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Loving our Enemies on 9/11

On 9/11 the West was suddenly confronted with the reality of Islamic extremism in the form of Al-Qaeda and the ideology of Osama Bin Laden. We all woke up to the dangers of fundamentalism. This was especially true for the Church in North America. Since 9/11 and despite or, as some might argue, as a result of the war on terror, extremism has only increased. Now we hear constantly about ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al Shabab, and other groups. Our own countries of the USA and Canada are more secure thanks to the efforts of Homeland Security and CSIS. But global security seems increasingly precarious and countries such as Iraq and Syria are on the verge of collapse. Much of the conflict today is now Muslim versus Muslim as Iran (Shi’ite) and Saudi Arabia (Sunni) spread proxy wars to Africa and other parts of the Middle East.

Another outcome is the increasing conflict between Christians and Muslims, fueled on the one hand by Islamic governments and their favored apostate laws in places such as Pakistan, and fueled on the other hand by anti-Muslim sentiment in Western society. In my travels, speaking and preaching in churches, I often encounter anti-Muslim sentiment. When I preach Jesus’ command to love our neighbor and even our enemies I encounter some incredulity. “Really, we are to love them?” One person in particular, after hearing one of my sermons, said, “Oh, I get it, you want us to kill them with our love.” He got the message, but this was still an unsettling comment given our propensity for violent conflict.

Any student of history will realize that this conflict, which became so localized and therefore real for many in North America on 9/11, is an old story. The Crusades are of course the most obvious case, as are the conquests and re-conquests of southern Italy, Sicily, and Spain. These periods of conflict created anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic feelings in western Europe. These two non-Christian religions seemed linked in the mind of medieval Europeans. Such anti-Muslim feelings were encouraged by church leaders such as Bernard of Clairvaux. But others such as Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny, preached a more irenic message; “I approach you, not as men often do, with arms but with words; not with force but with reason, not in hatred but in love….I love you, loving you I write to you, writing to you I invite you to salvation.”

The story continues. Franklin Graham was recently in the news for taking the same anti-Muslim approach as Bernard of Clairvaux. But such an approach will only fuel continued conflict between Muslims and Christians (and Jews). Better to take the approach of Peter the Venerable, who in love reached out in a more humane and respectful way. He wanted to give the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ to Muslims. We can do no less in our present day.

Recently a Nigerian Bishop spoke out in favor of dialogue – calling the Nigerian church and the Muslim community to engage in dialogue as a way of preventing the spread of Islamic extremism.

It seems to me that when faced with extremism, Jesus rejected it (for example he did not join the zealot party). Instead he preached about the kingdom of God, where justice would reign, hearts would be transformed, societies would increasingly reflect his teachings, and peace would settle on all people. It is time that we in the West prayed for Muslims to know the power of this kingdom, through Jesus Christ the Messiah. Anti-Muslim sentiment will not help this process. Only the love of God for all people and the missionary efforts of the church today will heal hearts and bring peace. That is my prayer for the church on this anniversary of 9/11.

[Image: Flickr user Josh Liba]

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