"What do you think of Muslims now, Braner?"
Several of my friends watch the news and watch me—as if I might recant now and group all Muslims into one large violent jihad against every American.
The question isn’t whether violence is wrong. The tragic death of Ambassador Chris Stevens has no justification, and the death of these four heroic Americans is a disgrace. But revenge is a seed that grows only more violence. Remember that World War I started with a single assassination in the climate of imperialism, nationalism, and talks about global diplomatic power struggles. Sound familiar?
Those of us who follow Christ are responsible to reach out. Not to sit inside four walls watching the 24-hour news and demonizing people we don’t know. No one interested in the heart of Jesus can take cues from Anderson Cooper, Chris Matthews, or Bill Hammer.
But why not hear it in Jesus’s words?
"You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:43-48)
Should we love someone who intends to harm us? Or in the Middle East case, people protesting the values we hold true?
One thing for sure, we can’t cherry-pick to live by scripture’s easy parts. As disciples of Jesus, we must establish pillars of principle that sustain us in spite of our reaction of the moment. Pillars like these:
1. To love our enemies is to identify them
Most of the time we allow other people to identify our enemies for us. In the wake of Ambassador Stevens’ death, for anyone watching TV, it seems obvious from television and the web that our enemy is every Muslim in the world. They’ll are murderers.
And I'm not ready to buy that.
Because I know a lot of Muslims: family loving, career building, faith-searching men, women and kids who have nothing to do with the violence on FOX or CNN. People trying to make a living, relate to their world, and make sense of the big world in their context. The 24-hour news cycle wants to take sides and keep it headline-simple: "They are the bad guys. We are the good guys."
But who's the “they”? Who's the “we”?
In my work with Christian and Muslim teenagers, we highlight common ideas before we examine differences. You should see it at work. In the light of constant conversation, the "us versus them" withers away, leaving us with people instead of stereotypes.
Here at KIVU you hear, "We can all go Jet Ski" because every teen on a Jet Ski on the lake is smiling, and that lake becomes common ground. To tell someone who thinks differently than you that he or she, therefore, is WRONG is the opposite of Jet Ski diplomacy. It raises defenses and lowers understanding. (I'm not saying to let killers to go free; this is about learning to love the people we knee-jerk react to as our enemies.)
Isn’t it time to stop generalizing a people group of 1 billion and work to understand individuals? Are there bad people—enemies—that are Muslim? No doubt! Do Christians also have differences with other Christians? YEP!
2. Loving our enemies helps us understand them.
Several high-level military personnel in multiple tours in the Middle East have told me, uniformly, that America’s recent wars are in cultures that are completely foreign to our very mentalities. In other words, we think the rest of the world thinks like Americans, and to be clear, they don't.
Freedom of Speech is not a universal concept.
Peaceful protests took 250 years for us to figure out, and we still don’t have it down (e.g. L.A. riots of the 90's).
The world is full of people in tribes, families, power struggles, and smaller units vastly unlike our lives in the US. It doesn't make one side Right; it does mean that to understand the rest of our world, we better understand how our actions are received.
Just today a State Department official reported, to the Department of Defense's surprise, that the "bad guys" running Al Qaeda's network in the Arabian Peninsula migrate through Libya. "We didn't know that," the State Department official said.
Huh? The US Department of Defense missed something? Might those of us sipping morning coffee on the couch also lack the full picture? (That's extreme satire for those looking for satirical injection.)
The problem is not all Muslim. The problem is that a group of bad guys intent on harming innocent men and women are hijacking the Middle East’s culture, faith, and reputation. And we do well not to sweep our conclusions across every person in the vicinity.
3. Loving our enemies can open conversations
My dream is to open lines between Muslims and Christians. For eight years I've worked in this space, and I've come across great ways for teenagers to both disagree on faith issues and respect each other. I wish everyone could watch teens in a non-threatening environment ask honest questions.
Who is your God?
Where do you go when you die?
Why do you worship the way you do?
How much of religion is wrapped up in cultural tradition?
It's AMAZING to be there as teenagers discover that not all Muslims are barbarians and not all Christians just want to bomb other countries—as both groups dispel rumors and begin lifelong friendships and understanding. Hate doesn’t leave until we build reasons to trust one another, respect one another, and look out for the needs of someone else. (I've heard this all somewhere before.)
Blessed are the peacemakers, Jesus said. For you will be called the children of God.
4. Loving our Enemy helps us see how they see the world.
I watched Secretary Clinton condemn the incendiary movie that ignited the violence in Lybia, Egypt, and other countries in North Africa. I would add that, from my limited work inside Middle Eastern countries, people there can’t imagine a country allowing production of an offensive movie and then letting it spread.
So imagine a news channel reporting that "all Muslims are protesting outside all embassies." (Oh wait. They're reporting that.) Outraged, we think: "Why don't the countries send in their military to stop the violence?" That's how we roll here.
In Middle Eastern countries, the Internet is in a tighter grip. They censor porn, graphic violence, and other media that attacks their values. They look at us and say, "Why don't you use your country’s authority to stop this vulgarity?" That's how they roll there.
Senseless violence has no excuse ever. But step back to give your enemy a fair look, and some of it slips into context. A value important to one side is invisible to the other.
Jamie and I have a scale system for marriage communication. She’ll ask, "How important to you are new dishes?" I say, "0," because the plates I eat on mean nothing to me. She says, "Well, they’re a 9 to me." So she makes the decision and I stay out. On issues I'm into, I raise my concerns and she respects me. We’re human!
When can cultures learn to respect instead of impose on each other? This violence has little to do with faith and everything to do with geo-political stands about Israel, oil, war, occupation, and imperialism. That's not Jesus. And oh, that's not the Prophet Mohammad.
I have a dream that one day Christians and Muslims can sit down and talk about theology. In my dream we build bonds of friendship to help promote peace between our two often-similar faith traditions. As we know each other's names, each other's families, and share in celebrations and dark valleys, I BELIEVE-deep in my soul-that we can love one another.
I'm not saying Christians need to convert to Islam.
I'm not saying we need to force Muslims to convert to Christianity.
I'm not saying we need to sit at the table of Universalism.
As a Christian, I believe Jesus' Way is the Only Way. (John 14:6) But I can live in a pluralistic world where people have the freedom to believe something I do not. Until God settles all questions, I’ll hope to be more a disciple of Jesus and less a product of News Propaganda.