As Christians involve themselves – for good and for bad – in the divisive politics and cultural struggles of our nation, it is assumed they do so to preserve and advance a moral ethic consistent with Scripture.
Unfortunately, it can be easy to forget one of the central marks of this morality: ‘Do unto others, as you would have others do unto you.’
This command, and it is necessary to remember it is an active imperative, concerns many issues of the day. I would submit that current Muslim-Christian relations illustrate this selective memory, and the Middle East provides a useful mirror.
In the 16th Century, Martin Luther came across a short book detailing the religious rituals and customs of the Ottoman Turks. He was so impressed with the tract that he decided to reprint it with a new preface that he authored himself. This is not surprising as, given the expansion of the Ottoman Empire, Luther had much to say regarding the Turks, Muhammad, and the Qur’an. While the majority of Luther’s works on Islam and Muslims are polemical in tone, this particular writing takes a different approach…
During the 5th Crusade St. Francis undertook what most considered a senseless and foolhardy mission: convert the most powerful Muslim in the world. So radical was the Sultan he had promised a Byzantine gold piece for anyone who brought the head of a Christian. He was “treacherous, brainless and false hearted,” but where others saw the face of evil, Francis saw a man without the Savior and compassion welled up inside of him.
As Francis and his trusted friend Illumimato walked onto the battlefield, they were caught, beaten and brought to the Sultan who was happy because he thought they wanted to become Muslims. “On the contrary,” said Francis, “We have a message that you should surrender your soul to God.” Thus he proclaimed the Triune God and Jesus Christ the Savior of all. The Sultan did not convert for it was he who retook Jerusalem. By God’s grace St. Francis was not killed but that possibility did not deter him.
In these perilous times, when radical Islam is carrying out horrific acts of violence, Christians must reach out to Muslims with courage and compassion. We must understand their concerns and engage with them in witness. Most Muslims wake up with no church, no Bible, and no one to tell them about the Way, the Truth and the Life. Five times a day from countless minarets in their midst, they hear God is great, but who will tell them God is love?
The majority of Americans’ opinions about Islam and Muslims were formed after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and even more so by the subsequent tragic events of 9/11. Prior to this, the American general public knew little about Muslims. Six months after the 9/11 tragedies, 2,652 attacks against Muslim Americans were reported, which was an unprecedented number.
After 9/11, the media’s role was significant in molding the opinion of the general population in regard to Muslims and cannot be understated. Studies have found that even watching a small portion of the media stories that negatively portray Muslims can lead to prejudice. Some of the news stories include portraying Islam as being “backwards,” by associating it with oppression of women and honor killings. One psychologist described the media’s portrayal of Muslims as “dehumanizing.”
Christians have their own form of media targeted specifically toward them in the forms of Christian radio, television programs, movies, books, and blogs. Many books that vilify Islam have been marketed toward Christians.Christian media outlets, have not always been helpful either. Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) actually pulled Hal Lindsey’s program from its station in 2005 because they felt it would derail evangelism efforts to Muslims. The president of TBN, Paul Crouch, said that he was unaware of any instances where, “Making inflammatory, derogatory anti-Muslim statements has led a single follower of Islam to Christ.” It is also important for Christians to realize that these programs are not just directly damaging to Muslims, but they also taint Christians’ perception as well.
In the end, certain influential Christian leaders have painted a negative and even derogatory picture of Muslims, but other Christians have resisted this approach. When one Christian leader referred to Muhammad as a pedophile and demon-possessed, Kidd reports, “Southern Baptist missionaries in Muslim countries anonymously pleaded with American leaders to ‘concentrate on sharing Christ in love…instead of speaking in a degrading manner about [Islam or the] prophet.’”