These are interesting times.
The world around us seems to be caving in on itself. Maybe every generation has said that. Maybe we only believe it now because the media brings every crisis, conspiracy and disaster from around the world into our living rooms. Whatever the case, there’s plenty of wood available to stoke the fire of our fears to record levels.
Just this afternoon, my frustration hit its limit (hence this article, which I hope you’ll read to the end so you can take action with me).
I received a text from a local imam (a Muslim teacher) whom I’ve recently engaged for valuable interfaith dialogue. The message included a link and nothing more. I tapped on it and was taken to a Facebook video which recorded a voicemail left at their Islamic Center.
What I heard made me want to cry (please excuse the graphic language but I felt it was necessary to show how vulgar it was).
A local veteran apparently thought he was fulfilling his American patriotic duty by calling and threatening any Muslim he came into contact with. He spoke of Shariah Law as if it had just been passed by the Texas Senate, and felt the need to not only condemn Muhammad but call all Muslims “c**k-sucking, mother f**kers.”
But then came the most gut-wrenching words:
“Maybe we need another Christian crusade… I think we do. I’m a Christian, and I’m gonna tell you, I’m your f**king enemy. I hate you… we will cut all of your heads off, you understand me?”
In its purest form, this is just fear. That would be somewhat understandable so long as this man had not declared himself a spokesman for Jesus in his message.
I took a long pause after listening to the message and lamented what this self-professed Christian did in the name of my God. Surely God is in control of this, I thought. So where is the opportunity here? What good can come out of such proud and confused hatred?
And then it hit me. Love is the clearest, most verifiable indicator the Bible gives for how Christians are to be known— even among those who don’t believe what we believe and those who want to persecute us for that belief. That simple fact means hatred is the easiest way to pinpoint anyone who is not a genuine Christ follower.
The spreading fear of Islam, even while it flies in the face of who Christ is and what He taught, can be used by God to shine a light on His Church– exposing the wolves dressed as sheep who are more concerned with their own prosperity, patriotism, and safety than actually following the teachings of the one they casually call “Lord and Savior.”
You can’t deny these imposters are now easier than ever to recognize. There is no biblical scripture to confirm violence or hatred as the correct response to a threat against us because of our faith. The only contextually-accurate scriptures you’ll find speak of love. And not a passive, inactive love, either; a sacrificial, patient and unrelenting love like the kind Jesus modeled for us. (John 13:34, 1 John 4, Matthew 4:43-48, just to list a few references.)
The promise of persecution
Persecution was a promise from Jesus to His followers. This idea of being loved and adored by the world because of Jesus is completely false. In truth, it’s the only world religion whose leader promised the opposite.
More that that, Jesus’ message never motivates us to attack but rather prepares us to be attacked. In Matthew 10 when He sent His followers to the towns of Judea, He sent them off with a warning that some would hate them. No blessing of protection and uncontested victory was given.
That said, it’s no surprise that Christianity is the most persecuted world religion, according to a Pew Research report. According to them (and Jesus), persecution is as Christian as apple pie is American.
That probably seems more like a myth to most Americans because of the new gospel we’ve created focusing on protectionism, patriotic pride, and prosperity. This gospel is concocted with a few verses out of context and never any church history. Only now, with a small taste of the religious persecution Christians in over 100 other nations live with, are we getting a glimpse of what this American gospel truly teaches us to yearn for: the preservation of our own way over the life Jesus calls us to embrace .
Paul uses the term “ambassador” to describe our roles for Christ, and it’s important to remember how ambassadors were often treated in His day. Jesus calls us to be His witnesses to our local towns and to the ends of the earth. But by the end of the second century, so many Christians had been killed on account of their faith that the Greek word meaning “witness” had collected a new meaning: “martyr.” The Greek word (martys) never changed– just the association we attach to it.
The opportunity at hand
This spotlight on the church has created an awesome opportunity. So far, many dedicated Christ followers have been mostly silent. But we are not called to sit on the sidelines while the fearful wolves hijack the title of ambassador for Christ that we are meant to boldly carry with love.
It’s time to stand up and take advantage of such an easy distinction between the imposters and the genuine Christ followers. The scriptures are entirely on our side. It’s time to live out the way Christ called us to live: boldly going and ferociously loving in the face of anything the world can throw at us.
What this will do is more constructive than you might realize. Our fear about Islam is related to those who are “radicalized” into following the lifestyle and example of Muhammad. It’s happened to enough of our own citizens and fellow Americans that a trend has been noticed. Those who are radicalized seem to be unified in the experience they’ve collected from the Christian faith, especially. Their experiences with “Christians” confirm that we are all hateful and that we don’t want them here. And so they drift ever closer to picking up the sword.
But what if their experience with Christians was one of invitation and inclusion rather than isolation? What if, when that ISIS recruiter tries to convince that young Muslim American that Christians hate him and he should fight against them, he immediately remembers the Christians down the street who have been out-of-their-way-loving to him and his family? He will understand more about genuine Christianity and be far less likely to ever want to wage war against it.
We cannot witness out of fear. And the only testimony listened to with an open heart is the testimony coming from a friend. Now, possibly more than ever, we can spot imposters and replace their message with the true message of Christ.
What to do
If you’d like to join in the cause of showing true Christianity to those who have received a hate-filled message from wolves dressed as sheep, post this statement or this photo into your newsfeed with the hashtag: #realChristiansLoveMuslims. Let’s take back the banner we have allowed imposters to take from us, and carry the gospel forward the way it was meant to be carried: in courageous love.
I do not agree with Islam, but I love Muslims.
But we’re going to take this further than impersonal social media. Let’s face whatever discomfort we feel and go talk to our Muslim neighbors. Take a real interest in them, love them, and shine a light on the real Christian faith.
Not sure where to start? Organizations like World Relief offer chances to visit and get to know refugees who have been resettled in the your area. Dallas/Fort Worth is no different. Many of them are from places like Sudan, Samalia, and Syria– all heavily Muslim areas destroyed by war. Be a neighbor to someone who has left everything just for a chance to live in peace, and carry the banner of your faith forward in love. Show them who God really is.