“Don’t do it, too controversial.”
“You’ll make a lot of people mad and start arguments, why would you want to do that?”
“You could be accused of being sympathetic towards terrorists, nobody will get it.”
These are the three recurring thoughts that have come to mind as I have considered writing this post. And they are the three things that I am scared of the most as I pen these words.
But every day and week that has passed with me grappling with these “should I?” or “shouldn’t I?” dilemmas has left me more desirous to take the plunge and do it. So consider this the plunge. And consider this as me taking it.
Here we go.
On June 10, a radical Islamist group that call themselves “ISIS” which stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or “ISIL,” the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, seized control of Mosul — a key city in Iraq. (I will refer to the group as “ISIS” here.) Since then, members of the extremist group have gained momentum in rising up as one of the most feared terrorist groups in the world, and become synonymous with images of armed men cloaked in black hoods and masks, waving a black-and-white flag with the words “La ‘ilaha ‘illa-llah“ written across the top which translates to: “There is no God but God.” This image is accurate to how ISIS members present themselves. To associate a member within this terrorist group with the disturbing picture of a man draped in black boasting an M-16 assault rifle, standing next to a hostage on their knees in an orange jumpsuit in a desert, as shown in the execution videos circulating around the internet in which two journalists and an aid worker were beheaded, is not inaccurate. Whether pictured on the news proudly waving their flag of allegiance, or speaking words of warning and hate to the world from behind the lens of a camera, ISIS is on a mission — a mission to create a caliphate, or political-religious Islamic state under strict Muslim dominion – and to call this mission evil and abhorrent would be no exaggeration.
However, to associate any and every Muslim with this mission is terribly inaccurate, ignorant, and wrong.
Since that day in June when ISIS catapulted itself into the public eye and subsequently became a buzzword and hot button political topic, I have grown more and more shocked, saddened, and disillusioned by the response I have seen from some churches and followers of Christ in regards to how we should respond to and treat ISIS — and more pointedly, Muslims in general.
Yes, this is being directed towards Christians. But in no way am I accusing all Christians of being unloving and wrong. I recognize not all believers have this attitude. And as a Christian myself, I’m aware that this makes me a target of criticism and a potential conduit for controversy. But I’ll take the risk. What I have to say needs to be said. And that is this:
If you claim to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, you must love Muslims. You must treat them with grace, compassion, and humility. To do anything less than this is to muddy and totally miss the point of the Christian gospel.
One more time: if you claim to follow Jesus, you must love Muslims. This includes extremist radicals like ISIS, as well as peaceful followers who reject and condemn the ways of the radicals. We are to love them not because we want to or because it is suggested of us, but because Jesus commands it. And in this commandment, He doesn’t say we can choose who is exempt from that love. Because there are no exceptions.
What else does He command of us? That we love Him. And this is not to be mistaken for or equated with loving America or the Constitution or deeming yourself “a patriot” for the cause of defending “God’s country.” Or loving the idea of killing people who don’t love the God of the Christian Bible — like Muslims. Loving God is living in relationship with Him and living a life of constant surrender to the mission of the gospel of Christ. And from what I understand of the gospel, its primary goal is to show the love of Christ to a broken world.
Since the massacres of non-Muslims began in the Middle East when ISIS first made headlines this year, I have seen this picture posted and promoted by several “Christian” friends and acquaintances on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.
My first thoughts when I saw this:
Is that real? Probably not.
I support the Marines because my brother served as one for many years. I don’t want to think they would advertise this.
Why are Christians sharing this?
I checked and found that this billboard is in fact, fake. But the message is not. It can be found on t-shirts and bumper stickers, too.
Why would I let a fake billboard get to me? Well first, it’s not about the billboard. It’s about the idea of professed Christians supporting this message (and others like it) so much so that they would splash it across various social media platforms. And in the instances that I saw, they received a chorus of applause in the form of “likes” and comments and “shares.”
For the life of me, I cannot understand how anyone who has given their life to the gospel of Jesus can reconcile such an ignorant and hateful message with what they have read in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
I simply can’t.
If you say you follow Christ, you cannot ignore His clear and direct command to love others. Especially your enemies and those who persecute you. He doesn’t say we should murder or wage war with them. He doesn’t say we should judge them and call them names and support dropping bombs on their cities and villages. He says we are to love them.
Even terrorist groups like ISIS.
How can we do this?
I don’t know all of the answers. But I think it starts with not falsely labeling all Muslims as being bad people who want to kill Christians and implement Sharia law in America. Because the truth is, most Muslims are peaceful, hospitable, and gentle people who reject the goals of militant groups like ISIS. And to label every follower of Islam as being evil and bloodthirsty is more of a reflection of fear and prejudice than it is of truth.
Now if you are a Christian, imagine this: you tell someone you are a Christian and go on to discover later that that person lost respect for you because of your religious beliefs and thinks you’re crazy, evil, and might be better off dead. They believe this because of a group called the “Klu Klux Klan,” who believes in white supremacy and ethnic cleansing in the name of Jesus Christ and justifies their racism, hatred, and murder of African Americans with scripture.
How would that make you feel?
Personally, it makes me feel sad, angry, and embarrassed. The KKK does not follow the gospel that I follow. But because they commit their acts of evil and hate in the name of God, those who don’t know any better might associate me with them. The same can be said of slavery. Many slave-owners in the South justified their use of slave labor with scripture. They saw it as their Biblical right to purchase a human and use and abuse and torture them for their own monetary and economic gain. This means that technically, Christians could be associated with and accused of supporting slavery and the ideology of the KKK. Pretty ludicrous and ignorant, right? The same line of logic is what is being employed when we falsely accuse all Muslims of being evil people who support terrorism and genocide. It is unfair, untrue, and unloving.
If we look at what is going on in the Middle East through the lens of the Christian gospel and what Jesus commands His followers to do, we would be foolish to believe that His message is one that is anything less than that of love, sacrifice, and compassion.
We are called to love Muslims and pray for them and hope that they come to know Jesus. Is it not true that Saul hated Christians and murdered them before he became Paul? Is it not true that Jesus Himself was rooted in middle eastern culture and would become a victim of terrorism and hate and persecution, yet preached to turn the other cheek and pray for your enemies and go so far as to offer to give them the coat off your back? And if we are to get into more complicated logistics, the issue of the U.S.-supplied assault rifles and ammunition, along with other various heavy weapons that ISIS has seized for use in combat, must be addressed. We may oppose them, but we can’t ignore the fact that America has played a key role in arming them with much of their weaponry. That fact is worth considering if Christians are to understand the crisis in the big picture and take responsibility for their allegiance to a country that, whether or not it is being broadcasted, has aided ISIS in their mission.
All of this said, my hope is to see a shift in how Christians perceive, talk about, and treat Muslims in light of the current events unfolding in the Middle East. And that in this shift, the message of Christ would be illustrated and acted out. Because if we say we love Jesus and follow His teachings, we can’t ignore what He commands of us, which is opposite of what the fake USMC billboard I shared here promotes, or what Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson wants to do — “convert ’em or kill ’em.” Neither of those messages capture the ways of Jesus. They stand in direct opposition to it. For when Jesus says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good,” and “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them,” I think He means it. And I think He means it because we live in a world that needs that kind of love. Uncomfortable, nonsensical, relentless love — a love that would offer the coat off of their back to their enemy and a love that rejects violence and bombs and wars because of the One who came to establish a different way. A way of peace and compassion and sacrificial love. Whether it be ISIS, American Muslims, or the guy at the grocery store that looks different from us, there are no qualifiers for who deserves to be loved with the love of Jesus.
He commands we demonstrate His Love to all nations, ISIS-controlled or not. There are no qualifiers or exceptions to this. And if we can accept that, perhaps we can fulfill His calling to overcome evils like ISIS with good, which may seem impossible and impractical, but a large part of the Christian faith is understanding that nothing about what Jesus calls us to be meant to always be practical or make sense. Choosing to follow Him despite that is what counts, and what will ultimately make a difference to a broken, hurting world in desperate need of a love that doesn’t discriminate and doesn’t stop demonstrating compassion and peace. No matter how scary and dangerous our enemies may seem. If we can accomplish this, as peacemakers, Jesus says in Romans that we will be blessed and called children of God.
And I can think of nothing nobler, in times such as these, than that.