When I was a Christian, one of my favorite magazines was Christianity Today. In my opinion, it’s still one of the best Christian magazines out there. Although it is geared toward evangelical Christians (“evangel” means the Gospel, and evangelicals feel it is their mission to spread it), the tone is not conservative or fundamentalist. For example, it’s clear that its writers deplore abortion, but they would never advocate picketing abortion clinics. I would have to say that they are even “soft” on homosexuality: they consider it to be unbiblical, but they are much more concerned with helping homosexuals to feel loved by God and other Christians than they are with condemning them.
Christians who read Christianity Today are more interested in creating dialogue among people than in defining boundaries between them. They believe that bringing the Gospel to the world means acting like a Christian, not just sounding like one. A recent article by Joseph Cumming illustrates the kind of Christianity that I felt comfortable with when I was a Christian. In it, the author asks whether Christians should defend religious liberty for Muslims, particularly Muslim women’s right to wear the face veil.
Cumming bases his argument on Jesus’ admonition to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (sometimes known as the Golden Rule). If we don’t want others to restrict our right to practice our religion as we see fit, then we shouldn’t try to restrict theirs. I’ve heard many people, including Christians, argue that until Islamic states allow Christians freedom of religion, those of us in the West should not allow Muslims freedom of religion. Cumming argues that this is totally unbiblical and I salute him for saying so. He writes that being a disciple of Christ means that you follow his example, even if it’s uncomfortable to do so.
Most people want to strike out when they feel that their views and practices are being threatened. Many Christians feel threatened by Islam. But when they let their fears dictate their viewpoints, they seem to be saying that they don’t have much confidence in their own faith. What difference does it make if the Muslim next door prays five times a day with his nose to the ground? Or if the Muslim woman wears a headscarf or face veil? Or even if a mosque is being built in your neighborhood? If you’re secure in your faith, these things shouldn’t bother you. And if you’re following the Golden Rule, you should defend everyone’s right to practice their religion.
The problem that some people have with Islam is that they think it advocates violence against non-Muslims. They see mosques as breeding grounds for terrorists and burqas as a way to hide bombs and identities. But they’re confusing politics with religion. Muslims who advocate the overthrow or eradication of Western governments are motivated by their fear that Western governments are trying to do the same to them, and in fact, that Western governments have been doing it for centuries. But it’s incidental that terrorists are Muslims. Take away Islam and they would still be targeting the U.S. and other Western countries as the enemy.
Would we want our countries to be invaded? Would we welcome other governments setting up and supporting corrupt regimes in our countries? Would we like it if other government tried to control, even seize our resources? And most of all, would be be upset if another country attempted to squelch our way of life?
Of course the answer is “no” to all of the above. But that’s all the more reason why true Christians should refuse to do the same things in other countries. And they should do it without expecting anything in return. (Luke 6:35) Even so, they might be surprised at the results.
[Note: As Muslims, we revere Jesus as a great prophet and follow his teachings as long as they do not contradict the concept of the Oneness of God.]
Also, here is a talk by Karen Armstrong, who is a historian of religion, about reviving the Golden Rule: