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Do Unto Others: Three Ideas Christians and Muslims Must Remember

John Mark Reynolds | The Torrey Honors Institute | Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Do Unto Others: Three Ideas Christians and Muslims Must Remember

In the beginning, amongst many other actions, Islam stormed out of Arabia, enslaving Christians and destroying Christian civilizations across Africa and the Middle East. They appropriated ancient churches and turned them into mosques, took over centuries of scholarship and twisted it to their own ends, and reduced the Christian populations to second-class citizenship where they did not kill them.

In every land where Islam is a majority, Christians have fewer rights than the Islamic majority. At times, Christians might prosper and be allowed a certain role, but their best fate is that of the African-Americans in the segregated South. If they are "good," then they might be allowed the scraps from the master race's table. 

This is the reality of life under Islam. Nothing Christians did in the past can possibly justify the present crimes against human rights and dignity across the Islamic world. 

Alternatively, majority Christian nations have acted badly toward Islamic lands. The colonial period was a particularly sad example of treating Muslims the way they had treated everybody else. When we conquered, we too often acted like the people we conquered, but we have learned from past mistakes and Islamic nations have not. 

America will elect a Christian with Muslim relatives and the name like Barack Hussein Obama. Is there a Muslim land that would elect a Muslim with a Christian name and Christian family?

Make no mistake: Islam and Christianity are not compatible. God became man—Jesus—but Islam disagrees. All of Islam rejects the Gospel, but some Muslims reject peaceful coexistence with Christians. This means that Islam as an idea set is our ideological competitor and that some Muslims have chosen to make themselves our enemies. 

Islam is huge and diverse and Christians should remember that anything we say about this complex faith is likely to have scores of exceptions. Non-experts, such as I, must always start in humility before approaching the subject. But Islam matters so much to all of us that, in a republic, each of us will have to read and study so we can be informed voters. Christian Americans must know about Islam, but most of us will never be experts. 

Three ideas should guide us as we act as amateur students of Islam: humility, charity, and justice.

Humility begins by recognizing our ignorance, because American schools are abysmal at teaching about religion. Too many American Christians don't know much about Christianity, let alone other faiths. Most Americans I meet, for example, do not know that Eastern Orthodox Christians are not Roman Catholics and have a sad history that includes mutual excommunication and warfare. Amish in Pennsylvania, Italian Catholics, and Georgia Bible Baptists have something in common, but many differences.

Even fewer of us know that Islam contains its own deep divisions and sects. 

Historically, Muslims have fought with Christians against other Muslims. Islamic leaders have been militaristic and pacifistic. Turkey, a majority Muslim nation, has been a key and loyal ally to the United States in the modern era. Many Americans equate Islam with Arabia, but Islam has members drawn from nearly every race, language, and part of the world.  Millions of Arabs are Christians and most Muslims are not Arabs.

Humility also comes to a Christian when he recognizes what he has in common with and can learn from fellow humans who embrace Islam. As human beings created in the image of God, Muslim people express that image in the cultures they create. As a result of God's grace, these human beings have made invaluable contributions to the development of global culture in many areas such as science, math, language, literature, and the arts.  We must read Islamic holy books with the same charity, acknowledgment of value, and open mindedness that we wish to see others use towards our own scriptures. 

Islamic men and women have expressed the common grace God gives all of us in work deeply beautiful, true, and good. 

Islamic nations have much to teach Western nations in many areas. Wealth does not equal happiness and many Islamic nations are healthier in some ways than decadent parts of Christendom. Humility means being willing to acknowledge this fact. 

There is no justification for terrorism, but many Muslims that utterly reject terror also have grave concerns about the impact American culture is having on them. American Christians share many of those concerns with these Muslims. We know America doesn't only export liberty, our marvelous Constitution, and republican values, after all! We spread other less benign values with our virtues.

Charity, the second idea that should guide us as amateur students of Islam, is commanded by our Lord. 

Our Lord Jesus Christ says to love our enemies and this must be the first task as we think about Islam. We must understand what it means for a man or woman to be our "enemy." Christians and Muslims disagree religiously. We are ideological foes, but this need not make us personal enemies. Ideological opponents can be friends in other areas of their life. 

We should do all in our power to live at peace with all people. Our disagreements should be based on as much agreement as possible.

Charity will include acknowledgement that history cuts both ways. People have harmed Muslims cruelly in the name of Christ. American Christians gain nothing by hiding from this fact, and acknowledging it does not set up a false moral equivalence. No moral evil done in the past justifies terrorism in the present. 

Charity will also forgive all things. Just as Christians want mercy for the evils they have done in the past, so we must forgive Islamic people for when they have hurt us.

Personally, the American Christians I know have overwhelmingly embraced these values. We want to disagree agreeably, learn what we can, and grow. However, many of us have close personal friends who fled to the United States to escape oppression in majority Islamic lands. They see an Orthodox Christian church still in ruins after 9/11 while Islamic centers are fast-tracked, and it reminds them of their beleaguered past. 

They have seen "radical" Muslims burn churches to public condemnation, but then seen those churches never rebuilt. They fear that this horrible pattern will be repeated here.

When some Jewish people in New York City cannot worship in safety, then all Americans, of every belief system, know we have failed. Christians cannot rest merely when our community is safe, but we must do to "others" what we have done to us.  

Moreover, humility and charity cannot forget justice.  

Justice should be our goal in dealing with the majority-Islamic world. We must seek justice for Christians and other minority groups in Islamic lands. This is primarily the job of individuals, but our government can help. We must stop subsidizing tyrants and propping up regimes who do not support full religious freedom for all people in their lands. 

The American state has the God-given right to protect all Americans from terrorism.  

Most Christians believe that justice can sometimes demand military action. Tyrants can be overthrown and wrongs righted through the use of military force. Personally I have supported, and continue to support, our just war to end the threat of terrorism against the United States by radicals motivated by a sect of Islam. In the same manner, I have supported, and still support, police action against radical sects of Christians who violate the peace of this republic.

Police and military action must be done in a manner compatible with Christian values to earn a Christian's support. This is why Christian philosophers and ethicists overwhelmingly oppose torture and support the Geneva Conventions and organizations such as the Red Cross. 

Love, this side of Paradise, acknowledges hard choices. Christians seek justice tempered with mercy and pray our President finds this balance. Christians are members of Christ's Kingdom before they are citizens of the American republic. Our King demands humility, charity, and justice from us. God help us to meet this challenge with our Muslim neighbor.

John Mark Reynolds is the founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute, and Professor of Philosophy at Biola University. In 1996 he received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Rochester. John Mark Reynolds can be found blogging regularly at Scriptorium Daily.