With the 10-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the growing hostilities against Muslims in America in mind, megachurch pastor Adam Hamilton of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan., told his 17,000-member congregation this week to consider how Jesus would treat Muslims today.
Hamilton, who preached the sermon on Muslims from the pulpit at the megachurch, one of United Methodism's largest, suggested that Christians should show every Muslim in America love, not fear or hatred.
He said much of the fear over Islam in America stems from ignorance about what the average Muslim believes.
Hamilton reminded the congregation that Islam is a monotheistic religion practiced by most Muslims. It is acceptance of the doctrine of submission to God and to Muhammad as the chief and last prophet of God.
"There’s a lot of fear in the United States today about Islam, even more than there was immediately after 9/11," he said. “Many Americans view Islam as an inherently violent religion because some verses in the Koran command violence against non Muslims, and some Muslims use these verses to justify violent attacks."
The verse that is often referenced by Muslims is the “sword verse” (Surah 9:5), which says to “slay the idolaters wherever you find them.”
"Context is key though," Hamilton explained. "This verse relates to wartime when treaties were signed and then broken."
The megachurch pastor encouraged the congregants to “lead with the similarities” by establishing a common ground, but to do so without minimizing differences between Islam and Christianity.
He said the first step is to eliminate fear, show love to Muslims and remember that “there are many things upon which we do agree.” He presented six beliefs and practices “that are points of common ground” between Muslims and Christians, including monotheism, complete surrender to God, frequent prayer, serving the poor, fasting, and visiting the holy land.
Other religious leaders echo Hamilton’s point of view on the behavior of Christians toward Muslims in America.
Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders participated in a reading initiative this summer that included reading each other’s sacred texts in order to send a message both in the United States and Arab world.
“The anti-Muslim rhetoric that has pervaded our national conversation recently has shocked and saddened me,” said Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, a religious freedom organization that seeks to unite diverse faith voices against extremism.
Tad Stanke of Human Rights First, a human rights advocacy organization with offices in New York and Washington, said tactics that show disrespect for Muslims hurt the reputation of all Americans and make it harder for the United States to speak with authority on human rights issues in the Arab world.
The Muslim population in the United States is projected to more than double by 2030, according to a recent Pew Forum report, with most of the growth due to immigration and higher birth rates among Muslims.
By then, Muslims are predicted to be as numerous as Jews or Episcopalians. However, Christians are still expected to make up by far the majority of the population.
The Muslim population worldwide will increase by 35 percent, or from 1.6 billion in 2010 to 2.2 billion by 2030.
"Few things are more important for the future of our world than to respect, to honor and to commit ourselves to the well-being of every person,” said National Cathedral Dean Sam Lloyd. “As Americans and people of faith, we must use our great traditions to come together for mutual enrichment and understanding."
He explained that living near Muslims goes beyond merely tolerating them because “Christianity doesn’t call us to coexist with our neighbors, it calls us to love our neighbors.”
Moreover, “love is not a feeling, it’s an action,” and “the best way to transform relationships between human beings where people misunderstand each other and consider each other enemies, is not by the sword, but it’s by showing them love.”
Religious leaders say showing love to Muslims is also about changing their perception of Christians.
Hamilton emphasized that the way Christians treat Muslims should “lead Muslims to love their Christian neighbors,” not incite fear, “driving them toward extremism.”
How should Christians treat Muslims in America? Hamilton answered: “We listen to them, we stop to take the time to get to know them, we offer help, we care, we bless, we love."