In a forum for Christian workers in Muslim lands, a Chinese church leader recently wrote these words: "If Muslim leaders don't issue a worldwide statement not to defile the Holy Bible, then it will be very difficult to stop Christians burning their Koran in order to tell them of our anguish." I replied to him as follows:
You are right that reciprocity is the way to bring conflict to an end. But the end never begins with reciprocity. As followers of Jesus we are commanded to do the right thing long before our enemy does, no matter how much anguish or anger we feel over the enemy's evil deeds. The Word of God is emphatic about this. Paul says when your enemies attack you, appeal to their conscience by doing the loving thing (Romans 12:20). Jesus commands us to love our enemies and greet them as we would greet our closest neighbors -- even when they are persecuting us and despitefully using us (Matthew 5:43-48). Love does not respond in kind.
Please pray for me because of the many times I have failed to love as our Father in Heaven does. If I am not obeying the Lord's command to do so, I can make no demands on my enemies. Politicians and sinners do so, but you and I do not.
So, yes, as you wisely suggest, we should go to the local imam and tell him that we have protested the plan of an American pastor to burn the Koran, and ask him if he will take similar steps to avoid the burning of Bibles in Muslim cities.
But we must also tell him that even if he does not do so, we will still love them as God does and call them our neighbors and greet them warmly for the sake of Christ Jesus our savior (to him be glory). Muslims may burn our Bibles or even our bodies, but Christians will never burn theirs.
Think about it: If Christians won't follow the peaceable way of Jesus, why should Muslims with their eye-for-an-eye moral system do so? If bishops and pastors can't control the violence in their own people, will God put out the fires in the Muslim heart?
Now let me speak to United Methodists back home (in the U.S.). Please remind one another at church this Sunday that Christians are forbidden in the Gospel to express their anger over persecution or terrorism by attacking Muslims or their mosques or their holy book. Jesus rebuked his disciples when they wanted to torch Samaria (Luke 9:52-56), and the Samaritans were a lot like Muslims. God forbid that followers of Jesus ever be called temple robbers (Romans 2:22).
I know as well as anyone that Islam can be an enemy force, but I am under orders to treat my enemies as friends, and so are you. Jesus taught an upside-down, heaven-on-earth morality that will always run against the grain of election-year politics.
I urge you to avoid giving any hint of approval for burning the Koran. And if you don't want a mosque built in Murfreesboro or at Ground Zero, then pray for it to be built next to your church! This way you will learn to be a neighbor to Muslims and proclaim the Good News to them that Jesus, the prince of peace, is both Messiah and Lord.
A wise United Methodist preacher in Big Stone Gap taught me as young man to believe God's word instead of my own opinions. God's word says that Jesus died for sinners, and the first man he died for was Barabbas, a Jewish terrorist. So if God calls you to confront Muslims about terrorism, your first word will always be this: Ahmed, Aisha, while you were still enemies of God, Christ died for you to prove how much God loves you (Romans 5:8,10). Your appeal may just succeed -- if you also confess to them the terrorism of Barabbas that lies there festering deep in your own heart.
At mosque protests recently Christians have carried placards saying "Jesus hates Muslims." For this blasphemy they must be disciplined by their churches, because they have forgotten the way of Jesus. Their hostile witness, splashed all over the media, is a serious setback to our witness in Muslim cities. I weep for the crucified Jesus and what Muslims think of him now.
One thing is for sure: If Christians add their voices to this sinful rhetoric, it will provoke a like response against Christians in Muslim lands. There are thousands of churches in Muslim countries that will be endangered by your actions, not to mention the very lives of your brothers and sisters in Christ.
For 25 years we have been advocating Muslim outreach in the name of the prince of peace. Let's keep our hand on the plow. We deeply appreciate our fellowship with you who love the Lord Jesus and obey him. Our bond of love is a holy fire that purifies but does no harm.
-- Bruce P.
Bruce P. is a Holston United Methodist worker in the Middle East.