Before 9/11, Islam was just another weird world religion that the vast majority of American Evangelical Christians didn’t really think about – in the same category as Hinduism and Buddhism. But in the wake of 9/11, we realized that over a billion people in the world are Muslim. And many of the countries most hostile to America are mostly Muslim.
For the last decade, we’ve demonized Muslims. But using Dr. Scott Poole’s methodology, we know that our monsters say more about us than about those we monsterize.
What does the Monster look like?
The picture of Monstrous Muslims we have in our collective Evangelical imagination looks roughly like this:
Muslims are hell-bent on conquering the world. They’ve established a beachead in Detroit and are going to kill or convert every person in America to Sharia law. They hate women and freedom. They embody a particularly insidious brand of religious fundamentalism. And this isn’t just fringe Muslims. This violent fundamentalism is woven into the very fabric of the Islamic faith.
That some Muslims believe these things is certain. The question is whether those beliefs are representative of all Muslims.
What’s the truth about Islam?
Are some Muslims violent? Of course they are. But so are many Christians. Can you use the Koran to justify war, violence and conquest? Of course you can. But we can do the same with the Bible.
I know American Muslims who are fiercely patriotic. I know Muslims who earnestly seek truth, peace and justice. Their religious convictions, which arise from their engagement with God and with their sacred text, are what compel them to seek these things.
I disagree with Muslims about who Jesus is and what salvation looks like. But that doesn’t mean that while we wrestle together about those things we can’t also work for common good.
Islam can be a force for peace in the world, too. Muslims can work alongside Christians (and atheists, and Hindus and Buddhists, etc.) for Justice. For human dignity.
Claiming that we can all work for peace and justice right now is not the same thing as believing all roads lead to heaven. I can befriend a Muslim person even if I don’t believe that Islam and Christianity present equivalent, equally-accurate pictures of God.
What does the Monster say about us?
1. We’re uncomfortable with the violence in our own faith.
We can’t escape the bloody history of the Christian faith. Many governments, from the Roman Empire to Medieval European kingdoms to our own government have used Christianity to sanctify and justify wars and injustices that prop up their own unholy agendas.
The truth is, we have plenty of blood on our hands.
When we see ugly men and governments doing the same with Islam today, it’s easier to condemn them than to admit we’ve been (and still are) all-too complicit in the same evils.
2. We’re ashamed of how little we know our own faith.
Most Christians don’t know enough about Islam to say with any certainty if Christians and Muslims are praying to the same God. We can’t talk about the Trinity in a healthy, theologically-formed way that is understandable to ourselves. So how could we even begin to debate the nature of Jesus with a curious Muslim?
The truth is, we don’t actually understand our own beliefs very well, so people who have a different faith than we do, and who take it more seriously make us uncomfortable.
When we’re confronted with people who don’t believe like we do, it’s easier to say they’re just evil than to admit we don’t actually understand why we believe what we believe very well.
3. We’re uncomfortable with our own apathy.
Evangelical Christians will give lip-service to the idea that everyone in the world should believe in Jesus. But we actually don’t do much about it beyond voting once every couple of years for the candidate whose ads best convince us they support “Christian values” (whatever they actually happen to mean by that, and whether their record actually supports their campaign claims).
The truth is we’re comfortable in our complacent lifestyles. We don’t want to change how we live for the sake of the Gospel. We reject the claims Christ makes on our lives, especially when they make us uncomfortable.
When we’re confronted with people whose religion makes them look different from the culture, it’s easier to say they’re wrong than to admit that we know we should be different, and it’s just easier for us to conform.
How do we slay the Muslim Monster?
We could start by educating ourselves about what Muslims actually believe. Miroslav Volf’s Allah: A Christian Response should be required reading for all pastors and church leaders at a minimum. And we could try The Koran for Dummies for a basic introduction to core Muslim beliefs.
Of course, an even better solution would be to befriend some actual Muslim persons. To learn from them how they understand words like jihad, Islam and Allah.
We should always let the people living out these ideas define them for us, not impose our own fears and insecurities onto them.
We’ll also have to learn our own faith better. If I don’t understand concepts like the Trinity, Incarnation or Atonement, then how can I understand how my faith is different than Islam? How can I engage in a real conversation where we celebrate what we have in common and wrestle with where we differ?
A Better Way Forward
Islam is not the same religion as Christianity. We have some important, essentially differences that we cannot reconcile, most importantly the nature and identity of Jesus. But we must engage Muslims not as monsters, but as fellow people who bear God’s image. We must sacrifice ourselves for their good, be willing to approach them as equals, not as their betters.
To quote Miroslav Volf, we should continue to evangelize Muslims. But he provocatively suggests that the Golden Rule ought to apply to how we evangelize as much as anything else. He suggests:
- Witness to others only if you are prepared to let them witness to you.
- Witness to others in the way you think others should witness to you.
Ultimately, Volf advocates the practice of Christian friendship. If we can learn to become friends with Muslims, then perhaps the peace of Christ really can rule in our world.