by Peter Dewberry
Note: Peter Dewberry lives in Connecticut and heads up “Free Iniside,” a Christian Ministry to Prisoners, with the express purpose of making Christ and His love known to inmates. See http://www.free-inside.com/.
On Saturday September 11, the United States will once again relive the horrors of the attack on the World Trade Center nine years ago. I’m writing this on a September morning very much like that morning: cool, crisp and clear. The day’s events pushed our nation into its two longest wars, first in Afghanistan and then Iraq, and jolted us into sudden awareness of Islam – or, more especially, of a radical, fundamentalist form and its loose terrorist network, which will be with us for a long time. These terrorists have killed and maimed more Muslims than non-Muslims.
September 11 also exposed the raw nerve of xenophobia – with its accompanying fear, anger and bigotry toward all Muslims and all things Islamic. This xenophobia is clearly manifested in two issues: the clamor over building the Cordoba House, a proposed Islamic community center and mosque two blocks from “Ground Zero;” and The Dove World Outreach Center’s “International Burn A Qur’an Day,” scheduled on the upcoming anniversary. Dove is a nondenominational church of about 50 worshippers in Gainesville, Florida.
It is not my purpose to be an apologist for Islam, nor do I intend to address the fact that most of the emotional outbursts over Cordoba House are stirred and exploited by the media and by electioneering politicians attempting to score points. Rather, I want to speak to all followers of Jesus Christ and especially my fellow Evangelicals and to appeal to all of us to examine our responses and motives.
Firstly, I would like us to consider five questions:
1. Do Muslims in the USA have the constitutional right to freely practice and propagate their faith?
Surely, the answer is an obvious yes.
2. Does this right include the building of mosques?
3. Where can mosques be built once all local ordinances, regarding building codes, traffic, parking etc have been satisfied?
The answer must be: wherever the group chooses. This goes for churches, synagogues, Hindu Temples, Kingdom Halls, etc.
4. Should Christians support the rights of our fellow Christians in China, Vietnam and Islamic countries to have these same rights?
Jesus warned that His followers would be hated and persecuted. When we become aware of the persecution of our brothers and sisters, we must pray for them and speak out on their behalf.
5. If we speak up for persecuted Christians around the world to be free to worship and propagate their faith, can we deny the same rights to others here?
Surely our answer must be a clear “No!” Otherwise we would be hypocrites, like the Pharisees.
The vital concern
The proposed building of this particular mosque has highlighted a far more crucial issue for Christians: What is the Biblical way for us to respond to the Muslims that live in the United States? Or, to put it in terms of the popular question of some years ago: “What Would Jesus Do?” (WWJD?)
Three more questions:
1. Is fear a proper response?
Jesus never acted out of fear. Fear is never a proper response to anything that is a challenge to the Gospel. Yet it seems that many Christians are acting out of fear in our response to these events. Fear is being whipped up by the radio talk show hosts and anger is expressed on Fox news.
“Fear engenders fear. It never gives birth to love” (Henri Nouwen).
2. Is anger a proper response?
Again, “No!” Yet many are responding to Islam out of anger, with the Dove Center a living extreme. Surely, such an angry response is not a Christian response.
3. Is revenge a proper response?
Those folk who are reacting so strongly against Cordoba House seem to be displaying a spirit of revenge: Let’s have the satisfaction of “getting back” by opposing its construction. For Christians, any action arising from a spirit of revenge is forbidden. The sign at beginning of Revenge Road says, “No Christians allowed!” Read Romans 12:17-21: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Historically, the Church has advanced when it refused to take the road of revenge. It has stagnated when it resorted to worldly attitudes and responses.
How should we then respond?
Since fear, anger and revenge are forbidden to the followers of Jesus, the answer for us must begin with the Bible and with the teaching of Jesus. Our guide must be the question, “WWJD?”
Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7, are some of the most familiar yet radical ideas found anywhere. He calls us, his followers, to give generously; to put aside anger, vengeance, and greed; to live without worry; and even to love our enemies. Sample these verses: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. ‘But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you . . .’” (Matthew 5:44); “in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7: 12).
It’s possible to read and even admire his teachings but to say, “That’s not practical. It makes no sense to love your enemies in this world.” How true. They make no sense to the “natural mind” (Christian terminology for the mind without God). Our world is dangerous, chaotic, and threatening. Self-preservation seems only sensible and safe.
But where would the Church and the Gospel be if it had always followed the “safe” and “sensible” course? At best it would be a tiny, rejected Jewish sect. Yet the Church has always been blessed and prospered when it followed Christ’s radical path throughout its 2,000-year history.
Harm need not beget harm
It is possible to list the appalling mistreatment of Christians in some Muslim countries, and then say, “See how Christians are treated there, surely we must resist the incursions of Islam into the USA?” Such a statement raises other questions such as:
- Why are we surprised by persecution? Didn’t Jesus warn us it would be so?
- Can we expect Christian values to come from non-Christians? The ability to fulfill the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount is not possible for anyone without the power of Christ.
- How would I respond if faced with persecution? Personally, I honestly don’t know, but I pray that I will have the grace to take up my cross and do what Jesus would do.
The real issue is this: How must the followers of Christ respond here and now, in today’s America? Do we join our voices with those who advocate restricting Muslim rights their rights to build a mosque? Do we secretly applaud the actions of The Dove World Outreach Center? Or will we speak up for the freedom of all and will we speak out against actions of the likes of Dove? We will earn no applause from the majority if we do that; we may be called un-American and unpatriotic. Indeed, some fellow Christians are likely to say that we’re compromising the Gospel.
That is hard to hear, but it’s a price we should be willing to pay.
Understanding real Islam’s goal
Muslims do want to win the world for Islam, which is no surprise: Christianity and Islam are the only two real missionary religions in the world. We want to win the world as well — only for Jesus. Our confidence is in the God who has promised that “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2: 14).
The followers of Christ are people of faith, not fearful in the face of opposition. Our hope is in God and we fight with His armor and methods: “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10: 3 – 5).
His methods are prayer, the gospel, and radical love for our enemies persecutors. It is for these reasons that I believe it is wrong to join in with those who are asking us to use worldly methods.
More questions to consider:
- How can we hope to win a spiritual battle for the souls of Muslims by resorting to worldly methods?
- Is there one example where the Kingdom of God has been advanced by such methods?
- In this day of rapid communications do we ever stop to think how much more difficult these un-Christlike attitudes make life for Christians in Muslim majority lands?
- Do we ever stop to think that un-Christlike attitudes in America make it difficult for the ministry of missionaries in Muslim lands?
The politicians and the toxic talk show hosts don’t think about those things, but we must. We must not allow those who are using these issues as a political tool to suck us into their game. The Christian is called to walk a third way, the way of the cross. We are being given an opportunity to take up the cross and follow Him who, “was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).
Positive responses to Islam
So much of what I have written refers to the all too common negative responses to Muslims and Islam. I’d like to lay out a few things that we can and ought to do.
- Pray for Muslims worldwide
Ask God to open the hearts of Muslims to the love of Christ and the Gospel, pray for those who live in the west that they will hear and see Christians who show the love of Christ to them.
- Pray for Christians in Muslim countries: Pray that they will remain faithful and that their lives and witness may be filled with the love and power of the Holy Spirit. Especially pray for believers with Muslim backgrounds, many of whom follow Christ in secret.
- Pray for foreign Christians who live and serve in a Muslim context. They have a great opportunity to live out the Gospel.
- Pray for Muslims you know, either at work or in your neighborhood. Ask God to help you befriend them, and to give you the opportunity and the grace to listen to them about their concerns. One example known to us is of a Muslim family befriended by Christians who have prayed for them, encouraged them, listened to their concerns and fears, and have given them a New Testament. They continue to pray.
The direct approach does not usually work
It is rare that a direct presentation of the Gospel works with Muslims. Muslims will only listen to us if they see the love of Christ in action toward them. It is for this reason that one should prayerfully get to know a Muslim, show interest and concern for them first.
Finally, get to know at least the basics of Muslim beliefs.
I recommend the following books:
- A Muslim’s Heart: What Every Christian Needs to Know to Share Christ with Muslims by Edward J. Hoskins (The Navigators) – Short and filled with personal experiences and stories from Dr. Hoskins’ years of making friends with Muslims in many different countries.
- Cross and Crescent: Responding to the Challenge of Islam, by Colin Chapman (InterVarsity Press) – Helps Christians recognize and overcome our prejudice, better understand Islam and share the good news in a loving manner. Very practical and complete.
- Ishmael My Brother, by Anne Cooper (Monarch Publications) – A Christian introduction to Islam written in a gentle and constructive tone.
- The Prophet and the Messiah by Chawkat Moucarry (InterVarsity Press) – An Arab Christian’s perspective on Islam and Christianity. Looks at the Qur’an, the writings of Islamic theologians, and the Bible with an aim towards promoting dialogue.