Up until a few short weeks ago, the name Terry Jones would have garnered blank stares from most quarters. Now, his back and forth plans to burn the Qur’an have elevated the obscure pastor into the most talked about clergyman of the season. Whether or not this burning or others like it actually proceed, those of us who claim to follow Christ must grapple with what people like Jones bring to the image of the Church and the Gospel.
It is clear that the majority of Christians oppose Qur’an burnings. Thankfully, condemnation of the plan has come from throughout Christendom, from the Vatican to the National Association of Evangelicals. These organizations have all sent an unambiguous message: the faith we hold from Scripture is not compatible with the hate-filled message conveyed by book burning.
Sadly, there remains a minority of Christians that demonstrate an anti-Muslim tenor that risks scandalizing the Gospel message. Hate and fear do nothing to further the mission of God, serving only to undermine attempts at proclaiming a message of grace. To avoid this becoming a stumbling block, the wider Christian community must continue to vocally reject this minority’s attempt to distort the Gospel of Grace.
The passage in Matthew’s Gospel commonly referred to as the “Great Commission” of Jesus commands Christians to spread the good news of God’s Kingdom to all peoples. Exactly how are we to convey the idea that we would love people to come to know Christ if we are busy demonizing the very people who do not know him?
Book burning as a demonstration of disagreement has never been a good way of helping people understand God’s love. In our day, it conjures images of the Inquisition or the Witch Hunts that remain ugly ghosts of centuries past. Qur’an burning further alienates many people from Christianity – and not just Muslims.
The heart of the problem is that we too often confuse tolerance and love with agreement. Once this confusion is accepted, many Christians accept vitriolic messages directed toward Muslims because they have been convinced that to do otherwise is to accept the Islamic claim to truth. A third way, apart from wholesale agreement or rancorous attack, must be preferred.
Christians should seek to offer constructive critiques that begin with points of commonality just as was modeled by the Apostle Paul in his interactions with the Athenians in Acts 17. Christian theology over the centuries has spoken of “Natural Theology,” the idea Paul discusses in the early chapters of his Epistle to the Romans that the very world points to its Creator and his love for people.
We can and should expect followers of Islam, and all other religions (not to mention the irreligious), have at least some common touchstones as fellow heirs to the Natural Theology that reveals God in the created world. Accepting that those we disagree with still share things in common with us allows dialogue, and by God’s grace, the seeds of faith in Christ.
No doubt many Christians who join in support of anti-Islamic rhetoric such as that issued by Jones do so out of a desire to protect a country they fear is under siege by Islam’s extremist elements. Wanting America to thrive is a noble goal, but it must never trump the Christian’s obligation to follow Scripture, including duty to show love to and pray for all people, even those who hate or persecute us.
Instead of viewing Muslims as opponents, the Bible asserts we ought to view them as people loved by God who are just as in need of a savior as we are.
Imagine if, instead of an “International Burn a Koran Day,” Christians staged an “International Pray for Muslims Day.” Prayer works better than hate every time.
Timothy R. Butler is Editor-in-Chief of Open for Business.