taking the words of Jesus seriously

The recent bombing attacks in Boston have once again raised the cry across the internet, rehearsing the perceived violence of Islam.  In several recent discussions, Christians have repeated the mantra that the Qur’an is filled with commands to commit violence against non-Muslims.  Islam, they say, is an inherently bloodthirsty faith.  Commonly cited as empirical fact are screeds such as this one:  “The Quran contains at least 109 verses that call Muslims to war with nonbelievers for the sake of Islamic rule.”

It is important to note that these statements are made by people and on websites whose express purpose is to “expose” or “correct” the claim that Islam is a peaceful religion.  Frequently, such sites manifest considerable antipathy toward Islam and Muslims … for example the home page banner of the above-linked site describes Islam as “one really messed up religion.”  To put it kindly, the source of this purportedly-objective information is not remotely unbiased.

I propose an experiment for anyone interested:

  1. Find an atheist. Not just an unbeliever, but someone who really hates Jesus.
  2. Have that person start with the assumption that Christianity is a violent religion.
  3. Now have him go through the Bible looking for proof of his preconception about our violence.  Be sure he doesn’t overlook the places where “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13.14) celebrates the orphaning and widowing of his enemies’ families (Psalm 109:8-10). Be sure he lingers over the various causes of stoning people to death, and the genocides of the Pentateuch and Judges.
  4. Check how many violent verses, from Genesis (or at least Exodus) to Revelation, your anti-theist finds.  Now convince him you worship a God of love and peace.

I hope you would object “but you have to understand the historical and literary context for those verses … progressive revelation, the nature of God revealed in Jesus Christ, old and new covenants, etc.  No one can fully understand those things who has not studied them in a perspective of submission to the God who inspired them.”  I agree.  This is a perfectly reasonable objection, whether you’re talking about the Bible or the Qur’an.  The fundamental truth is that it takes a person of faith to accurately interpret the texts of that faith.  If I want to know what the Bible means, I’ll ask a Christian, not a Muslim.  If I want to know what the Vedas mean, I’ll ask a Hindu.  If I want to know what the Qur’an means, I’ll ask a Muslim.

Related: Interfaith Misunderstanding in America – by Brian McLaren

Furthermore,  sola scriptura biblicist that I am, it is still true that to understand a faith or a “religion” (I really hate that word) requires more than merely dispassionate study of its texts (or even passionate study, for that matter).  Whatever one thinks of the thing called “Christianity, ” one cannot really know it without interacting with a Christian–or many different Christians.  The community, the rituals, even some of the language, and yes–the sacred texts–are unintelligible without a knowledgeable insider to function as an interpreter.  If you don’t know any Christians, you don’t know Christianity.  If you don’t know any Muslims, you don’t know Islam (you may not, anyway, but I digress).

I am not suggesting there isn’t a whole lot of horrible violence committed by Muslims in the name of Islam.  There is.  One doesn’t have to be a Fox News devotee or a Limbaugh dittohead to see the headlines.  But when other Muslims I know and trust tell me that those violent, radical Muslims are abusing and even violating the Qur’an, I believe them.  Why do I believe them?  Because I have seen plenty of violent, radical Christians abusing and violating my own holy scriptures as a pretext to commit terrible acts … why should I expect it to be any different to other religions?  Satan corrupts everything.

We must oppose the bearing of false witness against our neighbors, and against those we style as our enemies.  But even that isn’t enough.  It grieves me deeply that when arguments such as the “109 violent verses” are used, they are usually in the context of opposing Muslims who are trying to make peace with us, or opposing Christians who are trying to make peace with Muslims.  This is not only tragic, it’s monumentally stupid.  If we have an ounce of self-preservation instinct at all, we should welcome anybody who extends an olive branch to anybody else.  To whatever extent any Muslim is a threat to me, it’s not the one who is preaching peace from the Qur’an who poses that threat.  We would also do well to remember that our Lord said “blessed are the peacemakers.”  He did not qualify that phrase with the adjective “Christian.”  Neither, I believe, should we.

Dan Martin has worked in health, international development, and information technology, and now lives in Atlanta with his wife and three children.  Raised to look back to the source for his faith, Dan has been gripped by the contrast between the life Jesus described, and the practice of the church.  Dan blogs on faith and discipleship at http://nailtothedoor.com.


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