For a couple of months now I’ve taken over the responsibility of teaching my kids history (they are homeschooled) and it’s been a wonderful opportunity to spend meaningful time with them. We’ve been working our way through the middle ages including the rise of Islam and just this week reached the crusades. In so doing I’m just now realizing what an important point in history this is because it closely parallels the modern day relationship between westerners and Muslims. As a Christian father it’s important to me that my children learn the importance of being able to love those you fundamentally disagree with on core beliefs and studying the crusades provides opportunity for this.
Coincidentally, we watched the movie Zootopia before we got into our school work this weekend. In fact, my plan had been to get all our work done first then go to the movie but I’m glad it ended up being the reverse because the movie proved to be an excellent illustration of what was happening during the crusades as well as today. In the film, animals live together in a large metropolis where there is relative peace among the species but still an obvious class discrepancy between the “predators” and the “prey.” Sure, they aren’t the hunter and hunted anymore but there’s obvious prejudice going on.
(Spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned!) Central to the plot is the sudden and inexplicable reversion of predators to their natural state of instinctual violence. As the story progresses it’s revealed that an unknown individual is causing the reversion in order to create fear between the two groups of animals and reverse the class structure. Now, the plot does not parallel the relationship between westerners and Muslims perfectly, but it does illustrate the point that fear and misunderstanding can lead to violence between different people groups.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect” Matthew 5:43-38.
If Christ has asked that his followers love their enemies and pray for those who mistreat them, how much more ought they to love those who simply hold to a different world view and set of traditions? Despite the past and present history of violence between western and Muslim peoples, the greatest threat to peace among these diverse groups is the fear and misinformation between the two. For anyone interested in a tangible example of this, I would strongly urge you to listen to the second season of Serial which illustrates both the legitimate aggression between both sides as well as the fear and hatred that have undercut attempts at diplomacy.
These larger, world events matter because they color the way we think about people. If the primary story you and I have heard about Muslims involves acts of terror, then we will be afraid. If you are living in a Muslim nation and the only story you have heard about westerners is of their terrifying displays of immorality (some all too real, others only perceived) and their invasion of your homeland or that of a neighboring Islamic nation, then you too will be afraid for your safety and way of life. And in the midst of all of this the church is called to love and pray for both the violent minority and the peaceful majority of Muslims.
The crusades and many reactions within the church today toward Muslim people illustrate a wide scale failure to do exactly that. And while the United States may have a policy of separating church and state, to the average Muslim in the Middle East that concept is lost, and it is both Christianity and western civilization that is threatening their way of life. For most churches and individual Christians in the United States there’s not a lot that can be done to correct the beliefs of an entire nation, but there is opportunity to pray for and love Muslims in the States without fear or mistrust. That’s the worldview I want my children to have, I want them to embrace their Muslim neighbors in love.
However there is more to loving one’s neighbor than simply being kind; more to following the teachings of Jesus than praying for those whose beliefs may be so radically different from the Christian worldview that they would persecute his people. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him” John 14: 6, 7. Jesus made it very clear that who he was and who the Father (God) was, was the same person. If you want to know the character of God, observe the character of Jesus in the New Testament. Any conflicting views about God are inherently false, and passively watching another individual or people group believe in a destructive lie is not love.
This is where Christianity and the gospel of Jesus Christ becomes unpopular, because while Jesus loved and teaches love of all peoples, he also draws a hard line between what is true and what is false. His very existence gives a definitive name to God, his life a concrete illustration of God’s nature, truth, and will. Perhaps it’s putting the cart before the horse to proclaim that Jesus Christ is the only way to be reconciled to God without explaining the difference between his teachings and that of Muhammad, but know that they are different and it does matter. And loving those outside the church means clarifying this point, with gentleness and understanding.
Jesus had some of his own disciples walk away from his ministry over the matter of his life and death being the only means of reconciliation with God. After this may of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?” John 6:66, 67. The response of Simon Peter is similar to my own, and one I hope my children will claim as their own as well, not because they heard it from their dad, but because they have experienced the truthfulness of the claim themselves. “Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God’” John 6:68, 69.
My prayer for my kids and for myself is twofold, that we would cultivate within ourselves by the grace of God and through the power of his Spirit a sincere love and kindness towards all people of different worldviews than our own, especially those of the Muslim community, and that we would love people enough to be gentle and firm in our speech about the love of Christ and the power of his resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and peace with God. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” Ephesians 2:8, 9.