Islamophobia ebbs and flows in American society. Why is that no one seems to mind if Buddhists, Hindus, Mormons, Jews or nominal Christians use a Chapel in Duke or Washington D.C., but when Muslims want to do so, the gloves come off?

Nearly 5 years ago I wrote an article wondering if the church was Islamophobic. Based on survey by LifeWay Research, plus backlash over President Obama’s recent comments, the answer has never been more clear. Nearly half of pastors surveyed agreed that ISIS represents the true nature of Islam. Here are five things about Islamophobia in Church.

  1. Taking theological cues from the news: Americans are inundated with hate-filled media, demonizing all Muslims because of the actions of a few. Many conservative “Christian” websites and blogs have jumped on this bandwagon, playing on the fears and emotions of the Church. The irony is that Muslim countries are often inundated with hate-filled media about the United States and Christians. If the only thing a Muslim knows about us comes from news about wars, race riots, school shootings, and the murder of three young Muslims over a parking space, we can be sure they think Americans are also inherently violent.
  2. Syncretism between nationalism and faith: Politically-motivated organizations have become increasingly hateful toward Muslims and are well-funded in their efforts. Too many Christians have been captivated by a misguided call for patriotism that asks them to oppose Islam as part of their faith. It is a troubling time for the Church when a political leader compares the torture of water boarding as “Baptism for terrorists.” It should concern us when a pastor takes pulpit time to criticize other faiths. It should concern us when pastors permit nonbelievers to use the pulpit to warn folks about Muslims. It should concern us when a pastor who says, “convert them or kill them” is invited to be the keynote speaker at a political leadership conference. We should be careful not to conflate the kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of God.
  3. We have forgotten who the enemy is: We must remember that Islam is not the enemy. Scripture is clear: our battle is not against flesh and blood but against the evil one (Eph.6). He is cunning and will use anything he can to keep people from knowing Jesus–institutions, religions, political systems, worldviews, selfishness, gossip, pride, idolatry, anger, hate, deceit, immorality–or anything else. Why do we see Islam as more Satanic than other faiths or systems? Are Muslims more depraved than others? Paul suggests that following the ways of the world is the same as following the evil one (Eph. 2). Groups like ISIS are evil, but why does that surprise us? This type of behavior isn’t new and it didn’t begin with Islam.
  4. Stay out of our churches: Some years ago, a denomination’s city headquarters called the Zwemer Center to ask if we would conduct a seminar titled “What to do if a Muslim comes into your Church.” We suggested a few tips for reaching out to Muslims but discovered they had something else in mind. They wanted ideas on how to gently remove Muslims from the building–if they showed up. One had attended a service and the pastor was afraid he would harm the congregation.
  5. Stay out of our chapels: Why is it that no one seems to mind if Buddhists, Hindus, Mormons, Jews or nominal Christians use a Chapel in Duke or Washington D.C., but when Muslims want to do so, the gloves come off? There are some who believe that if a Muslim prays somewhere it means they have conquered it. Not true. Christians have converted mosques to churches and Muslims have converted churches to mosques.
  6. Islam isn’t the problem, we are: Mike Barnett, a CIU history professor, summed it up well: “One big problem is the President’s statement, “no religion condones killing of innocents.” It implies that true believers (whatever religion) never condone killing. It’s probably the other way around. Every religion, at one time or the other has done so … it is the nature of humanity.” We should not say Islam is inherently peaceful or violent. Islam is much more complex than that.

We are called to declare God’s glory among the nations and our first responsibility to Muslims is the message of Christ. We should be careful what we say about Muslims who are created in the image of God (James 3:9). Fear, misguided patriotism, and racism, are biblical themes that kept Israel from bringing God’s light to the nations. Will the Church choose to do the same? Our goal must be to live by faith: “Faith has the genius of transforming the barely possible into actuality. Once men are dominated by the conviction that a thing must be done, they will stop at nothing until it is accomplished.” American missionary Samuel Zwemer said this 100 years ago about the need for Muslim evangelism. I wonder what he would say to the Church in America today?

See “10 Principles for Muslim-Christian Relations” by Dr. Trevor Castor.