Thursday, August 12, 2010
Why are Christians So Afraid of Muslims?
I can perhaps understand why secular or anti-religious people would fear Islam. It can appear to be fearsome, monolithic and intransigent. Strong, single-minded faith is always perplexing to people who have none. But I am stunned that so many Christians seem to be swept away by the anti-Muslim tide. I am particularly perplexed that Evangelical Christians are frequently in the forefront of opposing mosques or (shudder) burning the Koran. From an Evangelical standpoint this amounts to, if nothing else, attacking one’s own mission field—at the very least a foolish and destructive thing to do. But there is more to it than that. I wonder—why should Christians be as afraid of Muslims as Muslims evidently are afraid of them?
Sociologist Rodney Stark has argued in his numerous books that the Christian Church has always been strongest when it has faced a challenge. It grew amidst the hostility of the Roman Empire and entrenched paganism. It flourished when it was forced to clearly define itself and live out of its unique and powerful convictions about the nature and purposes of the God of Israel and Jesus Christ, Messiah and Lord. Stark suggests that when the church lacked the challenge of opposition and the necessity of clear self-definition it became flaccid, colorless, and empty. The challenge of the Reformation made the Catholic Church clearly define itself and clean up accumulated abuses. The challenge of varied denominations and traditions made the smaller Protestant churches more effective in mission. It was religious competition, Stark argues, that made the church in the United States strong when the state churches of Europe were shrinking. The challenge of the other made the church pay closer attention to its identity and mission.
The presence of Muslims or Hindus or any other religious tradition in a given area is no threat to the churches of Jesus Christ. These varied traditions can bring out the best in the church by forcing it to identify differences and challenges and pursue new ways of witness and welcome. I would suggest that the fact that most Muslim countries marginalize the Christian Church it or keep it out entirely is a sign that Muslims fear Christian witness and lack confidence in their own tradition and own people. Does the Christian Church in the United States really want to follow the same path? I think not. We have nothing to fear from the “competition” of Muslims. Rather than protesting the mosques, we should welcome them with open arms, with the compassion and generosity of Christ, and with genuine love. I find anti-Mulsim sentiments among Christians extraordinarily repugnant and terribly sad.
John E. Phelan , Jr.