Responding to Franklin and the Politics of Fear

By Arthur Brown

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them…There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. [1 John. 4:16 & 18].

There is no shortage of fear in this world, and of course no shortage of things to be fearful of. Given recent comments by a well known Evangelical Christian leader in the US concerning his views on Islam and Muslims – and how he feels his country should respond to it/them – it seems there is the need to address some basic gospel principles [yet again] in relation to the responsibility followers of Christ have towards their Muslim neighbors.

Islamaphobia has been defined as:

“An outlook or world-view involving an unfounded dread and dislike of Muslims, which results in practices of exclusion and discrimination.”[1]

Regardless to what degree you consider groups such as ‘Islamic State’, Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda and the like as representing ‘true Islam’ these groups are hell-bent on causing fear and terror. Fear of these people and what they represent, it can be argued, is well founded. And fear is a powerful motivator. However when our actions are driven by fear, the consequences are more often than not negative. Miroslav Volf suggests that

practices disclose the God (or the gods!) individual Christians or Muslims actually worship better than anything they or their holy book says about God’s character or God’s commands.[2]

He goes on to suggest that there are people who believe they believe in God, but deny His existence by their very own behaviour and actions. Many people I know, Muslims and Christians alike, are very quick to distance their beliefs from the belief inspired actions of others from within their faith tradition. There are countless actions carried out by ‘christians’ in the name of our faith, that I consider completely at odds with my own understanding and practice of faith. Do they worship the same God as me? Maybe, but their understanding of Him seems so radically different to mine, that it would not be ridiculous to suggest that we do in fact worship different gods!

When our practices or actions – including words spoken or written – are motivated by fear we have a problem. Fear of a particular people group is typically a result of ignorance and tends to lead in a direction of greater fear and hostility.

In recent days Franklin Graham, the influential Evangelical Christian leader, has published on his Facebook page a post – couched in nationalistic sentiment – that demonstrates paranoia, ignorance and fear to a degree that is almost unbelievable. If the influence of Graham was not so significant, it would be easy to pass his statement off as the words of a solitary ‘lone voice’ [much like we can of the so called pastor who burns copies of the Qur’an]. However Graham is a powerful voice, but one who I sadly fear has lost sight of some of the central tenets of the faith he professes. Franklin Graham suggests in his post that the US is under attack from Muslims ‘at home and abroad’ and suggests that no Muslim should be allowed to emigrate to the US – much like the immigration policy ban on Japanese and Germans during World War Two – ‘until this threat with Islam has been settled’. All this was in response to the callous murder of four marines by a ‘radical Muslim’ in Chattanooga, Tennessee last week.

In case you missed them, significant Muslim groups and communities were very fast in their public condemnations of the killings. These include the American Muslim Advisory Council the Council on American-Islamic Relations and Muslim communities from Nashville, and New York.

Mickey Maudin, Senior VP at HarperOne wrote back in 2011 – within the midst of yet another controversy involving an evangelical leader – of his concern for the church.

As a young evangelical, I was socialized to see the biggest threat to the church as theological liberalism. But now I think the biggest threat is Christian tribalism, where God’s interests are reduced to and measured by those sharing your history, tradition, and beliefs, and where one needs an “enemy” in order for you to feel “right with God.”[3]

It is beyond tragic that Franklin Graham views Muslims as the enemy of the United States. Being British and having spent but a few days in the US, I am no expert. However I know for a fact that the sentiment of Graham is not shared by Christ followers across the US. I also know that Graham’s words – as would be expected – have caused bitter [and often hateful] words of response and counter response. Given this, how are we to oppose hostility and violence [from wherever it may originate] in a way that does not lead us into further hostility and violence towards the perpetrators of that hostility? Surely this is the message of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, who did not allow the hostility of all humanity to cause him to respond in kind. For those of us who claim to follow Jesus this is something we must reflect and act on – not allowing evil to cause us to respond with evil.

IMES is involved in The Feast – an intentional interfaith youth initiative which brings Muslims [Sunni and Shiite] and Christians [Maronite and Evangelical] together in order to: explore faith, build friendships and change lives. Central to the Feast are its dialogue values. It strikes me that these values stem from a place that is not fearful of the other, but wanting to grow in understanding in order to create a future in which fear, ignorance, hatred and violence are not the norm. Maybe a group of 30 or so Lebanese young people from the different religious and sectarian communities of Lebanon are learning how to relate to each other in ways that our religious leaders need to listen to. Is it even possible that a group of Muslim kids in Beirut have something to teach a well known Evangelical Christian leader about the gospel of Jesus Christ?

There are three values which I think are particularly significant in light of the afore-mentioned events.

  • We will not judge people here by what some people of their faith do
  • We will be honest in what we say
  • I will speak positively of my own faith, rather than negatively about other people’s faith

It seems to me that God does not need people who claim to worship and follow Him to attack the faith of people who’s religious tradition is different. Since when did God need a defender? It also seems to me that when we – as those who claim to follow Christ – become so caught up in fear of the other, it becomes impossible for us to genuinely follow Christ in loving God, in loving our neighbour and in loving our enemy, the central teachings of the Christ we follow.

[1] The Runnymead Report: Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All, published in November 1997 by the British Home Secretary, Jack Straw.

[2] Miroslav Volf Allah: A Christian Response (New York: Harper Collins, 2011), p.115

[3] http://www.newsandpews.com/rob-bells-hell-by-mickey-maudlin-harperone-senior-v-p-executive-editor/

9 thoughts on “Responding to Franklin and the Politics of Fear

  1. Thank you for your blog. It was very helpful as I wonder how the church in Australia is to respond. Most people have been relatively ‘sheltered’ here in Australia from the effects of IS but as events begin to occur like a cafe being taken hostage or a worker for the police force being shot at in the name of Islam and people actually losing their lives the whole country is affected greatly. The news is also telling us of raids in our very own neighbourhoods and there finding plots to shoot a westerner on the street and film it on behalf of IS. Because of this, I can begin to understand people’s growing fear and unfortunately their racism. How do we know who is linked with IS and who is just another human being trying to start a new safe life in Australia? You mentioned that when people are motivated by fear then we have a problem and I think that this is what we as church in Australia could be in danger of. I wonder if we need instead to be motivated by hope? A hope in an eternal and unshakeable kingdom in which we belong? And therefore in light of this knowledge we can forget and forgo our comfort and our safety and love our Muslim neighbour and share the gospel with them through our lives and actions? And if, by very small chance, that neighbour is linked with IS, then maybe by showing the love of Christ, this neighbour will have a change of heart and life that only Jesus can bring.

  2. Arthur, you said, “I will speak positively of my own faith, rather than negatively about other people’s faith.”
    and “God does not need people who claim to worship and follow Him to attack the faith of people who’s [sic] religious tradition is different.”

    But is that not exactly what Jesus did with the Pharisees? “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (Matthew 23:33)
    Or Paul? “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” (Galatians 1:8)

    Were Jesus and Paul “responding with evil” here? They are certainly strong words! Sometimes ‘loving our enemy’ is about confronting them with the truth. I think Franklin Graham was wrong to call for a ban on Muslims. Religious freedom is a cornerstone of Western democracy (unlike Islamic countries) but it’s ‘the’ central tenant of Christianity that Jesus is the only way to God. As Jesus himself said, ‘no one comes to the Father except through me.” If we cannot ‘speak negatively’ about other people’s faith in this way, what’s left of the gospel?

    • David, thank you so much for taking the time to respond to my post. I agree with you that religious freedom is something central to much of Western democracy. For sure in many contexts, including some Islamic states, religious freedom remains a huge challenge, and one that we must all confront. I know many Muslims who themselves are strong advocates for religious freedom for all, regardless of which faith tradition. I hope this is something that can join peace-loving Christians, Muslims and those of other faiths and no faith.

      Getting to your comments about the way in which people, including your examples of Jesus and Paul, communicate within certain specific contexts, I have a few comments.

      When Jesus and Paul attacked the Pharisees, they were criticizing the religious leaders from within their own faith. Neither Paul nor Jesus condemned their own faith or its origins, but rather the ways in which their religious leaders had interpreted and practiced elements of their very own faith. Within each of our faiths [whatever faith that may be] we need prophetic voices who are able to be self-critical of their own faith. I was [publicly] critical of a leader from within my own faith tradition, in response to his [public] condemnation of an entire faith community who he does not represent. I think we need to recognise the difference here.There are voices from within Islam [such as the ones I referenced within my post] that are publicly critical of those who claim to express their faith. This is an important distinction I think.

      I must admit that your final sentence, ‘If we cannot ‘speak negatively’ about other people’s faith in this way, what’s left of the gospel?’ troubled me. I may have misunderstood you, but you seem to imply that we need to be negative towards those of other faiths in order to be faithful in presenting the gospel. In my experience people are far more likely to listen and engage with the message of the gospel when it is shared within the context of a respectful discussion, in which sincere people are genuinely interested to learn about the faith of another. Too often we are simply repeating the same polemic arguments that others have been having for centuries. Many of us may have read the ‘killer questions to ask Muslims’ type of books that have ‘all the answers’ and the intention of silencing the other through, to a certain degree, humiliation. Muslims will have read the ‘killer questions to ask Christians’…. and the pointless cycle continues. Does Jesus not say, in the context of talking about loving your enemies [and I would make the point here that we should not consider Muslims as the enemy in such simplistic terms] to ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’? (Luke 6:31). I would hope that my Muslims friends would have enough respect for me and my faith, that they would not seek to demean it – not least because they know that I, in return, would be less likely to listen to them expressing the significance of their own faith. For me the words of Peter in 1 Peter 3:13-18 are really significant. He says,

      Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats[b]; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

      For sure there are things that Muslims and Christians will never agree on. Another one of the values of The Feast is that we will ‘acknowledge similarities and differences between our faiths’. However, I believe we need to acknowledge that when we are talking about the deeply held beliefs of other people, that we need to recognise that we are, in many ways, walking on holy ground… and should thus be careful and wise about how we tread.

      I would love to hear your thoughts on this, when you have a few moments to spare.

      Peace,

      Arthur

  3. Read “The Modern Day Trojan Horse” The Islamic Doctrine of Immigration, Accepting Freedom or Imposing Islam? By Sam Solomon & E Al Maqdis, c.2009, and you will find deliberate birthrate stratagems has over-run the paradigm borders of multi-national containment. Friendship evangelism alone is often too impotent and shallow, too slow for the tide of world events evolving before us daily. It takes bold loving, yet very risky, and necessary confrontation of truth over issues like Mohammad’s 9 year old wife Aisha when he is in his 50’s, so Arthur, will you debate such things or just nicely discuss the morality of Islam. They will never debate it. They might even gag it or sabotage it. If it were not for the Stephen’s in the book of Acts, we might never inspire the future Paul’s.Most often fear is displayed by compromise, and not statements of discouraged leaders. The church needs wise boldness now more than ever, let’s pray for this together.

    • Thanks for your response brother, but I see no boldness in polemicizing against Islam in the West, and I see no love in pointing out all of the sins and errors of others. I respect Sam Solomon (I don’t believe I’ve met Makdisi, though I’ll never know since it’s likely a pseudonym as well…), but I believe his discourse and that of others like him has given in to the least creative and most hopeless of all. What are they calling for? A fight to the death? Is it just “us or them”? Surely the love of Jesus would call us to more engagement, more active love, more direct conversation about things that are dissatisfactory with Islam, more dialogue and openness to find ways that we can walk along Muslims for whom Islam is an inspiration for good neighborliness. That’s what IMES stands for. That’s what we do continually with passion…

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