The following article is built from the skeleton of ideas discussed with friends and relayed in lectures during the 2015 Urbana Mission’s conference I attended in St. Louis recently.
Ever since September 11, 2001, western Christians have become more and more increasingly aware of Islam as an ideology that is followed, even if at the same time it appears that our ignorance of the religion seems to grow at an even faster rate. The two worlds have collided in a most forceful way and western Christianity has had a rude awakening to an unfortunate reality that is part of the world of Islam: its militant side. For the sake of clarification, militant Islam is a violent form of Islam generally adhered to by radical Muslims who are seeking to use the religion to fulfill either their own goals or their extreme ideas of what Allah desires/commands. As militant Islam and Christianity interact more and more in the tale of the 21st century, Christians must react. This reaction is of utmost importance to Christians because it will define what it means to be Christian and how the world (secular and religious parts alike) sees the religion. Therefore, we must reach our decision on how to react with much thought and care, avoiding any rash decisions. What I put forward might seem radical but I think that it is very obvious once explained.
The Christian/Islam conflict is nothing new. Through the 11th to the 15th century, Christendom launched religious military campaigns in the Middle East in response to the growing power of militant Islam. During these campaigns, deemed the Crusades, unspeakable acts of barbarism and evil were done to innocents – all under the name of Jesus Christ. Although there have been much worse human-rights violation in history (i.e. the Holocaust), it has been said that the Crusades were Satan’s greatest masterpiece because he successfully equated these awful and terrible acts with Christ since they were accomplished under the banner of the cross. In these events, we see a phenomenon where militant (and radical ideology for today, although not so radical at the time) Islam effectively radicalized Christianity into a hedonistic force for evil. We must remember that our response to Islam is a witness to others; our biggest concern should be that radical Islam will radicalize Christianity, as it did during the Crusades. The reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin contended that this internal concern of radicalization was even greater than the external fear of the Muslim armies. And so, as we move into the contemporary issue we face, we must use this as the backdrop. We must be ever weary of how fear, specifically that of Islam, can and has radicalized our faith to commit atrocious and gruesome acts and to associate such acts with the beautiful and loving God.
This backdrop of the danger of fear is important, but it only serves as such. It does not tell us how we are supposed to act. There are two forms of Christian response we must have and, while they are both inherently peaceful, one is passive and one is active.
The first (the passive), can be found when we turn to the Word of God, Jesus Christ, for guidance, as we should do for all matters. Jesus’ command is also radical, although in a different way. And his command is resoundingly clear. He states quite explicitly in the Gospel according to Matthew, “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (Matthew 5:39) and then goes on to say, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44) As Christians, we believe that Jesus is God incarnate and that, therefore, these are not suggestions, but commands. It is quite clear how God himself has ordered us, as Christians, to respond to militant Islam. We must not resist them; we must love them; and we must pray for them (I will explain in a bit how we are allowed to defend ourselves – so stick with me). This sounds crazy but there is no way around it; our role as Christians is love. Jesus’ words are clear. The order to love your enemies is distinct to Christianity; it is neither prevalent in Islam nor other major religions. The controversial Miroslav Volf once said, “Take the redemption of the ungodly and the love of enemy out of the Christian faith and you un-Christian it.” This is why the Crusades were Satan’s master scheme; in them he succeeded in perverting Christians to, as the theologian John Azumah said, “Abandon their historic faith in Jesus Christ and turn it into a tribal, henotheistic religion predicated on enmity with our neighbors.” You see, the problem in the Middle East is not Islam; it is not Muslims; it is not America; and it is not weapons. The problem is hate. Only Christ’s love has the power to overcome hate; nothing else. Martin Luther King Junior, in his famous statements, said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” and, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.” Our duty as Christians, first and foremost, is to love Muslims – radical, non-radical, international, and domestic alike.
Our second duty as Christians is more active. Although I cannot think of examples of this in the Gospel or the rest of the Bible, we can look to the example of a great Christian peacemaker for inspiration. Once again, we can turn to MLK. King refused to demonize whites. Instead, he appealed to their higher values in Christianity and the Constitution – specifically their belief that all humans are created equal by God. We must do the same for radical Islam. Christians must be on the front lines in the battle for hearts and minds, prepared in Islamic theology and morals in order to denounce the mythical, hedonistic narrative of the jihadists. Desmond Tutu, the Christian activist during the apartheid, said “Be kind to white people. The racist’s among them need to rediscover their own humanity.” I would like to adapt this quote today and put forward this: “Be kind to Muslims. The radicals among them need to rediscover their own religion.” As mentioned before, Islam is not the problem. Islam has a problem. There is a battle within it to define what it means to be a Muslim and, unfortunately but unsurprisingly, we pay more attention to those who advocate a much more violent definition. This radical narrative is its problem and we must be willing to counter this narrative with reasoning and love and to denounce its manifestation in both obvious groups like ISIS and Boko Haram and less obvious groups like the Wahhabi government of Saudi Arabia. As Azumah said, let us counter and dispel the mad news of the jihadist with the good news of Christ. “Faith, hope and love. But he greatest of these is love!” (1 Corinthians 13:13)
Everything I have relayed to you has been inherently peaceful; I have not advocated for any sort of military or violent action, whether in defense of aggression. The post concerns itself primarily with the acts of Christians under the name of Christ but, for the sake of clarity and a comprehensive idea, it is important to draw a distinction between our identities, and therefore our actions, as Christians and citizens. In response to my arguments above, you might say, “Jacob! Aren’t we allowed to defend ourselves? Our country? Our children?” In short, the answer is yes. But in the military fight against militant Islam, the role of Christianity in our ideology and motivation must be absolutely non-existent. Let us defend ourselves without saying, “It is God’s will that we kill militant Muslims.” It is the state’s job to defend us, not Christianity’s. As citizens we can advocate for a strong defense, as Christians we cannot. Furthermore, the state should be waging a war against criminals, not a religion.
In conclusion, we must not repeat the same mistake Christians did during the Crusades. The Crusades allowed fear to change the very definition of Christianity and turn it into a force not all that dissimilar to what we are afraid of today. Our role is to be both Christians and citizens. We must love as Christians and we must defend ourselves as citizens of a state. What we do in the name of Christ should be distinct from what we do in the name of the State. The most important thing to remember is that when we defend ourselves, and defend ourselves we must, we must not do it in a way that would corrupt our beliefs; we must not pervert and ruin the unconditional love that is the very definition of Christianity.
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