Many Christians today experience concern and confusion with regard to Islam. How can Christians faithfully navigate these concerns without allowing them to morph into the fear and animosity of Islamophobia? First, Christian engagement with Islam should not begin with questions about Islam (i.e., whether Islam is violent or peaceful, whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God, and so on). Those questions merely divide Christians into predictable political or ideological camps. Rather, Christians should start by asking the central question of our faith: What has God done in Christ, and who are we called to be in response? From that premise, this article explores two relevant, formative practices of Christian discipleship: practicing faith over fear and practicing the Golden Rule. The article then concludes with a brief note on evangelism.
“John, what are we gonna do about those Muslims?”
I had just finished teaching a Sunday morning class on Christian responses to religious diversity. The woman had a kind but earnest face and gripped my arm as she posed her question. I hesitated to respond. For one thing, I wondered how my Muslim friends would hear the question. Are they merely problems to be solved? I also wanted to clarify a few points. By “those Muslims,” did she mean all Muslims worldwide or some smaller subset such as Muslim Americans, immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, or Islamic terrorists? Also, who is the “we” that needs to do something? Did she mean Christians worldwide, Americans, our local congregation, or something else?
Despite my wonderings, it was not the right time or place to probe, and I knew that her question was more reflective than anything. Nevertheless, the question hit on something significant: perceptions of Islam and Muslims are a source of concern and confusion for many Christians these days. It is not difficult to understand why this is true given the realities of terrorism, practices such as honor killings and female genital mutilation, current political rhetoric, media portrayals of Islam, and tumultuous circumstances in many Muslim countries. Sometimes, however, concern and confusion about Islam morph into Islamophobia—literally, “fear of Islam”—producing animosity and hostility.1
Islamophobia was on display in a letter campaign in England that declared April 3, 2018, “Punish a Muslim Day.” The letter announced a fictitious contest in which points would be awarded for specific acts of violence against Muslims, including 10 points for verbal abuse, 25 points for forcibly removing a woman’s headscarf, 100 points for physically attacking a Muslim, and 1,000 points for bombing a mosque.2 While the letter was taken as a joke by some, it is no laughing matter. At the time of this writing, incidents of public intimidation, vandalism of mosques, and physical attacks on Muslims in the United States are at an all-time high, even surpassing the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.3
Islamophobia is real and tragic.
To be clear, however, not all concern or criticism of Islam is Islamophobic. In fact, the most important critiques of problems within Islam today come from Muslims themselves, including various reformers and Muslim alliances that address challenges associated with Islamic politics, theology, gender dynamics, interfaith relationships, and others.4 Likewise, the woman who grabbed my arm at church that day is no Islamophobe. Her question requires clarification, but she wants to respond charitably and faithfully. This article is written with people like her in mind.
So if her question—What are we gonna do about those Muslims?—is not the best question, then what are better questions? What should Christians do? How do we navigate confusion and concern without giving in to Islamophobia? In what follows, I suggest practices that can help Christians pursue faithful responses.
I begin by making sure we have the right goal in mind.
What is our goal here, anyway?
When I was 13 years old and playing for my middle school basketball team, I experienced a classic teen-athlete blunder. I was standing at the midcourt circle as the referee prepared to toss the ball into the air for the opening tip-off. The ball went up, was batted around, and landed in my hands. Surprised and disoriented by nerves, I turned and ran the wrong way and scored on the other team’s basket. At the time, my basketball hero was Julius “Dr. J” Erving, and my teammates promptly dubbed me, “Dr.-wrong-way-J.”
Isn’t middle school great?
Here is the point: As American Christians, we are often disoriented by religious and cultural changes taking place around us and confused about our goals and which direction we should be running. Nowhere is this more apparent than in our engagements with Islam. Therefore, it is important to check our direction and make sure we are aligned with the faith we profess.
As we consider this, let me first highlight a wrong direction. Christian engagement with Islam should not begin with questions about Islam: whether Islam is violent or peaceful, whether it is compatible with modern democracy, whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God. Those are important questions, and I am very interested in and have perspectives on them. I have found, however, that starting with those questions divides Christians into predictable political or ideological camps. As such, seeking consensus about Islam in order to develop Christian responses is driving toward the wrong goal. Rather, we should start by asking the central question of our faith: What has God done in Christ, and who are we called to be in response?
In other words, more than debating whether the Qur’an is a war manual or peace treatise, we ask what it means to “know Christ and the power of his resurrection . . . to share in his suffering and be like him in his death” (Phil 3:10). More than asking what strategies are needed to engage Muslims, we start by asking what it means to have “Christ formed in us” (Gal 4:19) and to “keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal 5:25). More than accumulating knowledge about Islam (or, for that matter, accumulating knowledge about Christianity), we start by exploring what it means that “knowledge puffs up while love builds up” (1 Cor 8:1).
With all that in mind, this article explores practices that seek to make our own Christlikeness the goal that frames all engagements with Islam and Muslims. I identify and illustrate two such practices and then conclude with a brief note on evangelism.
Formative Practice #1: Practicing Faith Over Fear
In 2013, a Christian publication featured an article about an interfaith event I organized with Muslim and Christian participants. Christians from around the country posted comments on the online version. One read: “Engage in dialog with muslims???? Do so at your own risk. I wouldn’t trust one as far as I could throw’em. And, that is not said with hatred nor malice.”5 I choose to trust that no hatred or malice was intended, but the comment clearly reflects deep suspicion and mistrust, so much so that Muslims are not even worthy of our engagement. Such dismissive mistrust goes beyond mere concern or confusion. It reflects fear.
Fearful assumptions about Islam seep so deeply into the collective psyche of many in our society that the lines between real and imagined threats get blurred. In 2016, an airplane sitting on the runway in Philadelphia was delayed several hours when a passenger alerted flight attendants that a Middle Eastern man sitting across from her was scribbling Arabic on a notepad. Fearing that he might be an Islamic terrorist planning to hijack the plane, they taxied back to the gate and authorities led him into the terminal for questioning. As it turns out, the man was an Italian economics professor from the University of Pennsylvania who was scribbling an algebraic equation. He was not a terrorist; he was a math nerd.6
More than a case of mistaken identity, this illustrates what psychologists call “affect heuristic”: snap judgments based more on intense emotions and assumptions than on empirical evidence. As psychologist Jonathan Haidt puts it, “The emotional tail wags the rational dog.”7 So while there were no hijacking terrorists on board that day, the flight was hijacked, nonetheless, by fear. The same fear often hijacks our church gatherings and online interactions.
Yet, we should not be naïve about real threats and dangers associated with individuals or groups who identify as Muslim. After all, there are individuals who claim Islamic inspiration to hijack planes and detonate explosives. There are Muslim majority governments that enforce harsh interpretations of Islam on citizens and Islamic terrorist groups that recruit and mobilize globally.8 At the very least, in the words of Muslim commentator Mustafa Akyol, “The Islamic civilization . . . has lately been going through an acute crisis with severe consequences.”9 How should we assess this crisis and respond to such threats without submitting to fear?
In June 2017, ACT! for America organized “March Against Sharia” demonstrations all over the country claiming that Sharia (i.e., “Muslim law”) is a “cancer” that threatens the American way of life and must be eradicated.10 Such perspectives are not marginal. ACT! claims 750,000 members and is just one of a growing number of similar groups that consider Islam an enemy of the state and promote sweeping opposition to US mosques and Muslim immigrants. Some even forecast that Islamization, if not checked, will turn the US into the “Islamic States of America” and Europe into the radicalized colony of “Eurabia.”11
Others find the evidence for these alarming concerns about as credible as the terrorist threat on the flight in Philadelphia. Commenting on fears of Europe becoming Eurabia, historian Phillip Jenkins notes, “[s]uch grim prophecies may sell books, but they ignore reality.”12 This is not to deny that there are reasons to be concerned about the well-being of modern societies—hyper-individualism, materialism, technology addictions, superficiality, and other maladies come to mind—but an Islamic takeover is not one of them. In fact, Muslims can be great allies in addressing these other challenges.
Here is the upshot of all this: while Islamophobia obviously has something to do with Islam—or, at least, certain perceptions of Islam—it has more to do with fear, and Christian faith has much to say about fear, the phobia of Islamophobia. In fact, “fear not” is one of the most repeated exhortations in the teachings of Jesus and throughout the Bible.13 “Fear not” is not a call to ignore dangers or just think positive thoughts. It is an invitation to faithfulness, to overcome fear—and the anxiety, prejudice, and self-protecting hostility that it creates—by trusting God.
Still, fear hijacks many American churches. Note, for example, the 2015 sermon by influential evangelical pastor Robert Jeffress in which he proposes a Christian response to Islamic terrorism.14 Jeffress asserts that Islam promotes terrorism by encouraging Muslims to follow Muhammad’s example of warfare and obey the Qur’an’s injunctions to kill their enemies. While this characterization of Islam and its prophet is deeply problematic,15 what is even more remarkable is the pastor’s characterization of his own faith. While he seeks to contrast Muhammad’s warmongering with Jesus’ instructions to love enemies, within minutes he passionately declares, “It is time to start bombing the ‘you know what’ out of ISIS. That is a Biblical response. . . . [We must] rid this world of the cancer called radical Islam. It is time for us to act!”16
One might wonder how Jeffress moves so quickly from point A (Jesus teaches love for enemies) to point B (the Bible justifies bombing enemies). It certainly requires some fancy footwork with Scripture and history and a conflation of American identity with the kingdom of God. It also creates thick irony in the content being preached: We must kill our enemies to protect our freedom so we can practice our religion that teaches us to love our enemies. Beyond ironies and mischaracterizations, however, Jeffress’s message rests on a clear and coherent impulse of fear. As he summarizes, “If we do not confront and defeat the evil of radical Islam, the evil of radical Islam is going to confront and defeat us.” To some, this sounds strong and sensible. In fact, while Jeffress’ earlier descriptions of Jesus’s attitudes toward enemies received nonchalant responses from his Sunday morning crowd, his impassioned plea to US military action aroused a standing ovation. The question for this article, however, is not whether such a message receives support. The question is whether it fits with the gospel.
There is much to say here, but I limit myself to two brief reflections. First, whatever our response to concerns about Islam, if it is not drenched in love, it is not Christian. Only Christian contortionists can align fearful and self-preserving violence—whether by individuals or governments—with the teaching of the “crucified one” and his call to radical and risky love. Even when strong action against injustice is required, love for enemies must transcend base desires for revenge or self-protection and preservation.17 Second, Christian responses are based in hope. At its core, the Christian Gospel—“Good News”—is an announcement that God has acted definitively in the person of Jesus Christ to overcome the powers of darkness that produce fear and despair. For some critics of Christianity, this sounds too good to be true. For Christ followers, it is Gospel 101. While evil, sin, and death are still at large, their ultimate demise has already been determined, and we “wait in eager expectation” for the victory to be fully realized (Rom 8:18–25).18 In the meantime, hope frees us to love and serve without fear, knowing that all things are in God’s trustworthy hands: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).
In the end, however one assesses Islam and the threats associated with it, the Christian posture remains the same: faith, not fear; hope, not despair; love, always.
Formative Practice #2: Practicing the Golden Rule
The ethics of Jesus are encapsulated by the Golden Rule: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 7:12).19 This command is comprehensive (“in everything”) and therefore includes interactions with Muslims. So what does it mean to treat Muslims as we want to be treated? Here are three suggestions, stated personally.
First, I want Muslims to have the best interests of Christians in mind as they interact with us. I want them to consider our well-being and promote our freedom even when they disagree with us on important religious matters, acknowledging that our freedoms are inevitably linked.20 I want this kind of consideration to be extended to all Christians, especially vulnerable Christians living in Muslim-majority countries. The Golden Rule, therefore, calls us to do the same in reverse by working not only for the protection and well-being of our Christian brothers and sisters throughout the world, but also minority Muslim communities in our midst. This is required of us even if the favor is not returned, although there are many encouraging signs that peace can flow in both directions. Note, for example, the 2016 Marrakesh Declaration written and signed in Morocco by Muslim leaders from all over the world seeking to protect Christians and other minorities in Muslim-majority regions.21
Second, I do not want Muslims to reduce Christianity to its historical malfunctions. I don’t want them using Westboro Baptist Church’s “God Hates Fags” campaign and its misuses of Leviticus 20:23 as a paradigm for understanding Christian teaching and activism. I don’t want them using the history of American slavery to interpret Christian beliefs about race despite the fact that, for centuries, Christian slaveholders justified the practice with New Testament citations and Christian symbols.22 I don’t want Muslims characterizing our relationship with Jews by citing centuries of anti-Semitism in Christian theology, art, and culture.23 Since I don’t want Muslims doing any of that, I am forbidden to reduce Islam to its historical malfunctions.
I lived in Uganda when the world started paying attention to a terrorist group called the Uganda Christian Army, later known as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), and its self-proclaimed prophet, Joseph Kony.24 This apocalyptic, puritanical group has been terrorizing African communities and abducting children for over thirty years while blending local Acholi cosmology with Christian language and symbols and claiming to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. They often wear or display crosses, they are known to pray before their terror campaigns, and they have long sought to establish a Christian government based on the Ten Commandments.25 I once heard a Ugandan Muslim reference the LRA as evidence of Christianity’s intolerance as a whole. I understand the confusion, but I want Muslims to be more discerning.
I also lived in Uganda during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, when violence erupted between the Hutu and Tutsi, claiming the lives of one million people. Before the genocide, Rwanda was the most Christianized country in Africa, and many celebrated its successful churches and missionary movements.26 Nevertheless, the killing erupted during Easter weekend and took place largely in and around church buildings and between pastors, priests, and parishioners. Some analysts cite this as evidence of the “irrelevance of Christianity” in contexts of state-sponsored violence.27 As if that is not enough, one of the only religious communities that stood against the chaos and provided shelter to both Hutu and Tutsi was the minority Muslim community in Nyamirambo, a slum outside of Kigali. As Christian theologian Emmanuel Katongole stated, “The Muslims at Nyamirambo . . . and not the Christian churches, embodied the hope of Christ’s resurrection” during Easter week of 1994.28
Critics can use these incidents to make a persuasive case against Christianity.29 However, I want those critics to reconsider and grant us the benefit of the doubt because I believe there is a different and even more persuasive story to tell. This better story provides context for difficult scriptures and shows how they fit into an overarching narrative of hope, peace, and justice. This story offers powerful counter-examples in which Christians draw on the example of Jesus to disrupt hatred and violence with radical forgiveness and healing, starting in Rwanda.30 Of course, if I want Muslims and others to consider our deeper stories, then I must be prepared to do the same for them. That does not mean ignoring differences between religions or the threats associated with Islam. It also does not mean patronizing Muslims by simplistically denying that Islamic extremism is, in fact, connected to Islam in complex ways. It does mean listening as Muslims provide their own explanations for difficult passages and counter-narratives to their historical malfunctions. It means extending the benefit of the doubt, honoring their virtues,31 and refusing to caricature 1,400 years of Muslim history in monolithic ways that either demonize or patronize.32
Third and finally, I want Muslims to be discerning and self-reflective in their own faith testimonies. I once heard a Muslim man give his personal testimony at a mosque in Los Angeles, which included his conversion out of Christianity. He had become a Christian in high school and eventually a youth minister in a non-denominational church. Once on the “inside,” however, he found Christianity legalistic and controlling and thanked Allah that he escaped into the freedom and mercy of Islam.
I know something about the potential for suffocating legalism in Christian communities. Nevertheless, taking this man’s specific experience as a paradigm for all of Christianity is unjust and, frankly, offensive. I want them to be discerning about such things. Of course, there is also a market in Christian circles for testimonies of former Muslims who convert to Christianity.33 Their stories can be insightful and inspiring, but they assert too much when they claim to provide authoritative reports about the “real” Islam and merely confirm the worst assumptions and fears.34 I understand the confusion about this. Who knows Islam better, it is reasoned, than a former Muslim? The Golden Rule, however, requires more discernment. When hearing conversion stories, we can embrace the true power of the Gospel and the authenticity of specific and sometimes horrific reports without assuming they tell us much about Islam as a whole.
In the end, practicing the Golden Rule is not merely an attempt to be fair or politically correct. Rather, it is the practice of trusting God. Trust recognizes that the Gospel does not need to be propped up or enhanced by strawman comparisons, biased assumptions, or worldly defenses. Trust frees us to be humble, respectful, open, and hospitable, without fear of compromise or loss. God, after all, is trustworthy.
Conclusion (with a Word on Evangelism)
A recent public opinion poll conducted by the Pew Research Center provided a “feeling thermometer” gauging American perceptions of different religious groups. Perceptions are ranked from cold, negative feelings to warm, positive feelings. Islam received a cooler, more negative ranking than any other religion. Interestingly, many Americans do not know any Muslims, since the religion currently makes up only 1% of the US population.35 Perceptions of Islam warm dramatically, however, among those who know at least one Muslim personally. In other words, personal interactions and simple friendships are key antidotes for Islamophobia and, as Islam grows in the United States, this will become more of a possibility for more people. In the meantime, Christianity provides deep resources to help Christians confront various kinds of fear and prepare for faithful and friendly engagements with others in our increasingly diverse contexts. Fortunately, when it comes to Islam, there are also many faithful counter-examples to the fear and hostility of Islamophobia.
In 2010, a Muslim community near Memphis, Tennessee, bought some land in order to build an Islamic center. At the time, because of increased hostilities around the country, the Muslims mostly hoped that their project would not attract much attention.36 The property they purchased, however, is adjacent to the Heartsong Community Church whose pastor, Steve Stone, read about it in the newspaper and became concerned. “When I saw that,” he reflected later, “my stomach tightened up. . . . I felt the ignorance and fear. So I prayed, Lord, what are we supposed to do?”37 Stone didn’t know much about Islam beyond what he saw in the media, but he was confident of one thing: “We follow Jesus and he tells us to love our neighbors.” So they put up a large sign on the church lawn that read, “Heartsong Church Welcomes Memphis Islamic Center to the Neighborhood.” It was a simple act of kindness but generated great surprise and gratitude from the Muslims. Furthermore, when construction of the center was delayed, Heartsong opened their building for the Muslims to gather and pray.
Not everyone at Heartsong was enthusiastic about this. Some church members left because they felt Stone was condoning a false religion. Many, however, embraced the opportunities for neighborly love, and soon the church was serving halal meat at their community potlucks in addition to organizing joint efforts to serve the homeless and tutor local children. Moreover, CNN’s coverage of the story reached a small town in Kashmir and inspired members of its Muslim majority. One Kashmir Muslim leader announced, “God just spoke to us through this [American Pastor],” and others went and cleaned a small local church. Some even contacted Stone directly and told him, “We are now trying to be good neighbors, too. Tell your congregation we do not hate them, we love them, and for the rest of our lives we are going to take care of that little church.”38
In short, rather than allowing confusion and concern to morph into Islamophobia, Heartsong put the Golden Rule into practice and allowed faith to cast out fear. In this way, they not only grew in faith themselves, but they also provided a loving witness to their Tennessee neighbors, and inspired Muslims and protected fellow Christians half a world away.
And yet, some Christians will insist that such stories of kindness have little value, at least from an eternal perspective, if not accompanied by evangelistic efforts to convert Muslims. This raises many questions about Christian understandings of mission, humanity, and salvation that are beyond the scope of this article.39 Nonetheless, I conclude with three brief reflections that begin to address those issues.
First, Christians are called to extend and receive hospitality freely and impartially (Matt 10:8). Not only is this compelled by the humanity we share with all people created in the “image of God” (Gen 1:27), but the Christian faith is about a God who extends sacrificial and often unrequited love to all (Rom 5:8) and calls us to do the same (1 John 4:19). This reflects broader missional understandings in which Christ followers are not merely called to talk about the gospel, but to participate in it, practice it, live in the world in such a way that embodies good news.40 Such practices have eternal value regardless of anything else we should say.
Second, the comprehensive nature of the Golden Rule discussed earlier encompasses all forms of mission. In other words, as Christians, we should only practice witness to others when prepared to let them witness to us, and only in ways we would want them to witness to us.41 This excludes all forms of coercion, intimidation, manipulation, or disrespect, and refuses to reduce friendships to proselytizing targets or projects. Stated personally with regard to verbal witness, I want people to listen and genuinely consider our testimony about the power of Christ in our lives. Having said that, I have many Muslim friends who find transformative meaning and mercy in the teaching of the Qur’an and the example of the prophet. The Golden Rule calls us to extend the same respect and consideration to them that we want extended to us, regardless of whether it is reciprocated. We trust God with the rest.
Finally, we must consider how Christian Islamophobia has failed our Muslim neighbors and botched our Christian witness. In the gospel story, when Jesus was arrested, Peter lashed out in fear and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant. Jesus immediately commanded that Peter put the sword away, and then he healed the man’s ear (Luke 22:50–51; John 18:10–11). In a similar way, Islamophobia and other forms of Christian fear have often repelled or even severed the ears of those that otherwise might have heard something good. While Jesus promised that righteous living would often result in suffering (Mat 5:11; 1 Thess 2:14–15), recent research suggests that an increasing number of Americans reject organized religion and especially Christianity, not because of the church’s Christlikeness but because it is viewed as judgmental, coercive, and hypocritical.42 Such characteristics, when accurately identified, reflect the fruit of fear, not the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22–23).
The Western church is especially susceptible to such accusations when it mimics and employs worldly power.43 This has happened enough that we may be in a time when the most authentic witness of the Western church must lead with the confession of sins, the pursuit of justice for the marginalized and suffering, and the courageous love of all neighbors and enemies.
Through such practices, we pray, Jesus will heal us all and give us all “ears to hear” the good news afresh.
John D. Barton (PhD, Makerere University, Uganda) is Director of the Center for Faith and Learning at Pepperdine University, where he also serves on the faculties of Seaver College’s Religion and Philosophy Division, GSEP’s graduate program in Social Entrepreneurship and Change, and the Straus Institute of Dispute Resolution at the Pepperdine School of Law. John served as a missionary in Uganda from 1994 to 2002 and currently is president of the board for the Kibo Group, a nonprofit which pursues poverty alleviation in East African communities. His recent publications include A Muslim Sage Among Peers: Fethullah Gülen in Dialog with Christians, editor (Blue Dome Press, 2017), and “Toward a Non-Racist Frame in the Stone-Campbell Tradition,” in Restoration and Philosophy (University of Tennessee Press, 2019).
1 The term “Islamophobia” and its parameters continue to be debated. Some suggest clarifications such as “anti-Muslimism” or “anti-Muslim xenophobia.” See, for example, Alan Aldridge, Religion in the Contemporary World: A Sociological Introduction (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2000), 138.
2 Yonette Joseph, “‘Punish a Muslim Day’ Letters Rattle U.K. Communities,” The New York Times, March 11, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/11/world/europe/uk-muslims-letters.html.
3 Katayoun Kishi, “Assaults against Muslims in U.S. Surpass 2001 Level,” Fact Tank: News in the Numbers, Pew Research Center, November 15, 2017, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/11/15/assaults-against-muslims-in-u-s-surpass-2001-level.
4 See, for example, Asef Bayat, ed., Post-Islamism: The Changing Faces of Political Islam (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013); and Mustafa Akyol, Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty (New York: Norton, 2012). Often, American Christians are unaware of these reform initiatives or how active Muslims are in addressing Islamic malfunctions. As I ask elsewhere, a more pressing question today is not, Why don’t Muslims denounce extremism and terrorism? but rather, Why don’t we hear them when they do? See my Huffington Post blogpost “The Question That Won’t Go Away About Muslims and Terrorism,” HuffPost, June 20, 2017, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-barton/the-question-that-wont-go_b_10557164.html.
5 Erik Tryggestad, “Muslims among Us,” The Christian Chronicle, Sept. 12, 2013, https://christianchronicle.org/muslims-among-us.
6 Catherine Rampell, “Ivy League Economist Ethnically Profiled, Interrogated for Doing Math on American Airlines Flight,” The Washington Post, May 7, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/rampage/wp/2016/05/07/ivy-league-economist-interrogated-for-doing-math-on-american-airlines-flight.
7 Quoted in Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011), 140. See the fuller discussion on affect heuristic on pp. 129–45.
8 One of the challenges in these discussions is how to interpret the high correlation between Muslim populations globally and illiberal tendencies. While they tend to gloss over nuances, Rodney Stark and Katie E. Corcoran provide detailed analysis of Pew and Gallup polls regarding these issues and conclude with a more negative assessment of Islam. See Rodney Stark and Katie E. Corcoran, Religious Hostility: A Global Assessment of Hatred and Terror (Waco, TX: ISR Books, 2014), 77–122. For another detailed assessment of Gallup data while offering more positive and more nuanced interpretations, see John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed, Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think (New York: Gallup Press, 2007).
9 Mustafa Akyol, “What Jesus Can Teach Today’s Muslims,” The New York Times, February 13, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/13/opinion/what-jesus-can-teach-todays-muslims.html.
10 Abigail Hauslohner and Justin Wm. Moyer, “Anti-sharia Demonstrators Hold Rallies in Cities across the Country,” The Washington Post, June 10, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/anti-sharia-marches-planned-for-numerous-cities-across-the-country-saturday/2017/06/10/40faf61e-4d6f-11e7-a186-60c031eab644_story.html. Interpreting Muslim attitudes about Sharia is tricky in part because of misunderstandings of the term itself. For insightful discussions of the issues and demonstrations of how classical understandings of Sharia are compatible with modern liberal democracies, see Asifa Quraishi-Landes, “Islamic Constitutionalism: Not Secular, Not Theocratic, Not Impossible,” Rutgers Journal of Law and Religion 16, no. 553 (2015): 553–79; and idem, “Rumors of the Sharia Threat are Greatly Exaggerated: What American Judges Really Do with Islamic Family Law in Their Courtrooms,” New York Law School Law Review 57, no. 245 (2013): 245–57.
11 This often combines concerns over immigration with the perceived dangers and naivete of multiculturalism. Some, such as Brigitte Gabriel, founder of Act!, claims that Eurabia has already taken hold. See Robert Wilde, “Brigitte Gabriel: ‘Europe is Eurabia Right Now,’” Breitbart, September, 26, 2015, http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2015/09/26/brigitte-gabriel-europe-is-eurabia-right-now.
12 Phillip Jenkins, “Europe’s Christian Comeback,” Foreign Policy, June 12, 2007, http://foreignpolicy.com/2007/06/12/europes-christian-comeback. Muslims currently comprise below 4% overall of Europe’s population. Moreover, while there are small pockets of loud and dangerous fundamentalists, most of Europe’s 23 million Muslims are in various stages of cultural integration or secularization. In fact, progressive ideas are being exported through immigrant communities back to their originating homelands, leading Jenkins to suggest that Europe may actually be changing Islam more than Islam is changing Europe. See also Jenkins’s 2016 lecture, “Current Global Trends in Islam,” delivered at Fuller Theological Seminary, https://fullerstudio.fuller.edu/current-global-trends-in-islam-philip-jenkins. All of these sources also draw on Jenkins’s God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe’s Religious Crisis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).
13 Examples include Deut 3:22; 31:6; Josh 1:9; Ps 23:4; 27:1; 34:4–7; 56:3; 91:1–16; 118:6–7; Prov 29:25; Isa 35:4; 41:10–14; 43:1; Mark 4:39–40; 5:36; 6:50; John 14:27; Rom 8:38–39; Phil 4:6–7; 2 Tim 1:7; 1 Pet 3:14; 5:6–7; 1 John 4:18; Rev 1:17.
14 In the sermon, he was specifically responding to the 2015 Paris attacks. The section of the sermon being cited can be accessed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vvjMUrPUfC4. To illustrate Jeffress’ current influence, he was selected to preach at the private prayer service for Donald Trump the day of the presidential inauguration on January 20, 2017.
15 Irfan A. Omar, “Jihad and Nonviolence in the Islamic Tradition,” in Peacemaking and the Challenge of Violence in World Religions, ed. Irfan A. Omar and Michael K. Duffey (Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2015). Still, while both Jesus and Muhammad seek peace and justice, there are important differences between their teachings and examples on the use of violence and how enemies should be engaged. For more details, see Lee C. Camp, Who Is My Enemy? Questions American Christians Must Face About Islam—And Themselves (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2011); Miroslav Volf, Allah: A Christian Response (New York: HarperOne, 2011); and John Barton, “Navigating the Degrees in Christian-Muslim Dialogue: A Comparative Review of Lee Camp and Miroslav Volf.” Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 4, no. 2 (August 2013): http://missiodeijournal.com/issues/md-4-2/authors/md-4-2-jbarton.
16 In his comments, Jeffress consistently equates “radical Islam” with Islam as a whole. “Islam,” he says generally, “is a false religion and it is inspired by Satan himself . . . and this weekend we saw the fruit of Satan’s destruction in the acts of these terrorists. It is impossible to separate what these eight suicide bombers did from their faith, their religion that inspired them to do this.”
17 In setting out the original principles of what later became known as Just War Theory, Saint Augustine insisted that war is always lamentable but can be justified in certain cases when it serves the purposes of justice and peacemaking. In such cases, war against enemies can actually be a faithful expression of love for enemies. See Camp, 67–70; also Volf, Allah, 180.
18 Christian theology does not underplay the continuing role of evil and destructive forces and the struggle against the “principalities and powers” that empower them (Eph 6:12). In fact, there is a sense in which Satanic forces are still ruling the world (Rev 11:15; 1 John 5:19; 2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:2). Christian hope, however, teaches that such powers are on their last legs. Like the writhing, dying body of a snake whose head has been crushed, the forces that instill fear were defeated on the cross (Col 2:14–15; 1 John 3:8; Heb 2:14) and are in the process of dying. Moreover, the infamous and often misunderstood final battle depicted in Rev 19 does not present an army preparing for battle, but one celebrating God’s victory against an enemy that has already been defeated. For a wider exploration of biblical themes of evil, violence, and God’s victory, see Gregory Stevenson, A Slaughtered Lamb: Revelation and the Apocalyptic Response to Evil and Suffering (Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 2013); Gregory A. Boyd, Cross Vision: How the Crucifixion of Jesus Makes Sense of Old Testament Violence (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017).
19 Religion scholar Karen Armstrong contends that every major religious tradition has some form of the Golden Rule, which she claims represents our best hope for religious peace in our fractured world. See Karen Armstrong, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life (New York: Anchor Books, 2010). See also her influential Ted Talk on the topic: https://www.ted.com/talks/karen_armstrong_let_s_revive_the_golden_rule.
20 For a Christian defense of religious freedom and political pluralism, see Miroslav Volf, A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2013); See also the important work of the Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) and especially their action team that focuses on issues related to Islam. See https://www.religiousfreedominstitute.org.
21 “Marrakesh Declaration on the Rights of Religious Minorities in Predominantly Muslim Majority Communities,” http://www.marrakeshdeclaration.org.
22 Biblical citations included the various “slaves, obey your masters” passages including Eph 6:5, Col 3:22, and 1 Pet 2:18–20. Slaveholders also embraced the quasi-theological and quasi-scientific notion of the Hamite curse. After slavery ended, these ideologies continued in new forms including the Ku Klux Klan and their use of Christian crosses. For a discussion of how these dynamics developed and can be addressed in my own Christian heritage, see John D. Barton, “Toward a Non-Racist Frame in the Stone-Campbell Tradition,” in Restoration and Philosophy, edited by J. Caleb Clanton (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2019).
23 A sampling of sources includes Henry Claman, Jewish Images in the Christian Church: Art as the Mirror of the Jewish-Christian Conflict 200–1250 C.E. (Macon, GA.: Mercer University Press, 2000); Susannah Heschel, The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008); Miri Rubin, Gentile Tales: The Narrative Assault on Late Medieval Jews (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999); Robert P. Ericksen, Theologians Under Hitler: Gerhard Kittel, Paul Althaus, and Emanuel Hirsch (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985). Some of the Church’s great scholars who exhibited blatant anti-Semitism include Ignatius of Antioch and Justin Martyr in the second century, John Chrysostom in the fifth century, and Martin Luther’s 1543 track, On the Jews and Their Lies, and its encouragement to burn synagogues and persecute Jews to honor Christ. The many biblical citations misused to support these anti-Semitic attitudes include Jesus’ harsh rebuke of “the Jews” in John’s Gospel: “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out his desires” (John 8:44).
24 Kony left Uganda in 2006 and has been pursued by the Ugandan and American governments. While LRA activities have been reduced in recent years, the situation is far from over. See Ledio Cakaj, “$800 Million Later, Joseph Kony is Still a Threat,” Foreign Policy, June 28, 2017, http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/06/28/800-million-later-joseph-kony-is-still-a-threat.
25 In recent years, the LRA has been increasingly forced into hiding and some of these goals and motivations have become less explicit. Nevertheless, while the LRA is not identical to Islamist groups such as Boko Haram and ISIS, the parallels are striking. See Eleanor Beevor, “This is what can we learn about ISIS from Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army,” Washington Post, October 22, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/10/22/what-can-we-learn-about-isis-from-joseph-konys-lords-resistance-army.
26 For theological and missiological reflections on the genocide, see John Barton, “Confusion and Communion: Christian Mission and Ethnic Identities in Post-Genocide Rwanda,” Missiology: An International Review 40, no. 3 (July 2012): 227–48. For a philosophical and historical analysis of the issues, see John Barton, “The Hermeneutics of Identity in African Philosophical Discourse as a Framework for Understanding Ethnicity in Post-Genocide Rwanda,” Africana Philosophia 15.1 (Winter 2013): 1–34.
27 The quote is from political scientist, Michael Budde, and quoted in James Jay Carney, “Waters of Baptism, Blood of Tribalism?” African Ecclesial Review 50, 1 (2008): 26–27.
28 Emmanuel Katongole, Mirror to the Church: Resurrecting Faith after Genocide in Rwanda (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 122. Not surprisingly, the Rwandan Muslim community experienced dramatic growth in the years following the genocide. See Emily Wax, “Islam Attracting Many Survivors of Rwanda Genocide,” The Washington Post, September 23, 2002: A10, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A53018-2002Sep22.html.
29 Some find all religions, especially monotheistic religions, guilty across the board. See Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (New York: Twelve, 2007).
30 Immaculée Ilibagiza, Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Genocide (Carlsbad, CA: Hay House Publishers, 2006).
31 For a brief discussion of some remarkable counter-narratives and virtuous Muslims, see my blog post “The Best Answer to Bad Guys with Qur’ans is Good Guys with Qur’ans,” HuffPost, January 19, 2016, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-barton/the-best-answer-to-bad-gu_b_9018296.html.
32 This highlights the tendency of Christian commentators to treat Islam as if it contains a singular essence or core from which all of its various expressions arise. Some, such as Robert Spencer, identify that essence as aggressive and intolerant with ISIS as an extreme but authentic expression. Others, such as author and scholar Karen Armstrong, locate the essence of Islam in peace and consider violence and intolerance out of character for authentic Islam. Interestingly, Spencer and Armstrong both work with the same Islamic sources—the Qur’an and early Islamic commentaries and biographies of the prophet—and use the same hermeneutical approach to reach opposite conclusions. Spencer hones in on the most difficult and intolerant passages as a lens through which to interpret everything else, while Armstrong prioritizes the most tolerant and peaceful passages through which to interpret the difficult passages. Spencer’s version is especially influential among evangelicals, Armstrong’s among mainline liberal Protestants. See Gabriel Said Reynolds, The Emergence of Islam (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012), 3–10.
33 This paragraph draws on the insights of my friend and colleague at Rochester College in Michigan, Keith Huey, from his unpublished transcript, “Great Testimonies, Poor Information.”
34 The genre includes not only Muslim converts to Christianity, but Muslim converts to atheism such as the provocative Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali who escaped horrific circumstances and experiences to eventually abandon Islam and become an outspoken critic of all religion. See Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Infidel (New York: Atria Books, 2007).
35 For US population statistics, see Besheer Mohamed, “A New Estimate of the US Muslim Population,” Fact Tank: News in the Numbers, Pew Research Center, January 6, 2016, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/01/06/a-new-estimate-of-the-u-s-muslim-population. For the Pew polling, see Pew Research Center, “Americans Express Increasingly Warm Feelings Toward Religious Group,” Religion and Public Life, February 15, 2017, http://www.pewforum.org/2017/02/15/americans-express-increasingly-warm-feelings-toward-religious-groups. Muslims and atheists typically rank the lowest, although between 2015 and 2017, feelings about Muslims improved among the general American population from cold to neutral.
36 At the time, protests were raging in New York City over the plans for a new Islamic Center near Ground Zero, and those protests reignited post-9/11 sensitivities, causing hostilities to spill over into other parts of the country.
37 Links to both local and national media reports on this story are provided on the Memphis Islamic Center’s website: http://www.memphisislamiccenter.org/about-mic/mic-in-the-news. A brief video that contains the cited quote is also available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYembGqZF94.
38 For some of these details, see Jim Wallis’s short piece “My Neighbor’s Faith: A Test of Character,” HuffPost, May 5, 2012, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-wallis/a-test-of-character_b_1501616.html.
39 For a sampling of books that discuss these issues, see N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (New York: HarperOne, 2008); Scot McKnight, A Community Called Atonement (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007); Frances S. Adeney, Graceful Evangelism: Christian Witness in a Complex World (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2010); Michael Frost, Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006); Elaine A. Heath, The Mystic Way of Evangelism: A Contemplative Vision for Christian Outreach, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017).
40 Michael J. Gorman, Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015).
41 I am drawing on Miroslav Volf’s proposal for a common code of conduct for Christians and Muslims engaged in mission (or what Muslims call da’wa). See Volf, Allah, 209–13. Of course, from some pluralistic perspectives, all forms of mission (whether Christian evangelism or Muslim da’wa) are inappropriate and warlike. Most Christians and Muslims, however, will not give up on their religions’ missional impulses and believe they are compatible with genuine love and respect for others.
42 Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010), 120–21. In addition, Elaine Heath discusses this in terms of the exile of the Western church that results from complacency and collusion with worldly powers. Following the spiritual life cycles that God’s people have always experienced, Heath says, it may only be through the great loss and “severe mercy” of exile that the church can recover its prophetic voice. See Heath, 25–36.
43 This is not to suggest that all forms of power are worldly. See Andy Crouch, Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2013).