By Shane Bennett
Care about Muslims, but find your buds not as passionate about them as you are? Probably few of your friends go so far as hating Muslims. Maybe they have some anger, a little animosity, or just some vague bad feelings. Maybe they think you're naive because you have Muslim friends or because you're not as mad about world events as they are. How can we respond to this tension with the love of Jesus, not the self-righteousness of the Pharisees? Is there a way we can humbly but tenaciously engage the debate?
A) There are serious problems in Islam, and Muslims have done things, sometimes in the name of their religion, that I can't begin to comprehend.
B) Jesus was serious about that body of Christ thing. God equips and inspires his kids for different kinds of work. At the same time, it's not kind to leave your friends wallowing in misplaced anger and fear. The trick, as usual, is to discern what God is asking.
If he is asking you to shape your friends' thinking, it never hurts to start by looking at how Jesus interacted with his disciples. (Although, let me write out what hopefully just floated through your head, "It's dicey to put yourself in the sandals of Jesus, with your friends playing the part of dopey disciples!")
I think Muslims today share significant parallels with the Samaritans in the New Testament. How Jesus interacted with them in John 4 gives us some key points to consider. By conversing with the woman at the well and telling her plainly that he was the Messiah, Jesus showed the disciples that God has great love for Samaritans. When he tells the guys to lift up their eyes and see the harvest, he let them know God intended to bring tons of Samaritans into his kingdom. And finally, he agrees to a two-day stay-over in the village, indicating his desire for the disciples to actually connect in relationship with Samaritans.
I think God would like to sink these truths into our friends' lives and ours in relation to Muslims. He loves them, he's bringing huge numbers of them into his kingdom and he wants us to befriend them toward that end.
With that in mind, and happy we don't have to change everybody's thinking to mirror ours, consider these five strategies to shape the thinking of your non-Muslim-friendly friends.
1. Listen to them.
Writer David Augsburger says that being heard is so much like being loved, that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable. Listening does two things for us: It helps us imitate the love of Jesus as we honor our friends. It also demonstrates humility and respects both the complexity of the issues and the passion people feel for them.
If we ask our friends why they have negative emotions toward Muslims, we'll hear some interesting reasons. I put out the question on Facebook and was intrigued by some of the responses
"Because of the violence I see in Islam"
"Violence and oppression toward women"
"Apparent lack of response from moderate Muslim leaders to terrorism"
"Opposition to Israel"
"Koranic permission to kill non-Muslims"
"Fear of growing Sharia law"
We may logically question the validity of some of these reasons, but we can't discount the intensity with which they are held. It's only as we listen and understand the reasons behind our friends' animosity that we can respond to it.
2. Be kind, talk respectfully, but don't back down.
Since it's probably not best to just out-shout people who disagree with you, we need to find some other tactics to challenge wrong thinking. Sometimes I'll ask people where they get their information. We all from time to time accept something of sketchy origin simply because it agrees with our currently held notion. And sometimes I think much of what we hear from popular news outlets should be dismissed out of hand.
Another tactic is the "Do your Muslim friends think that?" ambush. When someone tells me how mean/scary/evil Muslims are and how they want to deceive and kill Christians, I like to ask them if they find that in their Muslims friends. This is an ambush because I know they probably don't have any. I encourage them to make a couple Muslim friends, then get back to me.
Sometimes we need to ask people to check their math, or rather the math behind the scary statistic they're passing along. The internet is rife with false information used to make the case, "this is why you should run for your life!" Often it just takes a couple of clicks and a little reading to find truth to diffuse the terror.
Final stand-your-ground tactic: Tell your story. I readily admit I haven't had the experiences some have had. At the same time, they haven't had mine. It's hard to argue with someone's story. And if it's a good one, it can actually change minds. If you've been treated kindly by Muslims, which isn't exactly rare, tell people about it.
3. Choose your battle grounds.
I suspect you agree with me that Facebook is not the best venue in which to hash this out. It's better than not talking about it, but full of pitfalls. Given that, what are some places in which you could write or speak that would contribute to more people caring for more Muslims? I'm thinking Sunday School classes, small groups, Bible studies, denominational magazines, blogs, online periodicals, etc. It may be that we really need to hear your voice.
4. Offer hope to diffuse anger and despair.
Could it be that some anti-Muslim sentiment stems from a sense that Muslims are taking over, that God is getting beaten and there's nothing we can do about? My darker response to this is that if we are overrun by enemies of God, it would not be the first time this has happened to God's people. In fact there are places where it's happening now. The question is, as always, how do we follow Jesus in these circumstances?
The happier response is to tell people about the staggeringly huge turning to Christ presently underway in the Muslim world. David Garrison, in his soon to debut Wind in the House of Islam says essentially that in the first 1300 years of Islam, there was only one unforced movement of Muslims to Christ. (A movement is when thousands from the same ethnic group begin to follow Jesus during a short period time.) In the next 20 years, which corresponds to 1980 to the year 2000, there were 12. In the past 12 years, 71!
If your anti-Muslim friend is a person of influence, offer to buy them a copy of Jerry Trousdale's Miraculous Movements in exchange for reading it and publicly posting a review.
5. Finally, one of the strongest antidotes to fear, suspicion, and rejection is connection.
After a healthy verbal sparring match, take your non-Muslim friend to drink tea with your Muslim friend. Sure, it will be weird at first, but it grows on most people. Thomas Friedman used to say that no two countries with McDonalds had ever gone to war with each other. Similarly, it's hard to dislike someone with whom you've eaten baklava! Because baklava is, after all, the pastry of peace.
Photos: Wikimedia Commons