A few weeks ago Bobby Ghosh of TIME magazine diagnosed Americans as suffering from Islamophobia - an irrational fear of Islam. The powder keg of the controversy is the Park 51 project which proposes to build an Islamic mosque in the vicinity of Ground Zero. The call of our country’s great minds came for us to demonstrate the American spirit, observe the constitution and allow freedom of religion to prevail.
Last week Pastor Terry Jones of Gainesville, Florida intended to burn a stack of Korans (the holy scriptures of Islam) on 9/11. The pastor of the small church painted the words "Burn a Koran Day" on the side of a white trailer and subsequently appeared on every major news network. Like the Park 51 project, this unknown pastor garnered the attention of America's greatest minds. Pastor Jones and Park 51 went from obscure places and people to instantly recognisable equals. Pastor Jones' actions have been publicly denounced by significant Christian evangelical leaders, General Patraeus, notable politicians, and even President Obama. Those that decried pastor Jones made it clear that they did not wish to suppress his freedom of speech, but rather to avoid a serious reaction from the Islamic community that could not only damage relations domestically and internationally, but according to our top ranking military officials and President Obama, could further endanger the lives of our troops serving in Islamic countries.
From a purely Biblical standpoint, burning the Koran is a shameful reaction to Islam. There is nothing about burning the holy book of another religion that fits into the ethic of Christ. The purpose of the gospel is to show the supremacy of Christ, including the supremacy of Christ over other paths to salvation or definitions of God. My guess would be that Pastor Jones was inspired to express himself by burning the Koran, at least in some part, because he has seen the images of Muslim people burning Bibles and American flags. Burning the Koran is not an act of supremacy, but rather one of revenge. To burn another man's holy book is not an invitation to believe in Christ and be saved, it is jihad.
The cull Pastor Jones wagon is full. I am not looking for another seat, but rather asking for us to examine the very public, high ranking reaction to his actions. My purpose is to compare fears, the presumed irrational ones surrounding Park 51 and the presumed well founded ones of our military and political leaders and ask of the two, who is more afraid of Islam?
For our President and his military generals, burning the Koran is a matter of life and death. For the protestors at Park 51 moving the mosque is a matter of preference and civility. Yet when our President and his military leaders plead with Pastor Jones not to burn a Koran because it may cost American lives, it should not only beg us to ask the obvious questions of Pastor Jones and his motives, it should also cause us to question Islam. Why would burning a Koran incite global bloodshed? Why would one pastor in front of a white trailer burring a pile of books be responsible for the cataclysmic breakdown of diplomatic relations with the Muslim community? Is Islam really that volatile? If so, why? Should we be afraid? The fact that our President took the time to warn one pastor not to do this tells us that Islam is different than America. Most Americans wondered why one pastor was getting so much air time. If Islam in New York City is no big deal, then why is protesting it in Florida, in front of a white trailer, an international statement of hatred? There are some seriously mixed signals here. I am not naive. I am just wondering if anyone else noticed? Who is more afraid?
In America we protest, satirise, criticise, and debate freely. Is Islam somehow immune? When we are bombarded with images of Muslim nations burning down American icons, no one encourages us to be calm. No nation fears that we may be so offended that we are no longer diplomatic. Pastor Jones and President Obama exposed something true of America and Islam, culturally we are worlds apart. Who is more afraid?
Our leaders tell us continuously that we should not judge Islam by the actions of the 9/11 hijackers or of any radical faction that has bombed a Naval ship, a subway, or taken an innocent life. Why then have American politicians and military leaders been so concerned that Islam would judge America by one misguided pastor? Who is more afraid?
So what are we to do with Islam on a practical level? What’s my point? My point is that in order for us to have legitimate conversations about Islam we are not going to alleviate fear until we alleviate the misinformation campaign that surrounds Islam in America. Let’s be honest about Islam. New Yorkers are nervous about another 9/11, Americans are nervous about mosques, and our President and his leaders are afraid of the volatile reactions of the Islamic nations. There is fear. It is not an irrational phobia. Allow Islam to be critiqued and evaluated openly and honestly. Do not pretend that if someone has questions about or criticisms of Muslim teachings that they are ignorant, bigoted vessels of hate. Let us also recognize that Islam is not merely a religious ideology, but a political one as well. The reason Americans are having such a difficult time with Islam, politicians included, is because in our secular culture we separate religion from culture and politics. Muslims do not. Christians should not. That being the case, there is validity in asking serious questions about how Islam fits into America. Do Muslims believe in and practice religious liberty? I can provide you a long list of Muslim nations that do not. At the time America was founded England didn’t, so we crossed the pond seeking freedom. Are Muslims in America coming here for the same reasons? If so, welcome home. What is the logical conclusion of Islam in government? If they live here, they will eventually lead. There are countless examples in the world and in history that give us good reason to be somewhat leery.
These are valid questions in the forum of civil liberty. The Christian community has a stake in this conversation. But generally speaking, what are Christians to do with Islam? Reacting to it in ignorant fear is not the rational thing to do. Burning a Koran is something worse. Christians should study its theology, its doctrines, compare them with Scripture and do what Jesus did; seek to save the lost. Above all, Americans and Muslims need Jesus. Because America has become so pluralistic the Christian community has an incredible opportunity to distinctly define God and model a radical form of Lordship under Christ Jesus. This is not a time to live in fear, this is a time to live out the gospel. The world is moving in next door. For us to mandate that our communities to stay white, black, Hispanic, non-Muslim, or protestant is not practical nor is it gospel. The followers of Christ are to engage the world with a superior message. We are to demonstrate the reasons why we don’t burn Korans and why we don’t lose our minds when we are offended, rejected, persecuted, or threatened.
Jesus has come to give His life for sinners, He has risen from the dead. If we repent of our sins and embrace His gospel our souls will be awakened to an abundant hope in Him. Fear is not our message. Repent and believe in Jesus as the Christ - this is our message.
(Also Read the Baptist Press article: VIEWPOINT - To Reach Muslims . . .