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Thinking Christianly about Islam, Muslims, and the Ground-Zero Mosque – Conclusion

September 10, 2010
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In trying to develop a Christian response to Islam (the ideology) and Muslims (the people), I have drawn a sharp line between the security interests of the state and our personal response to Muslim people. As to the interests of the state, I have argued that when radicalized Islamists employ terrorism and violence, the religious questions are ultimately irrelevant. Instead, you have a situation where criminals and tyrants, exploiting religious motivations, must be met with a decisive military response.

Conversely, I have argued that generalizations, which assume all Muslims are would-be terrorists (or sympathetic to Islamist radicals), are both inaccurate and destructive to the church’s witness. The personal disposition of the Christian to Muslim people is always and forever one of love, hope, and charity regardless of what the Muslim may think or do. There is simply no other way to read the Scriptures: “Bless those who curse you…” (Luke 6:28), “Love your enemies…” (Luke 6:27), “Bless those who persecute you…” (Romans 12:14), “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling…” (1 Peter 3:9), “never avenge yourselves…” (Romans 12:19), “so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18), not to mention Matthew 5:38-48.

Again, I never said this was easy. In fact, it is impossible apart from God’s grace and that’s the point. It is only when the church humbles itself, abiding in Christ, it receives the grace necessary to live in obedience to the King and bear true witness to his kingdom come into the world. This kingdom, which is not of this world, exhibits values and conduct utterly at odds with our nature and the pattern of this world. The modern challenge of Islam offers an opportunity to display the self-sacrificial love and character of Christ’s kingdom. The Christian who is unwilling to submit to Christ on this point simply cannot bear witness to the good news of his kingdom.

To dismiss this responsibility on the grounds of national security interests is to confuse our personal duties as Christians with those of the state. Secondly, to neglect our Christian duty on the basis that “Islam is evil” is to fixate on “the sin” and not the sinner. When thinking about Islam and what we believe is true, it might help to consider the following. Christians naturally attempt to interpret Islam and the Koran in the same way they approach the Bible and Christian theology. However, the Bible contains a coherent and consistent theme of redemption running throughout its entirety that is self-validating. In contrast, the Koran lacks this thematic consistency. If one wants to interpret the Koran as a religion of peace, one can easily do so by emphasizing those aspects. There is simply no systematic theological framework that either precludes or validates this interpretation. Similarly, if one wants to emphasize jihad and conquest that too is equally plausible given the lack of a singular, coherent message. Thus, Islam really can be whatever one wants it to be.

This same argument is occasionally applied to Christianity as well, but unlike Islam, abhorrent and/or false theologies can be shown to contradict the unifying theme of the Scriptures that culminates in the person and life of Jesus Christ. 

Finally, the “Ground-Zero Mosque” is a highly politicized issue, one in which Christians—speaking publicly as Christians—would be wise to avoid because ours is not a political enterprise. The mission of the church is to facilitate and proclaim the gospel of the kingdom, the good news of peace and reconciliation in which Jesus Christ is making all things new. Like Francis of Assisi, we carry to unbelievers the very presence of Christ, and the essence of God's love, mercy, forgiveness, and salvation. We do not employ coercive means (political power) to advance our mission but self-sacrificial means (spiritual power), and therein lies the danger of confusing the interests of the state with those of the church.

As Christians, we affirm and defend the right of religious freedom. This includes those religions with which we may disagree. Thus Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and the Cordoba Initiative are within their legal rights to build this mosque wherever they want. However, the right to do so does not necessarily mean that it is the right thing to do. As Paul said to the Corinthian church, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful” (1 Cor. 6:12, ESV).

Clearly, the planned mosque near Ground Zero has inflamed the passions of New Yorkers and Americans in general. There is a deep wound that has yet to heal, in part because we never had the discussion about Islam that we should have following 9/11. Instead there was a willful avoidance of the most obvious questions, namely who are these people who act in the name of Islam? Is this a true representation of Islam? Are there really moderate Muslims and if so where are they? And so forth.

Though the Koran does not contain the words love thy neighbor as do the Christian scriptures, it does instruct Muslims to “do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans…the neighbor who is near of kin, the neighbor who is stranger” (Sura 4:36). Feisal Abdul Rauf says: “We have no higher aspirations than to bring up our children in peace and harmony in this country.” If this is true, then where is the sensitivity that such aspirations should convey? If the construction of this mosque is so obviously detrimental to “peace and harmony,” then it only serves as a selfish demand of “rights” rather than doing good to one’s neighbor. It is here that Christians should distinguish themselves in obedience to God.

The love Jesus taught does not insist on its “rights,” if exercising those rights causes another to suffer. As Ginny Mooney, writing in the Christian Post points out, “And since the families of those who lost loved ones in the World Trade Center attacks are pleading that the mosque not be built, the potential suffering is already all too palpable.” Upon realizing this, true love would relent and relinquish those rights for the sake of the other. This is the singularly unique message of the gospel and Christ Jesus who is our example, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross … to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:6–11, ESV).

If those behind the Cordoba Initiative are determined to proceed with the construction of this mosque, despite the overwhelming sentiment of their neighbors, then they will no doubt bear the consequences of their “witness.” Let us not compromise ours by descending into a politicized war of words that centers on our rights. As Christians, we stand in contrast to those who demand their rights even to the point of surrendering our rights if necessary to stand for Christ and his kingdom: the kingdom of love, peace, and truth.

©  2010 by S. Michael Craven

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Response from : janet tobler  

September 13, 2010 8:58 AM

if one was a true follower of the ideology of islam, there would be more bloodshed. islam means submission not peace. inactive muslims are peaceful because they are no following their faith, just as inactive christians do not follow their faith and sit in church every week. i believe with all my heart that Muslims just like everyone else are predestined to receive the wonderful news of the gospel and all they must do is turn to god like i did. but make no mistake, the inactive muslims will become active one day and islam is not a religion of peace as you are representing. please speak with a real muslim convert whose mission is to bring the good news to muslims which is an act of apostatcy for me and him to do in true active beliving muslim eyes. you do not have a frame of reference my craven because you did not grow up in a muslim country or were ever a muslim before. i beseech you to contact this Dr. Steven Masood

Response from : Leona  

September 13, 2010 10:45 AM

Janet makes some excellent points and I intend to check out the website. What we all must focus on is the fact that preserving our personal freedom guaranteed by our loving Father, should be our ultimate goal. The one thing Islam hates the most about us. When they threaten our freedom, appropriate measures must be taken. When possible, peaceful solutions are always preferred, but further "submission" to unrealistic and un-Christian demands in our nation must certainly be subjected to microscopic examination! I do not believe that God will condone Christian submission to Islam - not a religion, but a political ideology.

Response from : Gerrit Wolfaardt  

September 13, 2010 10:47 AM

As a follower of Jesus, I appreciate your thoughts relating to possible building of an Islamic cultural and interfaith center near ground zero. The problem I have is that you headline the article referring to it as the ' ground zero mosque'. Let me quote Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, "There’s a need for the center to provide a place for all faiths to come together and achieve mutual understanding, the imam said. The center will help foster dialogue and explain Islam, and will give moderate Muslims a voice, he said."
I understand that there will be prayer rooms for Muslims, Christians and Jews. What is offensive about this? A place where interfaith discussions can be fostered. Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, a very offensive thing for the Jews. Yes, he was a stumbling block for his own people, but he always chose to do the right thing, "the will of my Father". I don't believe we should say "yes you have the right to do it, but you will make people stumble in the process". Uninformed people, bigots and those who exploit issues for political purposes will triumph if Jesus followers don't stand up to be counted by the love they show to their neighbors, which include Muslims.
You correctly point out that people misuse the tenets of the various religions for their own purposes. The Crusades do not represent Christianity and neither does 9/11 represent all of Islam.

Response from : Mike Card  

September 13, 2010 11:43 AM

"Bless those that curse you..." etc. applies to PERSONAL offenses, etc.

Romans 13 says that the sword is given to GOVERNMENT to punish evil and reward good.

Further...I think that to make distinctions between 'radical' Islam and moderate is a lie. The Koran says what it says...just like the Bible...IT defines the religion. Do I need to post what the Koran says? Basically it says convert or die!

Response from : Richard J. Stone  

September 13, 2010 12:27 PM

I am utterly perplexed by some of the responses to Mr. Craven's article. Some appear to suggest that he is defending Islam or making the exclusive claim that "Islam is a religion of peace." Nothing could be further from the truth. Mr. Craven does not defend Islam, quite the contrary; he refutes it as false. What he offers is a very well thought out biblical approach that distinguishes between the government's response to radicalism and the Christian's personal duty to love Muslim people. It concerns me that these Christians seem to say "Yes, but..." when confronted with the challenge to love our enemies as if Jesus' command was conditional. Either that or some are not reading very carefully. I hope it is the latter for the sake of the gospel.

Response from : S. Michael Craven  

September 13, 2010 1:10 PM

Again, there seems to be a severe lack of careful reading. I clearly condemn the ideology of Islam, what I will not do is condemn all Muslims. If we are not careful, our resistance to the "ideology" may rise to a level reserved only for the state. In so doing, we may become vulnerable to the temptation of embracing hatred rather than holiness.

Response from : Rick  

September 15, 2010 8:22 AM

Finally a voice of reason. As a formal missionary in the Muslim world, I cannot agree with your article more. Our lives as followers of Christ must mimic that of Christ, and in doing so, we will speak volumes to not only Muslims, but the rest of the world. Our leader's Kingdon is not of this world, so neither should its subjects. Thank you Michael for your stand. Trust me, you will not have many to stand with you on this. Christ's peace be with you.

Response from : Mark  

September 15, 2010 11:44 PM

I completely agree with this biblical view of the debate. no matter how we view this situation we must first and above all respond to it difficult though it may be in a Christ like manner. Christ died for all, not just americans. Christian was lifted up upon the cross not the U.S. flag. Grace is God's gift to us not evil. as we have received grace so we must pass it on. we must not put our light (the Light) were it cannot be seen. under the bushel of hatred, fear or a color, creed, race, or nationality. we must display in to all the world even the Muslim community. I happen to think it would not be a good idea to place the mosque in the area, but at the same time they have a right to put it there. let us remember that where ever the mosque goes up, the cross should be there as well. not with hateful venmonous flagging speeches, but with the gospel of peace and love. the kind that will through Christ draw all men. . . . all men to Christ!!

Response from : Adriana  

September 17, 2010 10:38 AM

Finally ... a well written response to the Cordoba mosque situation. I'm sending this to all my Christian friends. Its spot on!

Response from : Rusty tribe  

September 18, 2010 7:13 PM

I agree with your thoughts and views. It is tough. I try and look at this situation as a great opportunity to witness not only to Muslims but to everyone. Especially in our action and behavior. Unfortunately it only takes a few and we become stereo typed just like we have stereo typed Muslims. I think Paul talks about this in Romans end of ch. 1 and beginning of ch. 2.

God Bless...

Response from : Pastor Raymond Trembath  

October 5, 2010 6:24 PM

I appreciate your three articles on Islam and the Ground Zero Mosque, Michael. However, I've reached a different conclusion re: the mosque. I agree that the legal right to build a mosque doesn't mean this is the morally right thing to do. But before concluding that the "overwhelming sentiment of their neighbors" should cause the mosque to be built elsewhere, answer two questions, please—the first practical and the second biblical:
1. How far away could a mosque be built and not offend victims' families? Five blocks? Ten blocks? Twenty blocks? What's the magical distance that overcomes passions?!
2. Is there any better way to display forgiveness than allowing this mosque to be built? If we never had the discussion following 9/11 we should have had, why not have it here and now? Let's demonstrate that we understand all Muslims aren't radical terrorists, and let's forgive those who are—even before they ask to be forgiven. What a powerful testimony to the Gospel!
Blessings on your ongoing ministry. I love your commentaries, and have saved them all.

http://What is this?!


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