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