Last November I had the pleasure of hearing Tony Campolo speak at a two-day event in Chattanooga hosted by the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church. In one of his talks, Tony warned the audience that the next group of people to be persecuted in the United States would likely be Muslims and Arab Americans. “As Christians, we can’t let this happen,” he said. “These are our neighbors, created in the image of God. They deserve our love and respect.”
Tony’s statement stood out to me, as I had never really considered the plight of Muslim Americans before. Now his words seem almost prophetic, as news of protests and book burnings fill the airwaves each night.
It is of course frustrating to watch as some of the same folks who so passionately defend the second amendment seem ready to do away with the first when it applies to someone else’s freedom to worship. But far more troublesome to me is the fact that many Christians are passionately protesting the building of Islamic community centers in New York and Mufreesboro on the basis that such centers are “offensive” or that they “threaten the American way of life.”
Have these Christians forgotten that our first allegiance is not to our own interests or to the “American way of life,” but rather to the Kingdom of Heaven?
When God decided to wrap himself up in flesh and live among us, he placed himself in the context of perhaps the most oppressive and cruel empires in history. Those listening to him would have had clear memories of injustice, ridicule, heavy taxation, and even genocide at the hands of the tyrannical Roman government. And yet to those who had every right to fight back, every right to be biter and offended, Jesus said:
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”
Jesus remained faithful to these teachings all the way to the cross and they were so diligently observed by the first Christians that they refused to fight back in the midst of terrible persecution. One wonders how we went from boldly declaring the gospel from dungeons and stoning pits to complaining to upper management when department stores don’t play Christian music at Christmastime.
There is a tragic disconnect from the way of Jesus when Christians join the chorus of those saying, “We will respect your faith when you respect ours” or “You can build a mosque in New York when we can build a church at Mecca.” Jesus did not teach us to be good to those who are good to us and tolerant of those who are tolerant of us. As he pointed out, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?”
What makes us different is that we love when we’re not supposed to. We love unconditionally.
Of course, implying that all Muslims are violent extremists and therefore fit into the category of “enemy” is about the same as implying that all Catholics molest children or that all evangelicals sympathize with Westboro Baptist Church. So we must give our Muslim neighbors the benefit of the doubt before assuming motive. But even if the builders of these centers are doing so with anti-American sentiments or for the purpose of ridicule, how should Christians respond?
Sarah Cunningham said it well in a post on the Q blog, where she wrote:
Regardless of our personal political beliefs or the outcome of this scenario, Jesus did not come as a political revolutionary but as one bearing a message of transcendent spiritual truth. Part of his example, although unconventional and unpopular in the wider pop-culture, was a mandate to “love our neighbors,” to “love our enemies,” and to “pray for those who persecute us.” No matter how you view these Muslims, I am certain that at least one of these apply. The Christian faith maintains that God loves and wants relationship with every person on every side of this argument.
As the country becomes more ethnically and religiously diverse, there will be those who say the Church can only survive if we fight to the death to preserve our civic religion—keeping prayer in public schools, keeping the Ten Commandments in courthouses, and keeping mosques out of our neighborhoods. But I am convinced that the only way for the Church to survive in a post-Christian world is to do the exact opposite. We must preserve our identity as a distinct, set apart Kingdom that does things Jesus’ way—not the world’s way, not even America’s way. We must continue to grow and expand, not through a sense of entitlement or a fight for power, but through unconditional service and love.
The constitution dictates that Muslims should be able to worship when and where they please.
Compassion compels us to reach out to those who are still hurting from 9-11 and who are understandably struggling to forgive.
And the way of Jesus calls us to love whichever individuals in this story are hardest for us to love.
…Guess I should say a prayer for Glenn Beck.
What is your perspective on the recent mosque debates? To which side do you find it hardest to extend grace and peace?