billion people lack access to clean drinking water, adequate nutrition, and medical facilities. If you’re a Christian, do you think God is ok with that? US companies export their labor overseas where people are willing to work in appalling conditions to make ends meet, all so you (I) can have a cheap tshirt. Your (My) lifestyle is subsidized by the global poor. Are you making noise about that? Or do you just buy (red) products and walk around with a fair trade cotton tshirt?

Jesus was killed– remember, that’s what Lent leads up to– for being an enemy of the state. He was dangerous. He turned over tables. The first Christians dared say “Jesus is Lord,” when saying anything other than “Caesar is Lord” would get you killed. I doubt any of us is close to that threshold. Be dangerous.


2 Responses to “No Conviction”

  1. Tyler said


    Thank you for this post. It makes me want to stand and applaud while, at the same time, loudly protest.

    The question: “If you were accused of being a Christian would there be enough evidence to convict you?” begs a personal response from each of us. However “Christian” should not be defined by me or any institution but by Jesus himself. For this reason, this story is to be very much appreciated.

    So why the desire to protest?
    Well, as you so wisely observed, the initial protest comes from my own depraved and defensive heart. I seek to justify myself. This protest is illegitimate however, because to be a Christian according to scripture is to live fully justified in Christ not by anything I do. So this initial protest merely solidifies my heart’s condemnation outside of Jesus.

    The more concerning protest is, in light of global historic Christianity, this story is inaccurate. Few nations, dictators, or governments have taken issue with individuals who seek to create a better world. In fact, most governments seek to establish the prosperity of their nation and (in turn) the world. Obviously Jesus being crucified as an insurrectionist and early Christians martyred for declaring another Lord that Caesar is accurate historically but it is a sort of spin. Obviously it is impossible to present history in any truly objective manner so this also presents a problem. If that is true then I must seek to interpret all of history in light of a certain paradigm. In other words, we either have to gather all the resources and angles and make our best judgment call (which is troubling to me because I’m not that smart, I don’t have unlimited time/resources, and I could do all this but I still interpret it in light of myself or in light of the voices I choose to adopt or reject based on my experiences). I’ll try to stay on topic…few nations have prosecuted Christians for their good efforts to better humanity and live the kingdom of God. Countless nations have tortured and brutally killed followers of Jesus for merely possessing a Bible or participating in perceived “Christian activities.” If they are truly no threat then why such a violent reaction?

    Certainly reading a Bible, creating art, praying, journaling, and creating religious art are not enough evidence to convict anyone of being a follower of Jesus as defined by Christ himself. But history proves otherwise. This story reveals more about western values and the western treatment of the Bible, prayer, corporate worship, etc. than it does about the nature of following Jesus.

    An example that you probably know about that me Chris is communist Russia…the communists (we might argue) were seeking to better the world and lay down their very lives for that goal. Yet they tortured and killed followers of Jesus for possessing a Bible or talking about Jesus. The Soviets apparently perceived a very severe threat from the presence of a Bible, prayer in Jesus’ name, and allegiance to Jesus…a threat that the western world has woefully missed. Thanks for your post Chris, thanks for your final words! By all means, “Be Dangerous.” :)

    • christophermahlon said

      You’re right, of course, Tyler. The idea that Pete was trying to get across was that IF a government were to truly ban Christianity they would be more concerned with the physical manifestations of it– those Christians’ work for a better world in the name of Jesus– than with their private belief. So the slightly more meta point Pete is making, or at least that I take from this story, is that in that sense I already kind of act like Christianity is illegal, professing privately and perhaps even preaching, but not truly acting Jesus-like in public. It isn’t so much good acts that bother the government in this hypothetical, but the connection of those acts to Jesus, which isn’t taking place in the narrative, but which DOES take place in other places in the world today.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: