Last night two gunmen were shot in Garland, TX after they opened fire on a security guard outside an anti-Islam art contest put on by the American Freedom Defense Initiative. A $10,000 prize was on the table for the best caricature of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. This event was an obvious needling, a provocation of Muslims, seeing as they hold any artistic rendition of Muhammad to be blasphemous and caricature cartoons have been the impetus for terror attacks in the Netherlands and France in recent years.
I get the joke. But jokes that end in blood are generally said to miss. This one missed. Not only did it miss, the whole charade is unhelpful and counterproductive. Let me expound by offering seven theses on Christians interacting with Muslims, particularly with this event in view.
1. We must make a distinction between Islam and Muslims. Islam is a religion, in many ways custom-designed to subvert Christianity. It makes claims about God, Jesus, humanity, sin, the world, and how to live that are untenable for the faithful Christian. Muslims, however, are people created in the Image of God. The have dignity, value, and are deserving of our respect. We owe no sympathy to Islam. But we do owe love to our fellow Image-bearers. We do not have to love Islam to love Muslims. We do not have to accept Islamic doctrine to accept Muslims as our neighbors.
2. We must recognize the varying beliefs among global Muslims. Muslims are not monolithic in their beliefs. They hold to various schools of theological interpretation and vary in degrees to which they live in accordance with their beliefs. Not all Muslims are terrorists or terror-supporters. My Muslims friends cover a wide range of beliefs and lifestyles. One friend self-described himself as both a Muslim and an atheist within the same 15-minute conversation. Another Muslim friend is such a Lord of the Rings fan that he has an Elvish version of his name tattooed on his arm—I know him; there’s no way he supports the ISIS-Orcs. Others go to Friday prayers, but none of the other prayer times. I’ve met some Muslims where I knew more about Islam than they did. I’ve also been to an imam’s house and helped his kids with their English homework. The point is that we cannot assume that all Muslims believe the same thing and that that same thing is Islamic terror.
3. Insulting Muhammad is generally not a good idea. At the very least, doing so is unnecessarily disrespectful. Now I am not against sometimes being strategically disrespectful—as a way of “taking the lid off.” But a caricature contest is a strategic blunder as it incites and emboldens the terror wing of Islam while creating sympathy for the extremists among the more moderate class. Not all Muslims support Islamic terror, but most Muslims consider caricatures of Muhammad offensive. Thus, insulting Muhammad creates distance between Muslims and non-Muslim Westerners, while uniting Muslims who are otherwise divided.
4. This particular event adds to the confusion and conflation of the terms American and Christian. Attendees were said to break out in patriotic songs and prayer for the security guard after the gunfire. While the “God and Country” pew of the American Church might not quite understand why, I am often at great pains to distinguish my identity in Christ from my blue passport. The assumption in the Muslim world is that to be American is to be Christian. Thus, they associate all sorts of things with Christianity that range from unhelpful to blasphemous. They associate American wars with Christian mission, Hollywood soft porn with Christian piety, and drunkenness with Christian mirth. Grouping blaspheming Muhammad, God Bless America, and prayer is a recipe for confusion. Why is is confusing? Because Jesus and his substitutionary death on behalf of sinners is nowhere mentioned. But protecting American freedom? Front and center. If they are going to reject Christianity, let it be that they are rejecting Jesus, not George W. Bush.
5. No one is innocent in this situation. In no way do I wish to absolve the Islamic attackers who maliciously shot the security guard (who has since been released from the hospital). They died guilty and in their sin. But the organizers and attendees of the “art” contest are not innocent either. Sure, they are constitutionally free to hold such an event, but I am talking in moral terms. I am talking about the second greatest command, the one where Jesus says to love your neighbor as yourself. There was plenty of sin flying around Garland, TX along with the bullets.
6. The Outrage Machine in American is well-oiled. Our citizenry has the emotional stability of a middle school girl who just got dumped by the love of her life with whom she had been “dating” for two fabulous weeks. That is to say, we are a nation of hysteria-addicted drama queens. The Outrage Machine loves fear-mongering and Islamo-fear is top among our national nightmares. But Christians are called to rule their emotions. The one who is ruled by his emotions is like a city without walls (Proverbs 25:28). Christians should be calm and steady-minded when faced with Islam in America. Put simply, this means we shouldn’t freak out.
7. Our interaction with Muslims should be marked by love: self-sacrificial, self-dying, self-giving, Christ-obeying, Christ-exalting love. We should give our lives for Muslims, not against them.