It's a simple question: What would Jesus do? Would he burn the Quran or eat with his Muslim neighbors?
You may have heard about the person from Florida who intends to memorialize the September 11 attacks by burning copies of the Quran in a bonfire. His name is Terry Jones and he also happens to be a pastor.
Mr. Jones, 58, a former hotel manager with a red face and a white handlebar mustache, argues that as an American Christian he has a right to burn Islam's sacred book because "it's full of lies." And in another era, he might have been easily ignored, as he was last year when he posted a sign at his church declaring "Islam is of the devil."
But now the global spotlight has shifted. With the debate in New York putting religious tensions front and center, Mr. Jones has suddenly attracted thousands of fans and critics on Facebook, while around the world he is being presented as a symbol of American anti-Islamic sentiment.
Mr. Jones, in a lengthy interview at his church, said he sincerely hoped that his planned Koran-burning would not lead to violence. He dismissed the idea that it could put American troops at greater risk, and -- echoing his sermons -- he said that his church was being persecuted.
"We have to be careful," he said. He tapped a holster on the right hip of his jean shorts; it held a .40-caliber pistol, which he said he was licensed to carry. "The overall response," he added, "has been much greater than we expected." [Via The New York Times]
This is wrong.
It's not what following Christ is about. This not the way of the Lord. This is misguided.
We also live in a world today of gossip and sensationalism, and this is often elevated as the expression of Christianity. Hopefully by now, most folks can come to their senses and see that the September 11 attacks are not the expression of Muslims and that Jones is not the full expression of Christians or Christianity.
But so often, this is what is encapsulated, and it's so immensely frustrating. But this is why I was so encouraged to wake up this morning to read the news of another pastor in the larger Seattle area who has been reaching out to the Muslim community in friendship and peace:
What's unusual about some of the latest efforts to build relationships with local Muslims is that it's coming from evangelical Christians -- and led, in particular, by Michael Ly, a young, self-described Chinese Cambodian American evangelical Christian.
Ly, 29, is a pastor at Soma -- Renton, a nondenominational church formerly called Harambee Church. An accountant by day, his aim to build better understanding between evangelical Christians and Muslims is purely a grass-roots effort.
And it's an effort he thinks is growing nationwide, especially among those his age and younger.
"There's a part of the evangelical Christian church that believes the rhetoric out there about Muslims is ignorant," he says. That part of the church "is saying: 'This is not the way Jesus would want us to respond to the Muslim community.'"
So far, Ly has organized a panel discussion on who Jesus is, attended by some 150 Muslims and 150 Christians from local evangelical churches. He's led workshops on what Muslims and Christians believe. [Via The Seattle Times]
As is my custom, here are some random vomitacious thoughts:
- Choose love.
- Build Peace.
- Choosing #1 and #2 doesn't mean that you don't live with convictions of the Gospel and Lordship of Christ.
- We can dismiss actions such as the one expressed by Terry Jones, and we can do it without returning vitriol and hate.
- As I shared earlier, I'm frustrated by the media's tendency to elevate the extreme demonstrations of any expressions including Christianity. This is why the Church needs to be honest and beautiful storytellers. We can't let the media dictate all the stories. Their jobs are to sell and gain traffic.
Our task -- as the Church -- is to point, paint, sing, preach, teach, live out, demonstrate, incarnate and testify to the great work of reconciliation and redemption of the God, Christ, and Holy Spirit.
So, you have to ask these simple questions:
- What story is Pastor Terry Jones sharing with his neighbors and the world?
- What story is Pastor Michael Ly sharing with his neighbors and the world?
- How do their actions and stories testify to God's work and invitation of reconciliation and redemption?
As Christians, we can find harmony in the beauty of the Gospel: "For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).
And because Christ has died for us, we can live for the work of reconciliation and redemption. I am not suggesting that we be timid in our declaration of Christ as the way, the truth and the life. But in doing so, we can also choose to lay down the sword and choose love and build peace.
We can choose to belief the truth of the Gospel: God not only died for us but dwelt amongst us. He walked among us. And he did the most amazing thing: Jesus ate with humanity.
In that simple expression of eating, he declared his desire for friendship.
Sometimes, it's very simple: It's beautiful to eat with our neighbors.