Conservative Christianity and Islam

It occurs to me that for many Christian conservatives, the “Muslim threat” is not primarily terrorism but influence. That is, there persists a fear that an outside group will topple the gates to the City on the Hill. It’s hard for me to honor this fear, because the stance relies on so many assumptions—including, for instance, the idea that the bulk of Islam cleaves to strict Sharia law. But for the sake of argument, let’s say that radically conservative Islam is as much as a threat as, well, radically conservative anything. Acknowledging that I am a non-conservative Christian, and also admitting that I feel a touch of anger here, I can suggest three things that conservative Christians can do if they fear the influence of Islam:

1. Be Christian. If you believe your religion is the one true faith, let the world know you by your fruits. Go in peace; render to no person evil for evil; strengthen the faint hearted; help the weak; heal the sick; feed the poor; and welcome the stranger. If you fail to do these things—especially in the name of protecting your religion—you’ve already lost that religion. Moreover, your parsimony will send other, potential faithful looking elsewhere—including toward the virtue of the Muslim religion.

2. Be American. Remember that you were also wanderers. Chances are that you wouldn’t be here, if somebody hadn’t extended hospitality to your people (through likely the expense of indigenous people). And for God’s sake, remember the Constitution. The separation of church and state accommodates religious plurality in part because it ensures that nobody’s radicalism will affect civil policy. Not yours—and not theirs. If you want to hedge against Sharia law, stop eroding the distance between the religious and the secular. Legal change likes precedent—and every time you encourage church members to vote a certain way, or put “religious” discrimination into policy, or set up a courthouse monument to the Ten Commandments, you are weakening a safeguard that, according to your fear, you might one day need.

3. Be faithful. As you can lose your religion by acting un-Christian, you can also lose your faith by remaining so very jealous of other beliefs. If your god is God, He can handle Islam. In fact, in the story of Abraham and Ishmael, he made a place for Islam. If you truly believe that your god will attract all nations, then you better start letting the nations in. And if, God forbid, you deny a refugee hospitality, because you’re afraid of what their faith will do to yours, then you assume a divine fragility that borders on idolatry.

The law of hospitality permeates both Islam and Christianity. In the seventh century, Caliph Omar refused to pray in a Christian church, because he was afraid that afterwards, his followers would do the unrighteous work of turning it into a mosque. Starting in the eighth century, Christians and Muslims worked together to establish hospitals throughout the Arab world. Furthermore, both faiths recognize the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, which—despite conservative propaganda—was not punished for homosexuality, but for its refusal to do kindness to the stranger. We all have to be careful about whom we fear. You say that above all, you are God fearing—and that might be. But a truer translation of that phrase is “God obeying.” And frankly, Muslim-fearing Christians are doing the opposite here.

(Originally posted February 13, 2017)

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