Every day seems to bring appalling new reports of Islamist terrorism—against Christians, but also against anyone in favor of free speech, even other Muslims. The evil of the Islamic State or ISIS or ISIL, tempts us to write off and fear all Muslims.
Well, how should Christians respond? First, a lot of people are saying this, but it bears repeating: Not all Muslims share the literalist, barbaric, pre-medieval theology of ISIS. Second, Jesus instructed us to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, and to put our lives in the hands of a just and loving God. In fact, Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Yep, even those Muslim neighbors.
New York City pastor Tim Keller notes, “We instinctively tend to…exert ourselves…for people like us, and for people whom we like. Jesus will have none of that. By depicting a Samaritan helping a Jew, Jesus could not have found a more forceful way to say that anyone at all in need—regardless of race, politics, class, and religion—is our neighbor.” Amen. We Christians need to do a better job of viewing Muslims as proper objects of our love.
Now please don’t misunderstand…as I recently said in agreement with former Congressman Frank Wolf, we may need to go to war against ISIS to protect the innocent. But that doesn’t mean that as Christians we can give in to hate or Islamophobia.
And let’s face it, we still have a ways to go to demonstrate love toward our Muslim neighbors. And there’s a real tension here. A recent poll, for example, revealed that 45 percent of Protestant pastors believe that ISIS represents “true Islam.” The true nature of this religion founded by Muhammad needs to be discussed and debated, but we can’t write off the millions of Muslims for whom Christ died.
Interestingly, Sean McDowell and I write about a similar issue in our new book, “Same-Sex Marriage.” We have every right to be angry about the deconstruction of marriage and the aggressive tactics of certain gay activists, but have we as Christians found ways to truly love those in the LGBT community? I don’t mean just by refraining from saying or doing hateful things, but actually loving them with the love of Christ? Truth be told, too many of us have done an awful lot of hating the sin, but not very much “loving the sinner” at all.
If we’re to get ahead of culture on the redefinition of marriage and sexuality, we must take a cue from the pro-life movement. Today, no one can say (or at least with any credibility) that pro-lifers only care about unborn children, but not women and born children. Folks working in pregnancy care centers and leading the adoption revolution have proven that they do care!
Dale Kuehne of Saint Anselm College recently said that the only way Christians can get ahead of our reputation as “hateful bigots” on these “pelvic issues” like same-sex marriage is to ensure that when people hear that Christians “hate gays,” they’ll know a Christian who most certainly doesn’t. When enough of them think to themselves something like, “Well, my friend Mary is a Christian and she doesn’t hate anyone; she loves people,” then we’ll be making serious progress. When enough people know someone like that, we’ll be at the cultural tipping point. And it’s the same with Islam. If we’re known for actively loving the Muslims in our communities, could anyone actually believe that we’re “Islamophobes”?
There’s much more to do, of course. My colleague Stan Guthrie recently interviewed Warren Larson of the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies. Larson says that whatever we may think of the “true” nature of Islam, the fact is, recent events have caused many Muslims to do “some serious soul-searching.” He says Christians need a sense of mission right now, to introduce Muslims to Jesus.
That’s because we Christians should be known as people who will reach out to all of our neighbors—Muslim, Christian, LGBT, or whatever—with the love of Christ.