The West is at the front end of what will almost certainly be a multi-decadal war against radical Islamism. We saw so again in the killing of five servicemen in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Others, better informed than I, can report on the details and debates around the July 16 tragedy. Yet it is increasingly clear that this will be a global war for many years, often made up by lone-wolf attacks in the West, wars against religious minorities in the Middle East and various terror attacks around the world.
Many thoughts come to mind, and many more issues should be considered. However, in this brief space I simply would like to suggest three things we might want to consider, uniquely for those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus in light of His words about our neighbors, enemies and government.
First, we must love our neighbors, including our Muslim ones.
The fact is, the vast majority of Muslims in this country want to live peaceful lives. They are our neighbors and often our friends.
As I wrote in a USA Today a couple of years ago: On the day before the Tsarnaev brothers were identified as Chechen Muslims, I drove by my Muslim neighbor’s home on the way out of our neighborhood. His trash can had spilled into the street, so I stopped, picked everything up and put it back on his curb. Why? Because I know him. He is my neighbor. Because our kids play together. And he more realistically represents his religion to me than terrorists do….
As an evangelical leader and researcher, I have no vested interest in – and receive no personal benefit from – speaking out for my Muslim neighbors and friends. Yet, while it is irresponsible not to see the link between radical Islam and terrorism, it is the height of ignorance to assume that all (or most or even many) Muslims are terrorists.
Most of the Muslims we know are kind people who love their families, their communities and their country. Our proper response to them is to listen to the simple words of Jesus, “Love your neighbor” (Mark 12:31).
Second, we must pray for and love our enemies, even our radical Islamist ones.
Yes, that’s what Jesus taught and it sure sounds unrealistic or even offensive today. To some, the words “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44) must not apply to us today – it’s too unrealistic.
But they do.
While that’s not the only thing on the subject that matters, it does matter.
Hence, I am praying for Islamists and other Muslims around the world. I am praying that the hatred in their hearts, the blinders from their religious ideology and the hardness of their hearts will be removed.
I also know God has ordained governments that will oppose the violent efforts of these radical Islamists – and I am also praying for them.
I am praying that my nation, and others nations, will move beyond the naivety and speak to what this reality is – and to publicly acknowledge we are in a multi-decadal war with radical Islamists.
I have even prayed that President Obama will join with France’s prime minister and call this what it is, a war with radical Islam. And, even if President Obama won’t acknowledge we are at war with radical Islamists, they are still at war with us.
Islamism, and that’s a technical term and related to a view of Islam and how it governs a society, can (and often has) combined with radicalism. The result is a globally dangerous and a far too prevalent reality. Not all Muslims are Islamists, but Islamists are Muslims and are too often radicalized.
The percent of Muslims who are Islamists is debated, but though it is a minority, that minority includes many millions of people. Also, although there are radical Muslims who are not Islamists, both al-Qaeda and ISIS are radical Islamist groups.
So, I pray for all Muslims and love those who are my neighbor and those who are my enemies, but I also pray for the wisdom of our leaders to have the courage, will and wisdom to respond to this generational war with radical Islamism.
Third, we must recognize the major concerns of religious liberty and violence, and they are overwhelmingly concentrated in majority Muslim countries.
In a cover story I wrote for Christianity Today (CT), I advocated for the rights of all people, including those of other faiths, to share their faith – to proselytize. Yet, that right is indeed restricted in so many Muslim countries.
This is why, perhaps, about half of Americans see Islam as a threat to religious freedom, both in the United States and around the world, according to recently published LifeWay Research data.
As I wrote in the article for CT, based on a speech I gave in front of Christian pastors, Jewish rabbis and Muslim imams: In the spirit of mutual respect and tolerance, Muslims should be free to build a masjid where they live, and Christians should defend their religious freedom to do so. At the same time, Christians should be free to plant churches in places like Bhutan, the Maldives, Brunei, and Saudi Arabia. No matter where we live or what religion we follow, we should not demand for ourselves that which we are unwilling to grant others – freedom from compulsion, freedom from discrimination on the basis of creed and freedom of conscience.
I pray for religious freedom, and the right to convert, and I am well aware that freedom is prevalent where I live and much more restricted where Muslim majorities do.
The way of Jesus
Nuance is hard and loud pronouncements are easy in times of anger, but as Christians, we don’t get to shout whatever rage we feel. Instead, we want the facts and then we want to follow Jesus in light of those facts.
The fact is that radical Islamists make up a small segment of Muslims as a whole. So while, yes, there may be some connection, it’s unfair to suggest a widespread causal relationship between Islam and terrorism.
In other words, Muslims are not our enemies. But, radical Islamists are.
And, knowing that, we follow Jesus – and Jesus calls us to love and pray for Muslims, who are not our enemies, and radical Islamists, who are.
That’s what the violence in Chattanooga prompted me to do.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ed Stetzer is executive director of LifeWay Research. This article first appeared at Ed Stetzer’s blog at Christianity Today christianitytoday.com.)