While reading news reports regarding the arrest of Eric Robert Rudolph, it occurred to me that this was a man who possesses faith for all of life. Rudolph puts his own life on the line for his beliefs. A devotee of the teachings of “Christian Identity,” Rudolph believes that God’s special, and only favored people, are white Anglo-Saxons. An inveterate hater, he despises all races but his own. He also abhors Jews, homosexuals, and, for some reason, abortionists. These are tenets of his faith. The problem is that faith is only as good as its object. The object of Rudolph’s faith is his race identity, not the Lord Jesus Christ.
Rudolph, who has been in hiding in the mountains of North Carolina for five years, is accused of setting off a bomb at the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996, which killed one person and injured several more. He’s also the number one suspect in a bombing at an abortion clinic in Birmingham on January 29, 1998. He’s suspected of two other bombings, including the explosion of a bomb filled with nails at a gay and lesbian nightclub. In May of 1998, Rudolph made the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” list.
Pondering the idea that faith itself is useless, I remembered the case of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. The Democrat Congressman from Harlem, NY (1945-1971), and civil rights pioneer, was also pastor of a large African-American congregation. When he was being prosecuted for fraud late in his career, his motto became “Keep the Faith, Baby.” A made for television film about Powell in 2002 bore that motto as its title.
The problem is that Powell’s faith was truncated. He told people, “I believe only in the teaching of Jesus, I am not a full-Bible Christian.” He felt that the distinction between the two positions gave him room to live his life in any manner he chose. He was well known as a heavy drinker and adulterer. According to one biographer, “When he strode up the aisle of his packed church to preach, women parishioners later admitted to being distracted from thoughts of God by enrapture with the tall playboy-minister.” Powell’s faith was in Adam Clayton Powell, not in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Any faith object other than Jesus Christ is an idol. Idols are worse than useless. In Habakkuk 2:18, we read, “Of what value is an idol, since a man has carved it? Or an image that teaches lies? For he who makes it trusts in his own creation; he makes idols that cannot speak.” Man is most foolhardy when he makes idols and expects from them salvation. Eric Robert Rudolph’s idol, his god, is his man-made philosophy of hatred. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., who now knows better, put his trust in Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.
In 2 Peter 1:1, Simon Peter addresses the epistle “To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours.” Peter was an apostle. He was called to a very special task at a very special time in history. Yet he equated the faith which he received as a gift from God with, the faith I have received.
We live in a day and time when taking care of and proclaiming the greatness of #1 is paramount for many people. A “Me First” attitude pervades our driving, our shopping, our school, and business attitudes. There is none of that in Peter’s introduction. The words “I” and “me” do not appear. Instead Peter describes himself as a servant (slave); refers to “our” God; and a faith as precious as “ours.” His faith; his understanding of the goodness of God; his acceptance of the grace of the LORD, are no better than that of anyone who has received the faith.
Peter kept the faith. He knew that the object of his faith is God, indeed. Peter’s faith was not in himself. It was not in his racial identity, his sexual preference, his church or his pastor. His faith was in Jesus Christ and the work He did on the cross.
Eric Robert Rudolph is what we often call a “true believer.” He may identify with the group called Christian Identity, but his violent acts are not those of a follower of Christ. They are more properly viewed as the cowardly work of a twisted individual who feeds off his own hatred and insecurity. He has been captured and will now stand trial. If he is found guilty he should receive the full punishment due him under civil law.
Unless he changes his allegiance and begins to place his faith in the only true God, Rudolph will also face another punishment when his days on earth are done. That will be a much more terrible sentence than any civil authority can mete out. It’s the price men pay when they put their trust in idols. His faith is for this life only.
- Curt Lovelace
Curt Lovelace is a small town pastor and a student of history. He has finally moved to Maine where, when asked if he would like to declare a political affiliation on his voter registration card, he politely declined.