It was the anniversary of 911 this week. September 11, 2001 is a tragic date, especially for people who lost loved ones in the planes, World Trade Centers, Pentagon, and near Stoystown, PA. It is good that we honor their memories, and work for peace, to ensure similar events do not happen again.
On social media I saw hundreds, if not thousands of personal tributes created, shared, and liked. Some of them were genuinely good. One in particular however, rubbed me the wrong way. Like so many others, it featured a picture of smoke and flames pouring out of the twin towers over the New York skyline. The text on the photo read:
I learned everything I needed to know about Muslims on September 11.
This statement, shared by someone I count as a friend, who calls Jesus Lord of their life, was among the least loving comments I’ve seen.
A Little Christian History
You know what? I’m pretty sure Muslims and Jews learned everything they needed to know about Christians a while ago:
1096 – 1099: First Crusade
1144 – 1155: Second Crusade
1187 – 1192: Third Crusade
1202 – 1204: Fourth Crusade
1212: The Children’s Crusade
1217 – 1221: Fifth Crusade
1228 – 1229: Sixth Crusade
1248 – 1254: Seventh Crusade
1270: Eighth Crusade
1271 – 1272: Ninth Crusade
1478 – 1834: Spanish Inquisition
1933 – 1945: Nazi Germany
You might think it’s different because you’ve heard the Muslim faith calls for Jihad (holy war) and Christianity doesn’t. In all the dates and events above, the violence, slaughter, injustice, and genocide created and perpetuated by people claiming Christ, was sanctioned by the religious rulers of the time.
Oh, and let’s not forget this:
1865 – Present: Klu Klux Klan
The Klan works for white racial purity, but also for white Christian purity, defined by their anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic statutes.
You have to understand that while comparing Christians to those acts, and those groups seems ludicrous, we are perceived as nut-jobs by people of many different creeds. You may remember the Kentucky Court Clerk who espoused marriage sanctity by refusing to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples, while her own life revealed divorce, infidelity, and illegitimate children. Her representation of Christianity revealed hypocrisy and a lack of grace. We are defined by extremists in such a way that faithful, loving, peaceful, and honest Christians appear to be the exceptions.
The American Christian Recovery
So how do we recover from a terrorist act, and keep loving people – regardless of their affiliation or behavior? As American Christians, we are bound by two sets of priorities.
The greatest commandment, as taught by Jesus, asks us to love God, and love people (without qualification); even loving people we don’t agree with, or who behave in hurtful ways.
The First Amendment permits anyone to practice their faith (or no faith) without fear that the government is going to establish a religion contrary to their beliefs.
The two actually go together if you follow them. If you love God, and follow his commands, you want people to become closer to God through Jesus. You don’t try to force them, or change their behavior. Jesus showed us what that looks like. For example, when two of the most hated people, tax collectors named Matthew and Zacchaeus, came into contact with Jesus, they chose to change their lives. Jesus took them on, just as they were, and in doing so they responded. Likewise, American freedom of religion accepts people right where they are, and doesn’t try to force a response out of them. To put it another way:
Saying “I will not think, say, or do certain things because of my faith” is permissible.
Saying “You cannot think, say, or do certain things because of my faith” is not.
In the case of the Country Clerk, it wasn’t hypocrisy that was the problem, it was the fact that she was elected to carry out a legal function. If you can’t do your job anymore because of your faith, you step down. Instead, she chose to force her religious views on that legal function.
Not an Option
Neither Jesus, nor the American Bill of Rights, give us the option of hating people who behave differently than we want them to. We don’t get to hate people of different faiths, or different practices. Jesus put it this way:
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
So, how does that change the way we treat and talk about Muslims or other people who may have hurt us, or who make us uncomfortable?
How do we change our own hearts to be more like Christ, praying that as people know Jesus through us, they will respond to him?