Opposing or Embracing Muslims: What’s Your Story?

Opposing or Embracing Muslims: What’s Your Story?

August 4, 2010 by

The LA Times recently ran a story about a community of Muslims in Southern California who have saved up for years to build a mosque in their city. They currently gather in a “plain white industrial building, tucked between a pipeline company and packaging warehouse.” Certainly not an ideal place to worship and pray.

NPR’s All Things Considered broadcast a related story about the increasing opposition that Muslims across the country are facing when it comes to building new places to worship. NPR’s Robert Siegel interviewed Akbar Ahmed, professor of Islamic studies at American University and author of a book about Muslims’ experiences in the United States.

Both stories implicate that the opposition to more mosques is primarily from Christians and people who feel pretty strongly about the potential for mosques becoming “a haven for Islamic extremists.”

The opposition for the Muslim community in Southern California includes Bill Rench, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, which is located near the site of the potential mosque. Says Rench, “The Islamic foothold is not strong here, and we really don’t want to see their influence spread.” Not only that, but Christianity and Islam “mix like oil and water” he said. According to the Times, Rench predicted a “confrontational atmosphere” if plans for the new mosque move forward.

On the other end of the spectrum is Reverend Williamson, pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Columbia, Tennessee. Williamson’s story is revered by professor Akbar Ahmed in the NPR story. A local mosque had been burnt down and some had vandalized the remaining property with graffiti and swastikas. Instead of condoning the opposition and wishing Muslims to get out of town, Pastor Williamson gave the Muslim community the keys to the Presbyterian church. “This from now on can be used as your house of worship.”

These two stories communicate two very different pictures of Christianity.

This site is not the place to debate two major religions. Nor is it the site to pit the Baptists against the Presbyterians about whose response is more aligned with their denominational DNA.

This is a site about communicating the truth of Jesus Christ with uncompromising clarity.

If I’m an outsider, looking at these two stories, I’m drawn to the warm embrace and simple compassion of a Tennessee pastor who sees his building as a gift to the community, not a billboard for the opposition.

What story are you telling your community?

Post By:

Brad Abare

Brad Abare is the founder of the Center for Church Communication. He consults with companies and organizations, helping them figure out why in the world they exist, why anyone should care and what to do about it.
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14 Responses to “Opposing or Embracing Muslims: What’s Your Story?”

  • Christian
    August 4, 2010

    Seems to me that those are two extremes and I find both incongruent with Scripture. I think we tend to come down on sides like this when we think that loving others and personal holiness are exclusive of each other. We have set up a false dichotomy that we think forces us to make such decisions. Should we not live at peace with everybody?

    • Nelima
      August 4, 2010

      That’s exactly what I thought… I don’t particularly like either response. What’s the right one? I’m not sure about that either, unfortunately.

  • Marty Schoenleber
    August 4, 2010

    Exactly. Neither of these responses seem appropriate. Loving our Muslim neighbors, being compassionate towards them, inviting them into our homes, breaking bread with them, looking out for them to ensure they are not bullied, caring for them in practical humanitarian ways are all appropriate.

    But a Christian who knows Jesus as the way the truth and the life and that no man comes to the father except through Jesus must never encourage the worship of a false god.

    It is love to declare the truth of the gospel. It is not love to live as if truth didn’t matter. It is true that the media will fawn over the Presbyterian Church’s example in this story but it does not follow that it is the path of love and Christ.

  • Christopher Wiseman
    August 4, 2010

    @ Christian I agree in principle but one must ask does Islam wish to live at peace with Christianity?

    By no means does that mean we should tacitly or otherwise approve of the destruction of a mosque or persecution of Muslims but I don’t think we hand over the keys to churces. I believe there are indeed moderate Muslims but there is no such myth as moderate Islam. No Muslim political or religious leader would ever allow a church or synagague 600 feet from the al-Haram Mosque in Mecca, yet in the spirit of “tolerance” and political correctness, Americans and New Yorkers in particular are told to accept a 15 story mosque and religious center 600 feet from ground zero.

    As Americans, including conservative, evangelical Christians, support and embrace the concept of seperation of church and state, even Israel has no defined state religion yet when we say we must be tolerant and accepting or even embrace Islam as a religion, it is apples and oranges. Islam is a complete political, legal, social, and economic model which does not provide for living at peace with other religions, there are no “co-equal” systems of government or religion.

  • Nathan
    August 4, 2010

    As much as I hate to use the cliche, WWJD? Would Jesus love these people just the same or would he discriminate against them in the way most of the American Church has? I agree that it is completely insensitive of them to build a mosque near ground zero, however they do have a Constitutional Right to build there. Saying they shouldn’t build there is just like saying that churches shouldn’t be allowed to build in communities where “christians” have bombed abortion clinics.

  • Christopher Wiseman
    August 4, 2010

    @ Nathan I agree that they have a Constitutional right to build there just as sickenly as Fred Phelps, Sr. and the Westboro Baptist Church have a right to protest at servicemen’s funerals. The question is if they have a moral right to build there and must accomodation be made to system of religion that would not extend the same consideration to Christianity or any other religion for that matter.

    To extend the cliche would Jesus love the unchristians who bomb abortion clinics and the WBC members, yes, and Muslims alike, no more, no less than anyone of us. But would he support their actions? No. Would he support Christians in supporting the growth of Islam? IMHO, no. Why would he drive the money changers and merchants from His father’s house which they were desecrating? Not because he did not love them, but to do otherwise would be to endorce at least tacitly indolotry and apostacy.

    I believe that he would make it clear that He nor should any Christian help support the growth of Islamic ministry in any form, however freedom for a Muslim to practice should not be infringed upon in God’s name, His name or otherwise.

  • Dan
    August 4, 2010

    I think we should try to stay away from being _against_ things and try to be _for_ more things. This isn’t to say that we should stand against injustice, but I don’t see much injustice in a community of faith wanting to build a place for themselves to worship.

    We should be _for_ building more churches. We should be _for_ sending missionaries to unreached people groups in majority Muslim nations. We should be _for_ doing everything we can to try and spread the gospel.

    I’m not sure I’d be the one handing the keys to my church to an imam, I don’t know that I would go that far. But I hope to be so busy spreading the gospel, I don’t have time to rise up against everything that rubs me the wrong way.

  • Kevin D. Hendricks
    August 4, 2010

    Interesting conversations.

    Dan, I think you’re getting Brad’s point. These two polar opposite approaches send different messages. The point here is to pay attention to what message we’re sending.

    Handing over the keys to the church may sound extreme, but so did Jesus’ command to walk an extra mile with the solider or hand over your coat and your shirt to someone who asks or turn your cheek so your enemy can strike you again.

    • batndwn
      August 5, 2010

      Seems to me we’re talking about several different issues here. Should Americans be asked to allow a 15 story mosque to be built at Ground Zero in NYC? and should Christians reach out in love to their Muslim neighbors? Those two questions, IMO, have two very different answers. A government does have some responsibility to protect its interests. A mosque at Ground Zero is not, perhaps, in the best interests of the USA. So, perhaps the USA should not allow that to happen. Christians, however, have a different and more difficult calling than do Americans. I think the minister in Tennessee is doing something far more radical, and far more like Jesus, than the guy in S. CA. If the Lord Y’shua is truly stronger, and if what he did is truly finished (and he said, “It is finished.”), then the best way to evangelize the Muslims would be to reach out to them, pray for them, enjoy their company, be hospitable to them, share JESUS with them in practical, concrete, powerful ways.

      Having said that, I wonder if the Tennessee congregation has any intent to evangelize their new building sharers. If not, I think they are making a big mistake, from a purely spiritual warfare standpoint. And by “evangelize” I mean, not collar them and ask if they’ve heard of the 4 spiritual laws — I mean, is the congregation prepared to love them enough to tell them the truth with their actions? And isn’t this, really, our call?

      • Christopher Wiseman
        August 5, 2010

        @ Dan accepting that we should be more for things and less against them but that we should be against injustice, does Sharia law constitute an injustice? Does a system of institutionalized misogyny that proscribes honor killings and forced female mutilation promote “justice”? What is the injustice in worshiping in a “plain white industrial building, tucked between a pipeline company and packaging warehouse”? It’s more than Coptics are afforded in Egypt. Why are Catholics, particularly the Pope condemned for not doing more to thwart Hitler yet Muslim leaders including the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem enjoyed close ties with the Nazi party and was bestowed with the title “Führer of the Arabic world”. There is a double standard of relativism enjoyed by Islam, where Christians must apologize, Muslims are celebrated. Where is the justice in Christian missionaries being prosecuted for “disturbing the peace” by talking to Muslims and handing out literature at an Arab festival, in Dearborn Wisconsin.

        That said, I agree we are called to love and extend grace. I think batndwn nailed it that we are called and expected by God to reach out to them, pray for them, enjoy their company, be hospitable to them, share JESUS with them in practical, concrete, powerful ways. Would Jesus stop Caesar from entering the temple and claiming the Temple for the gods of Rome? Probably not but would He hand him the keys and the deed?

  • Sheila
    August 5, 2010

    23 hrs, 17 mins ago
    When a group of nuns took up residence in a part of a restored section of Auschwitz so they could pray 24/7 for the souls of all those murdered there at the hands of Hitler there was outrage from the community. The nuns persisted saying that what they were doing was a positive thing and good for the remembrance and peace of those who died. The Pope stepped in and asked them to move, stating that even though what they were doing was wonderful, thoughtful, caring and full of good intent; that when the benefit of your good deeds is outweighed by the problems or hurt it is causing, it is better to move on to another location in respect of those people. The nuns moved out of Auschwitz to another location nearby and continued their prayer vigil from the new venue. Pity no one here has learned from this recent and very similar circumstance.

  • Cameron
    August 18, 2010

    Let me start by saying I don’t live in the US, so my comments may miss the mark completely. I have three points to make.

    First, there is this comment from Christopher:

    “No Muslim political or religious leader would ever allow a church or synagague 600 feet from the al-Haram Mosque in Mecca, yet in the spirit of “tolerance” and political correctness, Americans and New Yorkers in particular are told to accept a 15 story mosque and religious center 600 feet from ground zero.”

    I’ve heard other statements around the place that add up to the same thing: Muslims don’t always treat Christians very well, so we’re excused from giving them the same (or better) benefits Christians have been entitled to for centuries. Yet Jesus would have us treat others the same way we want to be treated, even if they don’t repay the favour.

    Second, and I see that Nathan makes the same point: if a church applied to build a worship space right near the site of a bombed out abortion clinic should permission be granted? The logic surrounding the New York situation would suggest that many Christians don’t believe so.

    Third, someone above observed that there is no such thing as moderate Islam. That’s probably true. What the folk at Westboro Baptist have realised is that there is also no such thing as moderate Christianity. Yet few of us go to the same extremes.

    Just a few thoughts from an outsider…

  • iluvceleb
    August 27, 2010

    I respect the spiritual ideas and good aspect of Islamic religion and the Baptist. I just hope people could be able to go and build their place of worship without prejudice and any kind of violence. If people oppose other ideas of other religion then I hope they could resolve it through peaceful talks.

  • Rose Coward
    December 10, 2011

    Is Islam a hindrance to the knowledge of the truth or another road to the truth? If it is a hindrance then we dare not lend a hand to assist them in their endeavor, as we learn from the principle taught in 2 John 1:10,11.

    Nor is it our job to picket against the Muslims building a temple but rather to reach out to them with the Gospel -yes, that would be referring to cold call evangelism. If you approach many a Muslim gently but loaded with the requirements of the law of God, the discourse will usually be quite an eye-opener for the Muslim. Speaking from experience.

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