Christianity and Islam: What American Christians need to know about Muslims
In the aftermath of the Orlando shooting, the ever-simmering debate over what to call the bad guys associated with terrorist attacks has cropped up again, full force.
I still cannot find any clear explanation of why many Americans want to call the bad guy movements “radical Islam.” Being at “war” with these groups gives us a crystal clear reason not to use this terminology. Simply, our enemies want to be called radical Muslims. Christians of all people understand this, as a number of Christian best-sellers push “radical Christianity.” For ISIS and the others, the label “radical Muslim” has proved to be terrific for recruitment, made even more effective when their enemies (us) use this term. From the terrorists’ point of view, the use of the term “radical Muslims” by their enemies proves that they are exceedingly faithful Muslims. On the other hand the label “extremists” just does not have the same cache. So why help them by giving them their prized label?
A second reason to avoid the term “radical Islam” is that this term is offensive to Muslims and is therefore rude. Yes, I know that we don’t talk much about “rudeness” in the 21st century; we prefer the term “politically incorrect,” which somehow makes it OK to say things that hurt others. Christians, however, must live according to a higher standard. We believe that Jesus means it when he says “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matt 7:12 ESV) and “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matt 12:36 ESV). When we Christians use language that we know offends others, we had better be really sure that we have justification!
Why do we really use terms like “radical Islam”? The answer is simple: it makes most Americans feel better. The bad guys claim to be Muslim, follow Muslim practices, cite the Qur’an, talk about Muhammad, and talk about their connections to historic Islam. To the casual observer, that makes them Muslim, period. So what if most Muslims say that their religion strongly forbids terrorist behavior? Too bad. The bad guys look like Muslims to us, so we will call their movement “radical Islam.”
Many Americans like to use the term “radical Islam.” But what about Christians? We cannot use labels just to make ourselves feel better. In fact, before we make judgments about Islam, we need to take a close look at our own Christianity.
If you are are a Christian and you feel inclined to use the term “radical Islam,” carefully consider the following. There are a number of white supremacist groups in the USA. How might we classify them? I did some digging around, and I found the website of a KKK-affiliated group, the “United White Knights Realm of Texas,” which includes a “beliefs” page. Underneath the group photo featuring a “Jesus Saves” sign, we see what Christians call a statement of faith, explaining what the group holds to be true.
I’ve read lots of statements of faith, and, believe me, most of this statement contains traditional Christian teaching. Most Christians would in fact agree that much of this is distinctive, theologically correct Christianity – one triune God, Jesus as God incarnate and savior of the world, the virgin birth, the resurrection, salvation through faith, authority of the Old and New Testaments, the future triumphant return of Christ, and so on.
It also includes the following:
“We believe the White, Anglo-Saxon, Aryan, Celtic, Germanic and kindred people to be God’s true, literal Children of Israel. Only this race fulfills every detail of Biblical Prophecy and World History concerning Israel and continues in these latter days to be heirs and possessors of the Covenants, Prophecies, Promises and Blessings Yahweh God made to Israel. This chosen seedling making up the “Christian Nations” (Gen. 35:11; Isa. 62:2; Acts 11:26) of the earth stands far superior to all other peoples in their call as God’s servant race (Isa. 41:8, 44:21; Luke 1:54).”
It goes on with more of this sort of thing.
Obviously, most Christians strongly disagree with these latter “beliefs,” and with the way the United White Knights uses the Bible to support them. Not only do we disagree; most of us go so far as to say that these ideas are not “Christian,” and are, in fact, opposed to good Christian teaching.
Nevertheless, there are arguments for calling these people “Christian.” They claim to be Christian (and who besides God knows the human heart?), they uses Christian symbols and slogans (“Jesus Saves!”), they proclaim numerous Christian doctrines, and they appeal exclusively to the Old and New Testaments for support. Perhaps we should call this group “Supremacist Christian,” or “Racist Christian” or – dare I say it – “Radical Christian?”
And what about individuals who commit horrific crimes in the name of the beliefs of this group? Dylann Roof, for example, was a member of a Lutheran church at the time he committed his crime. Very few people have referred to Mr. Roof as a Christian. And the reason is simple: most Americans claim to be Christian in one way or another, and we do not like the idea that Christianity can be associated in any way with Roof’s horrific violence, or his beliefs which led to that violence. Therefore, we do what we have to do in order to convince ourselves that Roof does not represent any sort of Christianity whatsoever. We simply refuse to call him a Christian (is anyone surprised that Wikipedia doesn’t mention his faith?) And the same goes for Ammon Bundy, Anders Behring Breivik, Wade Michael Page, Timothy McVeigh, and on and on. Yet, if we use the same religious criteria that we apply to the killers at Orlando, San Bernardino, and the others we tend to label “radical Muslims,” all of the above suddenly become “radical Christians.”
The term “radical Islam” is offensive to Muslims, and, frankly, it is inaccurate. Religions are defined by the people who practice them, and Muslims overwhelmingly reject terrorism and extreme violence. If we nevertheless decide that we must use terms like “radical Islam” to describe bad guy groups, then at least let’s be consistent when it comes to people who do horrible things in the name of Christ. Jesus’s command to “love your neighbor as you love yourself” means that if we give the label “Muslim” to bad guys who use Islam for evil, we must also call the bad guys who do evil in the name of Christ, “Christian.”
Is Omar Mateen a radical Muslim? If so, maybe Dylann Roof is a radical Christian.