Saturday, August 28, 2010

How to Love Muslims (A First Step)

If you are a Christian, consider for a moment how you might respond to the following statements:
1) Christians are cannibals; in their worship they eat flesh and drink blood.
2) Christians are atheists; where is the statue of their god?
3) Christians protest funerals of soldiers, holding signs that read "God hates fags."
4) Christians murder abortion doctors.
5) Christians are hypocritical.
6) Christians are judgmental.

It may seem odd, but statements 1 and 2 were actually criticisms of the early church. Today we might respond by pointing out that these are complete misconceptions of the Christian faith and not true at all. Christians do not eat literal flesh and blood in Communion. Even Catholics, who believe in transubstantiation (the belief that the bread and wine actually do become Christ's body and blood when taken in Communion), do not eat human beings but consider the transformation of the bread and wine into the flesh and blood of Christ to be supernatural in nature. Statement 2 is also a misconception. The ancient Greeks and Romans could not conceive of an invisible God, but that doesn't mean that Christians were atheists in refusing to make an idol of Him.

To statements 3 and 4 we may say that although the people involved in these acts claim to be Christians, they are not representing true Christianity, least of all Christ. True followers of Christ do not promote hatred and certainly do not murder.

Finally, to statements 5 and 6 we may admit that, regretfully, Christians do sometimes act in judgmental and hypocritical ways. However, most Christians recognize that these are not qualities we should approve of in our lives. Christians are called to lives of love, mercy, and integrity, but we do not always live out our faith perfectly. Therefore, these complaints have some truth, but of the kind we wish to correct.

Now, in a conversation, perhaps you would be able to respond to these complaints and clear things up. But what if, rather than listening to you, they insisted that their statements are true because that's what they have been taught? Or what about the millions of people who believe things like this, but who have never met a true follower of Jesus? What about the millions of people in the East who think Christians are immoral because most of what they see from us are TV shows and movies that come from this "Christian" nation? Is that fair?

Yet... how often do we do these same things to Muslims? Do we assume that we understand all Muslim beliefs, or know how to interpret the Koran better than they do? Do we attribute the actions of radical Muslims to all Muslims everywhere? Do we easily point out the flaws of Muslim practice without realizing that we fall short of our own Christian ones? Do you personally know a practicing Muslim?

Do not misunderstand me. I am not arguing for Muslims. I am not defending Muslims. I am arguing for Jesus, who taught us, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" and "Love your enemies." Do we want non-Christians to be fair in their judgment of our faith and lives? Then we must do the same. Statements that are intended to rouse fear and contempt for a people group can in no way be loving toward that people group.

But perhaps fear is the real issue. We are afraid, and for good reason; we have been terrorized. We fear that Muslims will destroy our country, or worse, that they will take it over. We fear that Christianity is failing in the West, and that Islam is rising. But is fear the proper response to events in our world? The fear that we feel may not be unfounded, but for the Christian, fear is not only unnecessary, it is unacceptable. From the moment Christ entered this world in flesh and blood, we have been told, "Fear not."

Faith is the opposite of fear. And we are people of faith. We believe in a God who created the cosmos, and who will consummate things in His way and in His time. We believe in a God who defeated His enemies by laying down His life. We believe in a King and and Kingdom who will soon appear to set all things right and establish His reign, world without end. Do we believe this? Then fear not.

I call for Christians to rise above the unfair rhetoric of fear when it comes to our Muslim neighbors. We cannot help if we are accused of not following the teachings of Jesus; we can help whether or not we prove it true. Let us show Muslims the courtesy we hope to receive from those who disagree with us. Love has always been our best apologetic.

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