I was recently here at our home in Denver, when my friend Mustafa Akyol asked a question that surprised even me: "Where are all the moderate Christian voices who speak out against violence toward Muslims, American wars in Muslims lands and the plight of the Palestinians?"
Because, he went on to say, "It seems to me that the majority of outspoken Christians -- or at least the ones I hear on the news -- are not saying any of those things. They seem to be pro-war, radically pro-Israel (which has the effect of being anti-Palestinian) and the ones most worried about Muslims taking over the West and imposing Sharia law."
A good point indeed.
I'm not accustomed to one of my arguments being turned against my people. Fair enough. I'm the one who's often answering a concerned, or even angry Christian friend who asks: "Where are all the moderate Muslims who should be speaking out against terrorism?" It's a fair question, but I have answers. Without attempting to defend Islam as a religion, which I'm not a fan of (I don't even like my own religion), I can answer thus:
Eboo Patel once asked me how much time I spend speaking out against the KKK. I said "Never, because they're not even on the same page with me or anyone I know -- they're nuts." He smiled and said, "Exactly."
The news often quotes, "If it bleeds, it leads." Only bad stories seem to make the nightly news. We just don't see the 99 percent of the Muslim world who live normal lives.
Tons of Muslims DO speak out against terrorism and all forms of violence. The question is: Why don't we hear them? I was just in Edmonton with another one who does speak out, my good doctor friend from Gaza who wrote "I Shall Not Hate."
So I know how to answer the question from my side about Muslims. But I hadn't been asked it the other way around. Where are all MY people who are speaking out against these things?
It's worth considering.
I grew up in a conservative Christian environment that awarded kudos for one thing: saving souls. And we knew exactly how that worked. No one questioned the process, so just get out there and save some.
The last 20 years of Western Christian thought has focused more energy on discovering a more holistic approach to life and service. Unfortunately, some in our ranks have gone through a period of reactionary theological gyrations to prove how wrong our last generation of Christian thinkers were. They have become "Christian Universalists" (generally meaning that all will eventually be saved -- like Universalism -- but through the work of Christ). In order to not offend anyone, it's become increasingly tempting to accept all forms of beliefs under the banner of "do not judge." (We should surely accept all people, but not all beliefs are equal or helpful; we can judge what's right and wrong. In fact, we're called to do just that).
So what's happened is this: We have the conservative church many of us grew up with -- the Moral Majority of Jerry Falwell. Christian televangelists that held a ton of influence. Mega church preachers and evangelistic crusaders (sorry for that word, but it fits here). These Christians have been nearly 100 percent pro-war (they'd call it "Just War," but President George W. Bush tweaked it to be "Pre-emptive Just War" and many I knew gladly accepted this new definition without much thought). These Christians have been 100 percent radically pro-Israel and not at all willing to stand up for the rights of Muslim immigrants here in the West. Of course, all of these have exceptions, but they would have been unfortunately rare.
The reaction has been to swing the theological pendulum far the other way. To be a "progressive Christian" is now cool. Shane Claiborne, Tony Campolo, Richard Rohr, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell -- the Emergent crowd in general -- all have huge audiences. I know some of these men and they are good-hearted and very bright. They love God and are seeking truth. But some of it is reactionary.
And what does that reaction get? Another reaction from the Conservative side. An entrenchment in "truth." And back and forth and on and on it goes.
So who is speaking out? Where are the Christian voices? They are mainly in this "progressive" camp. The Red-Letter Christians. The Emergent crowd. They're at the Wild Goose Festival.
However, fortunately or unfortunately -- depending on your slant -- these folks don't carry much (or any) political clout. No one in D.C. is listening to them. They don't have the deep pockets or White House access like the older more conservative clan does. So no one hears their voices. This younger and more "liberal" crowd is likely growing at a much faster pace than my parents (and even my) generation of Christians. They may have a voice one day about war, and the Israeli-Palestinian thing and how we treat immigrants in general and whether we should fear Muslim expansion -- but as of now, they don't.
Sounds exactly like the issue Islam has.
And believe me, I feel this tension personally. The more progressive emergent crowd are wary of me because I still believe in fairly exclusive terms when it comes to faith in the biblical Jesus Christ -- so I sound like a conservative to them. And I am in constant trouble with my more conservative evangelical friends because I am against war (for all reasons), I am pro-Palestinian (without being anti-Israeli) and I love it when a Muslim moves into the neighborhood. I'm caught in my own conundrum inside an enigma (I don't really know what that means, but I liked writing it).
The answer is... Well, you probably guessed it... I think it's Jesus. Was he conservative or progressive? Open-minded or closed? Pro this or anti that? He was a bit hard to pin down. Not always that clear on the issues of his day. So, what if we could all just be more like him. That doesn't mean we don't wrestle with these big issues and seek clarity. The right and left will always tug at the other to come more their way. I want my conservative friends to be more generous in how they treat "the others" and my more progressive friends to not throw the baby (Jesus?) out with the dirty bathwater of our older generations' legalistic Christianity.
Maybe Jesus really is the answer. In both the conservative sense of that word (for salvation) and in the more progressive sense (for positive humanitarian impact). How about we try him!?
The question then gets reframed to be: "Where are all the Christians following the way of Jesus?" And hopefully, we stand up and say, "Right here!"