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The words “hate,” “bigotry” and “intolerance” are mis- and over-used. But that makes it more important that we speak out against the real thing when it’s there.
I’m so glad that he spoke out.
But let me also hasten to add that we shouldn’t leave it to the President to remind us of the need to condemn hate and evil – that’s the job of the Church.
The past few months have witnessed, to borrow from Yeats’ poem, “The Second Coming,” a “rough beast” slouching to be born. That “rough beast” is open, and sometimes violent, expressions of bigotry and intolerance.
Now Christians have ample reasons to be wary of those words “bigotry” and “intolerance,” since we’re often unjustly accused of both. But to use the medieval Latin phrase, “abusus non tollit usum,” the misuse of something does not negate its proper use. There are such things as bigotry and intolerance.
Some of it, such as Texas high school students taunting their Hispanic opponents at a basketball game with chants of “build that wall!” are easy to rationalize as youthful hi-jinks, until you put yourself, as Jesus commands us to, in the shoes of the kids being taunted.
Other examples, such as the killing of an Indian-born engineer, and the wounding of two other people by a man who had earlier yelled “get out of my country!” are impossible to ignore. The fact that the man may been under the influence of alcohol when he pulled the trigger does not make the crime less troubling.
While alcohol lowers inhibitions, it doesn’t create the impulses being inhibited in the first place. To quote another Latin phrase, “in vino veritas,” or wine brings out the truth.
Likewise, the vandalizing of Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Rochester, New York, along with bomb threats against 120 Jewish Community Centers across the country is nothing less than alarming.
And it’s not just Jewish Community Centers. In the past two months, four mosques have been deliberately set on fire.
The good news is that, amidst all this hate, we have seen examples of grace: Two American Muslims raised over $140,000 to repair the damage done to Jewish cemeteries, and Muslim veterans have vowed to protect Jewish cemeteries. As one veteran tweeted, “If your synagogue or Jewish cemetery needs someone to stand guard, count me in. Islam requires it.”
Strictly speaking, while I am thankful for his words, I am not sure that it does. But there is no questions about Christianity. As Paul says in Acts 17, God determines when and where we live. And as Esther so courageously demonstrated in difficult times, silence is not an option.
March 9, 2016
If I walk up to my office window at Crossway Books and look across the railroad tracks to the west, I can see the campus of Wheaton College, including the distinctive white spire above the center named after its most famous alumnus, Billy Graham. Founded by evangelical abolitionists in 1860 “for Christ and his kingdom,” the school has garnered a reputation over the years as the Evangelical Harvard, seeking to show that a liberal arts college can combine rigorous academic training and faithful piety.
As many readers will know, Wheaton was embroiled in controversy from December 2015 to February 2016, centered around statements by political science professor Larycia Hawkins. Announcing on Facebook her plan to wear the hijab during Advent, she explained: “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”
A firestorm of controversy ensued, fanned into flame by forces both inside and outside of the school. Though it was in the same town in which I work, I mainly followed the developments at a distance (that is to say, online), even offering my own modest proposal on the same-God debate.
We have not heard, however, from many faculty members inside Wheaton regarding their perspective on what happened or what we can learn from this difficult season for Wheaton. I am grateful, therefore, to share the following essay by Daniel J. Treier, Blanchard Professor of Theology at Wheaton College. Suggesting that this may be a ”‘teachable moment,’ not just for Wheaton specifically but more generally for Christians in higher education,” Dr. Treier calls the Christian community to consider how “four key features of biblical wisdom might help us to understand how Dr. Hawkins, Dr. Jones, parents, and professors could act in reasonably good faith yet reach a tragic outcome.”
More could be said here, but not less. For anyone who watched or commented on this tragedy—both from within and from outside—this is a wise essay worth carefully considering.
The Wheaton Tragedy
Daniel J. Treier
March 9, 2016
Wheaton College (IL), where I have taught theology for fifteen years, recently endured a two-month media firestorm. Generally reliable details of the narrative are available via that bastion of truth, the Internet. In miniature: A tenured political science professor, Larycia Hawkins, was placed on administrative leave after asserting that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. This assertion appeared in a Facebook post explaining her decision to wear a hijab during Advent, expressing “embodied solidarity” with Muslim women prominently facing discrimination. As controversy ensued, Wheaton’s provost Stanton Jones believed that Dr. Hawkins did not provide adequate theological clarification of how her statements were consistent with the college’s evangelical statement of faith.
Subsequent conversations reached a stalemate while media coverage escalated. Dr. Jones initiated formal termination procedures that would commence with a review by the Faculty Personnel Committee. Already an overwhelming majority of the faculty opposed Dr. Hawkins’s termination, especially after she posted online a statement of theological clarification. Wheaton’s Faculty Council unanimously formalized a recommendation for Dr. Hawkins’s reinstatement, grounded in critique of administrative procedures. Supporters of Dr. Hawkins intensified various private and public campaigns. Additional faculty members, who previously shared some of the administration’s theological concerns or were undecided, came to support Dr. Hawkins’s immediate reinstatement, believing that her clarifying statement precluded any violation of a particular tenet of the statement of faith.
Advocacy on both sides reached a fever pitch of Facebook and Twitter salvos from professors, alumni, and pundits. Media stories proliferated internationally, partly because three Wheaton alumnae report on religion for national outlets. One of them publicized multiple confidential materials leaked by faculty members. Few cultural elites or Wheaton professors sympathized publicly with the administration’s concerns. Younger and more progressive alumni joined the administration’s critics in vocal support for Dr. Hawkins.
The Faculty Diversity Committee issued a private report that raised significant concerns about administrative procedures as well as racial and gender inequity affecting the case. Shortly thereafter Dr. Jones sent a detailed written apology to Dr. Hawkins. He revoked the termination proceedings and left the decision about reinstating Dr. Hawkins in the hands of Wheaton’s president, Philip Ryken. The Diversity Committee’s report leaked while Dr. Hawkins and Dr. Ryken were addressing the possibility of her reinstatement. Dr. Hawkins and Dr. Ryken reached a confidential agreement to end her employment at the college, at which point Dr. Jones’s apology was made public. A joint worship service and a joint press conference ensued.
Of course the controversy is not really over, regardless of whether media interest waxes or wanes. Months, even years, of rebuilding lie ahead. The college is left sifting through the rubble of its latest firestorm while grieving the loss of a treasured professor, and Dr. Hawkins was left to find a new place of service. (By the way, Dr. Hawkins is a valued colleague and family friend, but in this essay I use her academic title rather than operating on a first-name basis. She deserves every indication of the respect that chummy students sometimes deny to female professors in my conservative circles.) Rebuilding requires time for lament and space for grief, even expressions of anger. Early commentary requires restraint, recognizing the risk of damaging relationships we hope to heal.
Both Tragedy and Wisdom: A Neglected Perspective
Yet I offer this essay to commend a neglected perspective, worth considering before views harden so thoroughly that our rebuilding efforts cannot incorporate any alternatives. Thus far public commentary from my Wheaton colleagues has been overwhelmingly one-sided, for understandable reasons. If, however, those who grieve over Dr. Hawkins’s departure but sympathize with our administration’s theological concerns remain entirely silent, then rebuilding efforts will produce lopsided results.
Indeed, perhaps we face a “teachable moment,” not just for Wheaton specifically but more generally for Christians in higher education. Wheaton is far from the only school navigating the challenges of a social media age, the dramas of faculty advocacy, the limits of academic freedom, or perceived tensions between genuine diversity and confessional identity. Moreover, Wheaton’s treatment as an icon—by the media, the broader academy, and various stakeholders from both left and right—could mean that the recent controversy has larger consequences for the accreditation, finances, and politics of Christian higher education.
Most pundits have taken clear sides dominated by political, theological, or academic agendas—not to mention suspicion and sheer speculation. To state my alternative succinctly: What if the dominant categories for assessing this controversy should be the pair of “tragedy” and “wisdom”? What if we tried to imagine how each major stakeholder in the controversy could act in reasonably good faith yet contribute to a tragic outcome? And what if we tried to learn our lessons for the future from both the fragmentary wisdom and the limitations displayed by each?
I have been pondering how biblical wisdom addresses our communal life because of James 1:19-20: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (NIV). These verses confronted my own slowness to listen (to certain people anyway), my speed in speaking (without adequate information), and my fiery self-righteousness. As a Christian liberal arts professor, I find it painful to be so unwise.
What if we listen—really listen, seeking the peaceable and teachable wisdom of James 3:17-18—to the perspectives of all the relevant stakeholders? Despite our differences, and the other relevant questions this essay brackets out, these stakeholders claim a shared commitment to Scripture’s authority. Thus four key features of biblical wisdom might help us to understand how Dr. Hawkins, Dr. Jones, parents, and professors could act in reasonably good faith yet reach a tragic outcome.
1. Listening and Speaking
Wisdom’s emphasis on the character of our listening and speaking especially helps us to examine Dr. Hawkins’s perspective. How many critics listened carefully to understand sympathetically what she sought to do? James, the New Testament’s Wisdom literature, prohibits self-righteous slander (4:11-12). Catechesis from the Ninth Commandment enjoins thinking and speaking as well of others as possible, even refraining from expressing justifiable criticism if we can. Dr. Hawkins’s critics frequently failed to honor God’s law in this way.
James 2 and 5 also apply, for they demonstrate that enduring wisdom and prophetic action are not automatically opposed. Hoping to demonstrate solidarity with a verbally, politically, and sometimes physically abused group, Dr. Hawkins championed marginalized persons that James prophetically defends. Unfortunately that solidarity resulted in verbal abuse of Dr. Hawkins, as some critics violated James 3 with particularly vile responses. If some of the concern was primarily political, then James 4:1-10 further applies: Were such critics really concerned for evangelical truth, or instead committing spiritual adultery with a cultural agenda?
Of course Dr. Hawkins was making a public statement in the first place, and she responded to the critics’ and administration’s publicity with more of her own. As the controversy ensued, some of her rhetoric about “Wheaton College,” while commendably avoiding personal attack by name, risked going beyond prophetic confrontation into casting many of the institution’s stakeholders in the worst possible light. Yet neither side backed down, each blaming the other for turning up the temperature. And it is important for those who cannot imagine responding as Dr. Hawkins did to attempt—however inadequately—to put ourselves in her shoes: a single, black female living in downtown Chicago, teaching at a white male-dominated suburban evangelical institution, confronting a post-Ferguson world. Before dismissing the rhetoric of “prophetic” response—about which I will express concerns below—we first should listen to the cries of the side James takes. Among reactions to Dr. Hawkins the partisan anger of worldly wisdom frequently trumped the listening ears, teachable heart, and peaceable spirit of Christian wisdom.
2. Prudence and Courage
Biblical wisdom prioritizes not only listening and speaking but also prudence and courage, helping us to examine the perspective of Wheaton’s administration. How many critics listened carefully to their concerns and imagined alternatives to their course of action? The challenges they faced highlight the necessity and limitations of prudence as well as its complex relation to courage.
Hard times come with hard questions, and our cultural context exerts enormous pressure on Christians to affirm common ground at the expense of theological differences. But the cost of getting this question wrong is the loss of the Gospel.
A statement made by a professor at a leading evangelical college has become a flashpoint in a controversy that really matters. In explaining why she intended to wear a traditional Muslim hijab over the holiday season in order to symbolize solidarity with her Muslim neighbors, the professor asserted that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
Is this true?
The answer to that question depends upon a distinctly Christian and clearly biblical answer to yet another question: Can anyone truly worship the Father while rejecting the Son?
The Christian’s answer to that question must follow the example of Christ. Jesus himself settled the question when he responded to Jewish leaders who confronted him after he had said “I am the light of the world.” When they denied him, Jesus said, “If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (John 8:19). Later in that same chapter, Jesus used some of the strongest language of his earthly ministry in stating clearly that to deny him is to deny the Father.
Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God. Christians worship the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and no other god. We know the Father through the Son, and it is solely through Christ’s atonement for sin that salvation has come. Salvation comes to those who confess with their lips that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in their hearts that God has raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9). The New Testament leaves no margin for misunderstanding. To deny the Son is to deny the Father.
To affirm this truth is not to argue that non-Christians, our Muslim neighbors included, know nothing true about God or to deny that the three major monotheistic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — share some major theological beliefs. All three religions affirm that there is only one God and that he has spoken to us by divine revelation. All three religions point to what each claims to be revealed scriptures. Historically, Jews and Christians and Muslims have affirmed many points of agreement on moral teachings. All three theological worldviews hold to a linear view of history, unlike many Asian worldviews that believe in a circular view of history.
And yet, when we look more closely, even these points of agreement begin to break down. Christian trinitarianism is rejected by both Judaism and Islam. Muslims deny that Jesus Christ is the incarnate and eternal Son of God and go further to deny that God has a son.
Our hearts break for the families who have lost loved ones in Paris.
Once again, we have been painfully reminded that we live in a dangerous world where religious extremists are willing to kill and massacre in the name of God.
These were innocent people living their lives, going to dinner, attending a soccer match, listening to live music at a concert hall.
These were husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters. It is sickening and infuriating.
They had no idea that Friday, Nov. 13, would be their final day.
How are we to respond? It is clear that these religious extremists have no interest in peace.
They have no interest in dialogue. They have no interest in respecting human life or the ways of the civilized world.
This is the 21st century face of evil, and you cannot rationalize with evil. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of the great church leaders in the early 20th century.
He believed in community. He believed in peace. He believed in the ways and teachings of Christ.
However, when confronted with the reality that was Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich, he went in on an assassination plot.
He believed that there is only one way to deal with that type of evil.
ISIS must be dealt with. Their goal is not only a global caliphate but for all of us to live paralyzed by fear. We cannot let them succeed.
John Piper’s August 2002 paper on “Tolerance, Truth-Telling, Violence, and Law: Principles for How Christians Should Relate to Those of Other Faiths” did not get a great deal of attention at the time (so far as I recall), but it remains just as relevant now as it did in the months following 9/11.
It was originally prompted by the question of how Christians and Muslims should relate to each other. “This question,” Piper explains, “is part of the larger issue of how Christians are called to live in a pluralistic world. More specifically, how shall we as American Christians think and act with regard to freedom of religion in a pluralistic context defined by the ideals of representative democracy? In particular, how shall we bear witness to the supremacy of Christ in a world where powerful cultures and religions do not share the love of freedom or the ideals of democracy?”
I’ve reproduced the principles below.
1. Whether approved or disapproved by others, we should thankfully and joyfully hold firmly to the true biblical understanding of God and the way of salvation he has provided and the life of love and purity and justice Christ has modeled and taught.
2. Both in the church and the world we should make clear and explicit the whole counsel of God revealed in his inspired word, the Bible—both the parts that non-Christians approve and the parts that they don’t. We should not conceal aspects of our faith in order to avoid criticism or disapproval.
3. It is loving to point out the error and harm of Christ-denying faiths. The harm consists not only in some temporal effects, but especially in the eternal pain caused by refusing the truth of Christ. This warning should be given with earnestness and longing for the good of those who are in danger of the consequences of not trusting Christ.
4. We Christians should acknowledge our sin and desperate need of salvation by a crucified and risen Savior, so that we do not posture ourselves as worthy of salvation as if we had superior intellect or wisdom or goodness. We are beggars who have, by grace, found the life-giving bread of truth, forgiveness, and joy. We desire to offer it to all, so that they join us in admiring and enjoying the greatness of Christ forever.
5. We should present Christ not as the triumph of an argument among religions but as the most trustworthy, beautiful, important, and precious person in history, and as our desperately needed and loved substitute in two senses: (1) He absorbed, by his suffering and death, the wrath of God in our place; and (2) he became our righteousness before the all-holy God by living a sinless life which was imputed as righteousness to us when we believed on Jesus.
6. We should make clear that Christian faith, which unites us to Christ and all his saving benefits, is a childlike, self-despairing trust in the worth and work of Christ, not a meritorious work of our own. Our call for others to be Christians is not a call to work for God or to earn his approval by doing deeds of righteousness or love. We are calling for people to renounce all self-reliance and rely entirely on the saving life and death of Jesus Christ.
7. We believe it is a just and loving thing to publicly point out the errors of other faiths…
How can we respond in a uniquely Christian way to the horror in Paris? |
Others can opine on geopolitical realities, military strategies, and more. But I’m burdened to ask, how do we respond as Christians?
I can’t speak for everyone, but I can and will share some suggestions in this painful time. I believe there are things Christians can and must do to respond to this, and so many other, terrorist attacks.
First, pray. #PrayforParis. Pray for France, Pray for Muslims. And pray for those who are our enemies. That’s a uniquely Christian thing to do– to pray for all, including our enemies. It’s not easy, but it is our calling.
Second, love the hurting. Though most of us are not in Paris tonight, we know that Christians are there, along with others, loving those who have lost so many. And,even from where we sit, we can love the French and “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). It was the French newspaper LeMonde that said in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, “We are all Americans now.” Well, today, we are all Parisians.
Third, love our enemies. Again, that is what makes our faith unique. Most of us are watching this unfold from outside of France, but as the President of the United States said in his remarks, “this is an attack on all of humanity.” When we let that sink in, love isn’t our first natural feeling. But love is what we are called to anyway.
You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. –Matthew 5:43-45
But in moments like this, that response can be hard to come by. We have to consider our own tendencies, and be ready to flee from temptation. Fresh memories from 14 years ago come back for Americans tonight, and strong feelings rise to the surface.
Sometimes it’s not enough to just give lip service to what we should be doing. We also have to commit to what we should be resisting. And on a night like this, there are at least three things we should NOT do as Christians.
First, we should not hate. That’s what our human nature wants to do. We feel pain for those on the other side of the ocean. We feel anger toward an evil that we cannot control. We remember what it feels like to live in a nation under attack. And some of us may even worry about people we know who live in France. All these emotions, especially together, can lead our souls to some troubling places. But the truth is, we are people who live with hope and who live with a mission. We cannot hate a people and reach a people at the same time. As we pray, we must pray for our own hearts to be protected from hate.
Second, we should not take out anger on refugees.
As the rise of the Islamic State continues, Africa finds itself increasingly in the crosshairs. Nigeria, Niger, Kenya, the Central African Republic, Mali, Chad, Libya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Tanzania … are all under siege in varying degrees as the Muslim armies of the Islamic State, al Shabaab, Boko Haram et al bring their savage, supremacist war to every country on the continent.
Chadian police on Sunday warned that anyone found wearing the Muslim full-face veil would be arrested, after a Boko Haram suicide bombing in the capital left 15 dead.
Saturday’s attack in a bustling N’Djamena market by a man disguised as a woman in a full-face veil also injured 80 and spread panic across the city. (source)
“This attack just confirms that a ban” on the full-face veil was justified, national police spokesman Paul Manga said, adding that “it now must be respected more than ever by the entire population.”
Ramadan in Cameroon: Burqa-wearing Muslims murder at least twelve people in jihad-martyrdom suicide attacks (thanks to Robert Spencer)
“The best acts that bring you closer to God are jihad, so hurry to it and make sure to carry out the invasion this holy month and be exposed to martyrdom in it,” so said Islamic State spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani as Ramadan began several weeks ago.
Boko Haram pledged allegiance to the Islamic State last February.
“Suicide attacks killed at least 12 in northern Cameroon: source,” Reuters, July 12, 2015 (thanks to Lookmann):
YAOUNDE (Reuters) – At least a dozen civilians and a Chadian soldier were killed in two suicide attacks by suspected Boko Haram militants in the northern Cameroon town of Fotokol late on Sunday, a senior Cameroonian military officer said.
The first explosion went off inside a bar near a Cameroon special forces (BIR) camp just after sundown as many were breaking the Ramadan fast, the officer said, asking not to be named….
L’Oeil du Sahel, a newspaper in northern Cameroon, said the two attackers wore burqas.
Islamist group Boko Haram, which launched an insurgency six years ago to carve out an emirate in northeast Nigeria, has also stepped up attacks in neighbouring Chad, Cameroon and Niger in recent months.
Since that day, questions about violence and Islam have lingered in the American mind: do these violent terrorists truly represent Islam? Is violence intrinsic to the Muslim faith? Having once been a student at a boarding school for missionary kids that was attacked by Islamic terrorists in an effort to frighten Christian missionaries out of the country, these questions are not hackneyed abstractions for me.
As I observe Christians trying to come to grips with the Islamic world, violence in Islam remains a deeply important problem. As Christians, the issue is important to us not simply because we believe that Christianity is true and all other religions are false, but because we have the duty and privilege of proclaiming the gospel to all peoples, including Muslims. While others may have the option of keeping “those Muslims” out of sight and mind as much as possible, Christians must draw near them.
Better Question to Ask
The question at hand presupposes the possibility of determining the true Muslim faith, which is something not even settled within Islam itself. In fact, the recent upsurge in violence perpetrated by Muslim groups is related to the fact that multiple groups are contending for the undisputed title of the “true successors.” Much as Protestants and Catholics argue over the true successors of the apostles, Islam faces the question as to the identity of the true successors to Mohammed. But unlike the Bible, the Qur’an does not really provide enough footing on its own to resolve the question.
A better question to ask is whether or not there is a legitimate place for violence within Islamic tradition. The answer is yes. The primary means of determining this right in Islam is power. According to Islamic thinking, if you are in power and succeeding, then God is clearly blessing and supporting you. If you are not, then God has chosen not to bless you. Of the first four caliphs after Mohammed, three of them were violently murdered, either by assassination, mob, or in battle, all by “fellow” Muslims who supported other leaders. The first two Islamic dynasties came into power by slaughtering those who held power before them. Islam’s history only gets bloodier from there, since might makes right in a way that is foreign to the Judeo-Christian world. Despite the shocking number of Christians or secular Westerners being killed by Muslims, Muslims are killing even greater numbers of other Muslims.
Three Undergirding Principles
Why else does violence broadly retain a position of legitimacy within the Islamic tradition? I think three theological and cultural issues undergird violence within Islam.
1. Coercion and Belief
Christianity teaches that God does not desire mere outward obeisance. He wants heartfelt obedience and living faith. As Paul says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). Therefore, we cannot coerce someone into becoming a Christian. All we can make through coercion is hypocrites. However, you can force someone to become a Muslim (though probably not a truly devout one). All five pillars of Islam are behavioral. Each one can be fulfilled without heartfelt conviction.
Islam means “submission.” Christian means “little Christ.” Even in their labels, you can see a clear difference in priorities between the religions. One promotes discipleship—teaching others to follow. The other promotes conquest (internal and external). Shabbir Akhtar, who lectures at Old Dominion University, argues in D. A. Carson’s book The Intolerance of Tolerance, “Ultimately Islam will (and ought to) win worldwide dominion, because Islam alone, and certainly not Christianity, is internally constituted to be an imperial religion.” This kind of thinking has no place in biblical Christianity.
You can see Mohammed’s sword in Topkapi Palace, Istanbul. Of all the supposed relics of Christ, no one has ever claimed to have found his sword. Jesus said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my disciples would fight to keep me from being handed over” (John 18:36). Jesus rebuked Peter for “going to war” to prevent his arrest. There is no such thing as a Christian nation, because the new heavens and the new earth have not been fully inaugurated. There is such thing as a Muslim nation, because every piece of land that belongs to a Muslim nation belongs to Allah.
While Christians grieve the decline of Christianity in places like Europe, we cannot legitimately go to war to reclaim it for Christ. Instead, we pray and evangelize. Furthermore, Christ’s kingdom advances not in territory but in and through the people who claim him as their King. However, when Muslim lands become less Muslim, that is a direct affront to Islam that must be redresssed.
3. Honor and Shame
The importance of honor is a key cultural difference between the West and most Muslim countries. Rejection or mockery of Mohammed or Islam is a personal attack on every Muslim. Every person who leaves Islam to become a Christian shames Islam because he communicates that it is unworthy of belief. Christ teaches us that to be shamed by the world for the sake of the Lord is honorable (1 Pet. 4:14). Muslims have no clear category for receiving that shame as a commendation of their faithfulness to Allah, since only success is a sign of God’s blessing. So when Islam is undermined, it must be fiercely defended.
Violence in the Human Heart
These factors contribute to violence in Islam, but more than anything else they condemn the human heart. Physical violence has been a distinguishing mark of all humanity ever since Genesis 4. Violence is not unique to Islam. It’s a distinctive of sinful human hearts. In other words, Islam does not make people violent. Sin does. As a man-made religion, Islam is just one more tool people use to harden the heart and embrace sin.
But common grace also extends to Muslims. Not all Muslims are given over to the violence that the system could potentially justify, just as your atheist/secular neighbors don’t fully embrace every sinful behavior that their non-theist worldview could justify.
Christian Response to Violent Persecutors
How should Christians respond to the reality of Islamic violence? The secular West is scrambling for an answer but coming up empty. Every time we see another attack by Muslim terrorists, public figures sprint to opposite sides of the ring. One side says the violence proves terrorism is the inevitable outworking of Islam, the other that beliefs had nothing to do with it.
The world around us struggles because they are unable to see Muslims as people whose value exists in their personhood, not their beliefs. The world thinks of people in binary terms. Either Muslims are “good people” or extremists who belong with the likes of Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot.
But we know—or should know—that Muslims are humans created in God’s image and distorted by the fall. They need the same gospel as we do. Muslims are not the enemy, but they are in bondage to him.
The President at the Prayer Breakfast
Tuesday • February 10, 2015
Presidents of the United States are usually awful as theologians. In far too many cases, the closer they get to anything theological, the bigger the mess they make. President Obama seems rather adept at making such messes, but he is hardly the first. The only President of the United States to be baptized while in office was Dwight D. Eisenhower. In remarks made at the Freedoms Forum at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in 1952, the recently-elected Eisenhower said: “In other words, our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”
Of recent presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were probably the most theologically literate, and both claimed deep roots as Southern Baptists. In his infamous Playboy interview of 1976, Carter cited Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich as influences and Clinton seemed cut from the same theological cloth. Both men have, in their own way, distanced themselves rather clearly from the theological and moral convictions held by Southern Baptists. Ronald Reagan’s evangelical faith seemed to be vague and he rarely attended church services during his eight years in office. George H. W. Bush seemed to be a very conventional mainline Protestant of the old establishment but his son, George W. Bush, may well have been the most clearly evangelical president of the modern age.
President Obama identifies openly with a very liberal version of Christian thinking and reasoning. He cites religious concerns from time to time, but he seems to operate more as a secular cosmopolitan. When he does address religious thoughts openly, as at the National Prayer Breakfast last week, he made a considerable mess.
That he holds to a universalistic understanding of religion is not in doubt. President Obama spoke of faith, of his own “faith journey,” and “professions of faith.” The common denominator in his thinking seems to be faith as an act without any concern for the content or object of that faith. Thus, “part of what I want to touch on today is the degree to which we’ve seen professions of faith used both as an instrument of great good, but also twisted and misused in the name of evil.”
When people do evil in the name of faith, the President asserted, it is because the faith has been perverted or distorted. Any faith can be perverted in this way, Mr. Obama said, and no religion is inherently violent. In his words: “Our job is not to ask that God respond to our notion of truth — our job is to be true to Him, His word, and His commandments. And we should assume humbly that we’re confused and don’t always know what we’re doing and we’re staggering and stumbling towards Him, and have some humility in that process. And that means we have to speak up against those who would misuse His name to justify oppression, or violence, or hatred with that fierce certainty. No God condones terror. No grievance justifies the taking of innocent lives, or the oppression of those who are weaker or fewer in number.”
The fact remains that Western civilization — and much of the world beyond — is directly threatened by a militant form of Islam that has the allegiance of millions of Muslims. While the vast majority of Muslims in the world are not fighters in a jihad against the West, and for that we must be thankful, the fact remains that the President’s own national security authorities directly disagree with the President when he recently said that “99.9 percent” of Muslims do not back Islamic terrorism.
On Islam, President Obama is not the first to sow confusion on the issue. In the aftermath of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush argued over and over again that America is not at war with Islam. We can understand why a president would say this, and we also need to admit that there is an important element of truth in the statement.
The West is not at war with Islam if that means a war against all Muslims and against all forms of Islam. But, true as that statement may be, we must also be clear that we are facing a great and grave civilizational challenge from millions of Muslims who believe, quite plausibly, that their version of Islam is more faithful to the essence of Islam and the Quran. This understanding of Islam is growing, not receding. It is now drawing thousands of young Muslims from both Europe and North America to join the jihad. We have seen the hopes of a moderating Arab Spring dashed and we have seen the rise of even more brutal and deadly forms of jihad in groups such as the Islamic State. Clearly, there are millions of Muslims who do believe that God condones terror. They celebrate the fact that Muhammad was a warrior, and they understand that it is their responsibility as faithful Muslims to bring the entire world under the rule of Sharia law. Their actions are driven by a theological logic that has roots in the Quran, in the founding of Islam, and in the history of Islamic conquest.
And yet, at virtually every turn, President Obama and his administration remain determined not to mention Islam in any negative light, and even to redefine some acts of terror committed in the name of Islam as “workplace violence.” His refusal to acknowledge the worldview of those who declare themselves to be our enemies is neither intellectually honest nor safe. It is a theological disaster, but it is a foreign policy disaster as well.
In the most controversial portion of his address, President Obama said:
“And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”
President Obama would not mention Islam by name, but he did bring judgment on the Christian past, with specific reference to the Crusades. At that point a good measure of Christian humility and honesty are called for. The centuries of the Crusades were a brutal epoch in which horrible things were done, often in the name of Christ. The union of medieval Catholicism and the power of kings was disastrous, and there are lasting stains on the Christian conscience from this era. The same is true of the era of slavery and Jim Crow laws in the United States.
But honesty is hard to come by when it comes to distant history, and that is why we should be rigorously critical when it comes to the very real and horrifying reality that terrible acts have been perpetrated in the name of Christianity. At the same time, historical honesty and humility demands that we acknowledge that in the age of armed conflict between Christian kingdoms (as they claimed to be) and Muslim armies, even the stoutest secular critics of Christianity must recognize that our current age would be very different if Muslim armies had won, for example, when the forces of the Ottoman Empire were stopped at the gates of Vienna in 1683. All those professors of gender studies and post-colonial literature in European universities might well be professors of the Quran, instead.