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 alike. 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.