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Thinking Christianly about Islam, Muslims, and the Ground-Zero Mosque – Part I of 3

August 27, 2010
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First, let me just say that to assert “Christianly” thoughts on the topics of Islam, Muslims, and the Ground-Zero mosque is by no means to suggest that this is the authoritative biblical view on these matters. Merely, mine is an earnest attempt to filter these subjects through the lens of a consciously Christian worldview in hopes of finding that way which may be most pleasing to God, both for myself and the church at large.

To be sure, there are very strong feelings surrounding these complex and convoluted issues in light of the current conflict between the West and the various Islamic regimes. However, as Christians we are not to be ruled by our emotions but by the Lord Jesus Christ. How would our Lord have us respond to these difficult questions?

To begin with, we must separate the interests and actions of the state from those of the individual. God has given the power of “the sword” to the state, meaning the authority to wage war (presumably just), preserve peace and safety, enact justice, and so forth (Romans 13:1–4). This authority is not given to individuals unless they are acting as agents of the state, such as soldiers in armed service, law enforcement officials, and the like. The state has specific and limited responsibilities and authority. Likewise, the individual Christian has responsibilities and duties that differ from the state.

Specifically, my concern is the conduct and disposition of the Christian church, both individually and corporately. On the one hand you have some Christians like Dr. Terry Jones, pastor of The Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, who plans to host a “Koran burning” to commemorate 9/11. The event is intended to “give Muslims an opportunity to convert,” according to pastor Jones. Everything this pastor says about Islam may be true, technically speaking, but his actions do not convey love for Muslim people. Thus I struggle to believe that the conversion of Muslims will be a likely outcome. On the other hand, there are those who mistakenly believe that Christians and Muslims worship the same god and that surrendering our distinctly Christian theological convictions is the loving response. Still others want to ignore the moral contradictions inherent within Islam and pretend that violence is anathema to the faith.   

Of course, this isn’t the first conflict in history between Christianity and Islam. That being the case, are there lessons to be learned from the past that might offer us insight as we seek to be faithful to balance truth and love in the face of conflict?

In the thirteenth century, Pope Innocent III called for the Fifth Crusade. The crusade got underway in 1217 under Pope Honorius III. The goal was to first take Egypt before attempting to reach the Holy Land. This campaign lasted for four years and was eventually lost by the crusaders.

In 1219 Francis of Assisi was present in the city of Damietta, Egypt, with some of his friars and the Christian army. It was during a period of truce in September 1219 that Francis—along with fellow friar, Brother Illuminato—boldly walked into the Muslim camp. He was completely prepared to die for the sake of the lost. When he reached Muslim territory he was taken prisoner, beaten, and put in chains by the sentries. Eventually, he was brought before the sultan, al-Malik al-Kamil, general of the Muslim army, and ruler of Egypt, Syria, and Palestine.

Upon meeting Francis, al-Malik asked if he was a messenger from the crusaders. Francis replied that he was indeed a messenger, a messenger from God. He then proceeded to give witness to his love for Jesus, and said that he wished to save the souls of the sultan and his men.

Initially the sultan was taken aback by Francis’ boldness. After all, the Muslims had just defeated the Christians in a pitched battle, and now one of them dared to state that the Muslims must convert to Christianity. However, as author Frank Rega points out, “the love flowing from Francis began to move the Sultan, and according to one contemporary writer, ‘that cruel beast became sweetness himself’” (Frank M. Rega, St. Francis of Assisi and the Conversion of the Muslims, [Tan Books: Charlotte, NC, 2007]).

The sultan’s advisors demanded that Francis and Illuminato be beheaded for their blasphemy but the sultan was moved by Francis’ “concern for his soul” and so they were allowed to remain in the Muslim camp for many days, dialoging with the sultan and preaching to Muslims who a few days before had killed five thousand Christians. Francis and Brother Illuminato would eventually part on excellent terms with the sultan. According to Rega, early Franciscan literature records that al-Malik converted to Christian faith on his deathbed, although this remains unproven.

Francis seems to have successfully differentiated between the role of state and his personal responsibility as a Christ-follower. On the one hand, he firmly believed that the Crusade was a justifiable response to Muslim invasions of European lands. Francis even told the sultan, “It is just that Christians invade the land you inhabit, for you blaspheme the name of Christ and alienate everyone you can from His worship” (Rega). However, Francis was personally willing to go to the Muslims, risking his own life. His conduct was so loving and gentle that he won over his enemies. He did not openly attack Islam or Mohammed. In fact there is no indication that Francis ever even studied the Koran or was familiar with tenets of Islam. Thus, he did not engage in polemics trying to prove the superiority of the Christian faith. His goal was simple: carry the presence of Christ to the unbelievers, and the essence of God's love, mercy, forgiveness, and salvation.

Today, we don’t have to go to the Muslims. God, in his providence, has brought the Muslim to us in unprecedented number. It is here, that the Muslim man or woman—our neighbors living in a free society—can first encounter the love of Christ through his followers and hear the truth of God’s redeemer Son. I fear that as tensions escalate, many Christians will succumb to their emotions or confuse their individual duties with national interests and fail to follow Christ in their opportunities to love Muslims.

Next week, I will distinguish between the ideology of Islam and Muslim peoples and how the former falls under the interest of the state while the latter the responsibility of the church.

© 2010 by S. Michael Craven

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Response from : Janet tobler  

August 30, 2010 10:46 AM

thank you for discussing this topic. Islam is not a religion that is separated by church and state. it is their life. those who oppose islam are apostates and receive the death sentence. the word Islam does not mean peace, it means submit. In the Muslim belief you may lie if it upholds their muslim beliefs. therefore, a Mosque, which we americans are told to belive is a religion is actually a way of life. it is like transposing democracy for islam. the law of this land does uphold freedom of religion, however islam is not a religion. i would recommend that ou converse with an authority who has been converted from the muslim belief and is now a christian for verificaiton of yournext article. itl-usa, steven masood. he has a ministry that evangelizes to muslims of which i am a member. A mosque in the usa, which there are many, is a dangerous thing. i trust this in god's hands, fine sir,however the facts roaming the usa regarding islam are very incorrect and this is what i bothers me. please be sure that your facts are correct before giving them to the flock inthis multi media email system we have here. i thank you and i appreciate you and this ministry. your sister in christ, janet tobler

Response from : Curtis  

August 30, 2010 10:47 AM

Michael,what an excellent commentary on a very contentious subject. I have personally struggled with how to respond on this issue and you have articulated well the concept I couldn't quite get my arms around: the separate response/action of the state and the individual from a Christian perspective. Thank you for your biblical and historical insight. I can't wait for parts 2 & 3!

Response from : Tim Bowie  

August 30, 2010 2:25 PM

Thank you for addressing this issue that is weighing so heavily on the heart of Americans. I have some questions, but I will wait until I have read the other two parts to raise them. God bless you and grant you continued wisdome and insight into His word.

Response from : Karyn  

August 31, 2010 12:19 PM

"First, let me just say that to assert “Christianly” thoughts on the topics of Islam, Muslims, and the Ground-Zero mosque is by no means to suggest that this is the authoritative biblical view on these matters. Merely, mine is an earnest attempt to filter these subjects through the lens of a consciously Christian worldview in hopes of finding that way which may be most pleasing to God, both for myself and the church at large."
May I quote you on every commentary I write? Great line. None of us can ever claim to be perfect in our knowledge and understanding, but to be sound in mind and spirit as we seek Him in prayer and in His Word. The only perfect authoritative commentary we could ever hear is from God Himself. But because of His merciful provision of His Word and His Spirit, we can catch a glimpse of His perfect perspective when our motive is for His glory and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Secondly, I'd like to add my testimony of God orchestrating opportunities to witness to the Muslim community. Just yesterday, I was on a plane seated next to a devout Muslim man. With shaved head and beard, he had no carry on bags and spoke on a cell phone in a foreign tongue. His dark black work shoes under his startched blue jeans made me question his reason for flying. My instinct was to look back at my husband seven or so rows behind me and wonder if we might switch seats! But this typically anxious female flyer felt the peace of God in a supernatural way and a strange desire to strike up a conversation with him. From before takeoff until we deplaned, we continually conversed about our separate faiths, covering things such as "jihad", "radical Islam", fasting, evil, the divinity of Jesus, the historicity of the gospels, and the concept of scripture. When he mentioned that they had a Koran with study notes, I quickly replied that we had a Bible with study notes, too, taking out mine from my carry on beneath my feet. He was interested to see it, and he even allowed me to read it to him as he read along, from both the Old Testament and the New Testament, connecting the dots between some of what he had raised in defense of his faith. It did not end in a quick conversion, but it certainly ended cordially with a shake of a hand and a smile as we parted ways. For a simple woman like me to have had the opportunity to read the Bible to a devout Muslim man while he was fasting during Ramadan, and discuss my faith in Christ for over an hour was absolutely ordained and empowered by the Almighty God. Without question, God is at work to bring truth to all people. All we have to do is show up and sit in our assigned seats.

Response from : Rev. Daniel Brammeier  

September 3, 2010 12:36 PM

If I am correct in interpreting Mr. Craven it is the governments responsibility to permit or deny the building of the Islamic Center near ground zero. Just like it would be the Iranian governments' responsibility to permit or deny the building of a cathedral church in downtown Tehran. As unlikely as this would be, the Iranian government cannot take away the individual Christian responsibility to worship the Triune God in Tehran.

It is the responsibility of the local Manhattan government to allow or deny the building of the center near ground zero and unlike Iran, Americans pride themselves on their free and democratic elections. If Manhattan residents have a problem with the center they need to voice that at the poles this coming November.

As a individual Christain and Lutheran pastor it is not my place to say what should be built and where, it is my calling to preach Christ and him crucified to the ends of the earth.

Response from : Atticus Cage  

September 7, 2010 1:07 PM

Finally, thanks to Mr. Craven, an erudite but accessible-to-the-crowd opening to a substantive treatment of a pressing cultural issue!

I would ask one paramount clarification in author Craven's third to the last paragraph, especially because of this post-pomo, walk-on-eggshells culture which has so often inured our ability to grasp Truth's bigger pictures.

From what is presented I don't automatically believe that it can fairly be stated that:

"[Francis'] conduct was so loving and gentle that he won over his enemies"

At least not without (1) emphasizing the powerful currency likely added by his obvious personal courage and the disarming selflessness (which would have him die for Christ), and (2) allowing that, what the author attributes to "loving and gentle" might well have been imbued with (or even displaced by) forceful wisdom, a facile tongue, a commanding oratory, a warrior's rapport, as well as, the Holy Spirit's guidance. To what extent we probably can't know on this side of eternity.

Nevertheless, A.D. 2010 it is too often needlessly unsafe, unwise, and, I would contend, ungodly, to venerate only those platitudes (like, "gentle," empathetic, fuzzy, tolerant, understanding, etc.) which, when isolated from the broader context of scriptural Christian stewardship, are essentially just the dangerous, backwoods companions, as it were, of that sincere and infantile question "Why do they hate us so much and what can we change about us so that THEY won't be so darn mad?"

Not that author Craven is suggesting as much, BUT the last thing I think robust and reasonable Christians want today is for readers to learn of a Francis of Assisi's courage, boldness, and selfless strength of conviction, only to subsequently think they are "imitating it" by acts which are obsequious and gentle enough to be thought "pleasing" to 2010's overly accepting, theologically emasculated, gentleness-obsessed society.

[ BTW, I only learned of S. Michael Craven this morning through author, Eric Metaxas. Great find!!! ]

Atticus Cage


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