Loving our Muslim neighbors unconditionally


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?

(Photo by FreeBirD)



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Book Club Discussion: "unChristian"

Having been subjected to a lot of criticism from conservative Christians over the past few years, I’m beginning to better understand why my coworkers always started avoiding me as soon as they learned I graduated from a Christian college.

I’ve been called a socialist and a baby-killer for voting for Barack Obama, an enemy of the Church for asking questions about biblical inerrancy, a Buddhist for reading Thich Nhat Hahn, and a raging liberal for supporting basic civil rights for gays and lesbians. No wonder research shows that young people choose the following words to describe Christians: anti-homosexual, judgmental, hypocritical, political, pushy, and sheltered.

I know what they’re talking about, and I consider myself a Christian…(who’s obviously prone to some judgmentalism of her own!)

Over the next several Mondays, we will be discussing “unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity” by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. Using groundbreaking research from The Barna Group, the book explores the attitudes that young people (ages 16-29) have about Christianity—specifically, “born again” Christians and “evangelical” Christians.

I chose it because, as many of you know, I struggle a lot with the “evangelical” label. While I was raised in the evangelical tradition and identify with many of its characteristics, I don’t really feel like I fit anymore. For example, according to this book, four out of five evangelicals say that homosexual relations between two consenting adults should be illegal. I don’t agree with that one bit. Also, exit polls from last week’s election reveal that of the 26 percent of American voters that call themselves evangelical or born-again Christians, 74 percent voted for McCain. Either I’m in the minority here, or I’m in the wrong boat.

As it turns out, I’m not alone. According to the research, even among young people who identify themselves as Christians, 80 percent say they think that Christians are anti-homosexual, 52 percent say they think Christians are judgmental, and 50 percent say they think Christians are too political.

So, at the recommendation of several friends, I thought I’d take a look at “unChristian,” share my thoughts, and get your opinion.

The book opens with some general observations and then examines the research in six broad themes—the most common points of skepticism and objections raised by outsiders.These six themes include: hypocrisy, focus on getting converts, anti-homosexual, sheltered, too political, and judgmental.

We’ll discuss the introduction today, and then the specific characteristics in the weeks to follow.

“unChristian” is written by evangelicals, so it occasionally lapses into clichéd Christianese. Honestly, I feel like the authors treat the situation as more of a PR problem than an identity problem. For me, the highlight was the research, as well as the articles that appear at the end of each chapter—written by a variety of church leaders, from Chuck Colson to Brian McLaren.

First, the authors define some terms relating to their extensive three-year study:

  • “Outsiders” are defined as those looking at the Christian faith from the outside. The group includes atheists agnostics, those affiliated with a faith other than Christianity, and un-churched adults who are not “born-again.”
  • “Born-Again” Christians are defined as people who say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life, and who believe that when they die they will go to heaven because they have confessed their sins and have accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior
  • “Evangelicals” are defined as people who meet the born-again criteria, plus seven other conditions. These include:
  1. Saying their faith is very important in their life today
  2. Believing they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs with others
  3. Believing that Satan exists
  4. Believing that salvation is possible through faith, not works
  5. Believing that Jesus lived a sinless life on earth
  6. Asserting that the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches
  7. Describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today    
  • “Mosaics” is the term used to describe young adults born between 1984 and 2002
  •  “Busters” is the term used to describe young adults born between 1965 and 1983.

Interesting. So, based on these definitions, do you consider yourself an outsider, a born-again Christian, or an evangelical? How do you feel about those terms?

Here are some interesting facts that jumped out at me as I read the introduction.

  • “We discovered that outsiders express the most opposition toward evangelicals. Among those aware of the term ‘evangelical,’ the views are extraordinarily negative (49 percent to 3 percent).” (p. 25)
  • “In our national surveys we found the three most common perceptions of present-day Christianity are anti-homosexual (and image held by 91 percent of young outsiders), judgmental (87 percent), and hypocritical (85 percent). These are followed by the following negative perceptions, embraced by a majority of young adults: old fashioned, too involved in politics, out of touch with reality, insensitive to others, boring, not accepting of other faiths, and confusing.” (p. 27)
  • “It is clear that Christians are primarily perceived for what they stand against. We have become famous for what we oppose, rather than who we are for.” (p. 26)
  • “One-quarter of outsiders say that their foremost perception of Christianity is that the faith has changed for the worse. It has gotten off-track and is not what Christi intended.” (29)
  • “Young outsiders…perceive Christians as unwilling to engage in genuine dialog. They think of conversations as ‘persuasion’ sessions, in while the Christian downloads as many arguments as possible.” (33)
  • “Outsiders told us that the underlying concern of Christians often seems more about being right than about listening.” (33)

Do you identify with any of these observations?

The authors conclude that “Christianity has an image problem” that can be remedied by “becoming more Christ-like.”

I agree. But I wish the authors had taken it a step further. They seem reluctant to address the teachings within the Church that might be contributing to these perceptions.

Instead, they say that “although outsiders don’t always understand us, we have to be very careful about not tossing aside the biblical motivations that contribute to these perceptions. For instance, Christians are known as judgmental because we address sin and its consequences. Christians should be involved in politics because faith weaves itself into every aspect of our lives. Christians should identify homosexual behavior as morally unacceptable because that is what Scripture teaches. Christians should be pursuing conversations and opportunities that point people to Christ because we are representatives of life’s most important message. And Christians should strive for purity and integrity even if it makes us appear sheltered.” (36)

What do you think? Do Christians simply have an image problem, or has something gone wrong with Christianity? How do we fix it?



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Dear Focus on the Family

Dear Focus on the Family,

It has come to my attention that a representative from your organization has encouraged Christians to pray for rain—not rain in Ethiopia, where more than 10 million people are short of food because of drought—but rain in Denver, Colorado, where a few thousand democrats plan to hold their convention in an outdoor stadium.

You say that good Christians should pray for rain in Denver because good Christians are pro-life—not pro-Iraqi-civilian life, of course—but pro-unborn-child-life.

I guess that in a world where 39,000 children die each day from preventable disease, where around 90,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq, where the current global food crisis causes a child to die every seven seconds, where 47 million Americans cannot afford basic healthcare, and where women and children continue to be murdered in Darfur—nothing says “God is pro-life” better than a bunch of wet democrats.

You say that good Christians should pray for rain in Denver because good Christians support the sanctity of marriage—not the sanctity of their own marriages,  of course, which are plagued by higher divorce rates than those of atheists and agnostics—but the sanctity of the idea of marriage, which is being threatened by gays and democrats.

I guess that in a world where more than 15-million children have been orphaned by AIDS,  where thousands of American foster kids are waiting for adoption, where the UN estimates there are around 34 million refugees and internally displaced people, where girls continue to be sold as sex slaves, where thousands of Americans are losing their homes and their jobs, and where almost 5 million Iraqis have been displaced by America’s invasion—nothing threatens what Focus on the Family calls “the nuclear family” more than gay people getting married.

You say that good Christians will ask God to bend the rules for this very important occasion, that Jesus didn’t really mean it when He said God causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

I guess that in a world where war criminals continue to commit genocide in Sudan, where dictators suppress religion freedom in China, where people suffer from extreme poverty under the corrupt government of Zimbabwe,  where sovereign nations are getting invaded by power-hungry Russian leaders, and where our own government exaggerated intelligence in order to occupy Iraq—Barack Obama is God’s biggest concern, worthy of a little extra attention.

You say that good Christians will pray for rain because of their Christian values—not those concerning care for the poor, love for enemies, or hospitality to foreigners, of course—but those concerning national security, immigration reform, and tax breaks for the wealthy.

I guess that in a world where 1.3 billion people live on less than a dollar a day, nothing threatens Christian values more than a man who wants to take our tax breaks back.

Dear Focus on the Family -  I’m a good Christian, but I will not pray for rain in Denver.

I will pray for rain in Ethiopia.

[Click here to see the praying for rain video.]



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