In This Issue: Replacing fear with love and hope
Replacing Fear with Love and Hope
I don’t travel a ton, but these last two years I’ve been in cities from one side of the U.S. to the other, often speaking about the Muslim world. The predominant reaction I’ve found to Islam and Muslims is fear. And this is from Christians! People in whose eyes Jesus looked as he said things like, “Do not let your heart be troubled, and do not be afraid,” and “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 14:27, 16:33).
I’m not afraid of Muslims. Now to temper any tendency towards self-righteousness and arrogance about that, I should be honest about a couple of things:
First, I realize that part (maybe a major part) of why I’m not fearful about Islam and Muslims has to do with positive experiences I stumbled into by God’s leading and not effort on my part. As a very green college graduate on my first overseas experience, I learned that many Muslims (at least Jordanians and Palestinians in Jordan) are not to be feared, but on the contrary are quite nice. Given the chance, they will feed you delicious food. This was in 1987 before a lot of nasty things happened in our world, but it was foundational to me.
Second, fear – though sinful and often based on bad logic – is still very real. Recently I went through a stretch of about two years of fear associated with flying. Crazy dumb, since you’re a hundred times more likely to die in a car than an airplane, but quite real, and now, I’m grateful to say, quite lessened.
I don’t want to be flippant about fear, but I would like to take an honest look at what we fear in this area and what we might do about it. Well, what we might do in addition to not forwarding emails about how everyone should be afraid.
What Do We Fear?
Since I’m not really sure what we fear regarding Islam and Muslims, let me pose these as questions rather than statements. I’m certainly not accusing you or your church of anything. I’m just wondering with you what we fear.
1. Do we fear physical harm?
We know Muslims have injured and killed Christians. We’ve seen video of it and it’s not pretty. We may also have heard that the Qur’an mandates violence against Christians. Fear of physical pain and death can be strong. Maybe we fear this for others even more than for ourselves.
2. Do we fear “the other side” winning?
How similar is animosity toward Muslims to the way we, or our parents and grandparents, used to fear Communists?
3. Is it possible we fear that God is losing?
As we hear reports saying Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world, do they cause us to doubt God’s authority, power, and plan?
4. Do we fear our kids will grow up under Muslim rule?
And, maybe related, do we fear losing our culture? And if so, does this indicate a higher commitment to our religious and cultural heritage than to God and his kingdom?
Three Antidotes to Fear
Sometimes we’re afraid of things because we’re misinformed. Sometimes we’re misinformed because of what we choose to see and hear. I think much television news should be filed under “entertainment.” Driven by a business model based on advertising revenue – and selling its product in an amped-up culture – it’s no wonder that TV makes things seem scarier than they are in real life. Add political motivation to the mix and, oh my, perhaps we’re not getting the whole story!
I have neither space, nor competence, to offer a full alternative to fear-based “news.” For starters, though, you might check the BBC for a nicely understated British perspective on current events. Missions Catalyst News Briefs compiles both prayer- and praise-worthy stories of God’s work around the world. And finally, if a story comes to you via email with evidence of more than one forward, give it little credence and think twice before you pass it along.
We also need to ask ourselves this question: To what end am I pursuing insight about Islam and Muslims? Is it to shore up my preconceptions and prejudice? Is it to be the guy who’s looked to for expert, scary opinions? Is it so I can better love and pray for these people created by God and invite others to do the same? What do I plan to actually do with the information I’m gathering?
One of the best ways to chip away at a stony core of fear relative to Islam and Muslims is to build a friendship or two. (Surprisingly, this works with African-Americans, Democrats, Presbyterians, and other groups as well!) Used to be you’d have to go a long way from home to make a Muslim friend, but now God has brought Muslims within a 20-minute drive of most of us. If we can just find a way through that initial barrier, we’ll discover the beginnings of friendship are not that hard to establish.
Now to be sure, making a Muslim friend will not make all Muslims nice. There are delights and dingdongs in every culture, community, and religion. But the experience of making a friend will give you a new and helpful perspective on things. I suspect the disciples were a little less afraid of the sea after Jesus calmed it and walked on it!
Friendship will not only change your personal perspective, it will also give you a serious leg up as you invite others to leave their fear behind. I’ll confess, I’m not above taking a sneaky shot at people now and then. (I like to proof text this tendency with Jesus’ admonition to be as “smart as snakes!”) Sometimes when some well-meaning soul is railing on me about what Muslims “are like” and what “they’re doing,” I like to ask them this, “Do you see those things in your Muslim friends?” Or, “What do your Muslim friends think of that?” This is sneaky because it’s a pretty safe bet that someone railing thusly has no Muslim friends. It plays on the rule of thumb that an ounce of experience outweighs a pound of theory. To be fair, I have no Hindu or Buddhist friends these days, but I also don’t go all mouthy about “how they are” and “what they are trying to do.”
Befriend a Muslim or two. Allow positive experiences to build up over time to displace fear. I’m not suggesting here that this will “change Muslims,” but it will change you. And who knows where that might lead?
Perhaps the best question we can ask regarding Islam and Muslims is this: Father God, what are you up to? What are your purposes here and how do I fit? Drop in on a Perspectives on the World Christian Movement class for brilliant and biblical answers to those questions.
For starters, God told Abraham that his blessing would extend to all the families of the earth. This includes you and me, as well as people who may not seem much like you and me. God wants to, God will, bless all Muslim peoples on the planet. His purposes in this regard, though perhaps slow to our eyes, will not be thwarted. We have this promise.
At the same time, we also see in the Bible (and today) that God’s people are sometimes overrun by their enemies. How do we handle that? How do we biblically respond when brothers and sisters in Sudan or Kenya lose villages, cities, or even their lives to the advance of Islam? How do we respond as we ponder the possibility that such a thing could happen in our own city or country? Fear is one response the Bible does not endorse.
Finally, we live in a day when faith is happily complemented by sight. God is helping us understand how to love Muslims via efforts like Peace Catalyst International. In many places and ways – sometimes almost beyond belief – God’s blessing is growing among Muslims. Check out Jerry Trousdale’s new book Miraculous Movements or Frontiers for great, current stories. God is keeping his promises before our very eyes. May we be freed from fear, freed to engage with God as he loves and pursues Muslims.
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Shane and some buds are also launching a sweet, smart phone business through which they hope to put $1,000,000 a month into the hands of pioneering Christian workers by the end of the year.