My impotent witness against holy war

I doubt very seriously that anyone from Libya will ever see this picture. And of course nobody who doesn’t read Arabic would know without my telling them that I wrote, “The peace of God be with you, Benghazi” (or asked my friend Joseph in Gaza to write it and tweet it for me to cut and paste). The Muslims say Salaam alaikum (peace of God) as a greeting every time they say hello or goodbye. Whenever I see a Muslim, I say this greeting. I learned to do that from working briefly as a computer and gym teacher at a Muslim private school in Flint, Michigan 9 years ago. I realize some Christians would say I’m “endorsing” Islam by doing this and that I should say something like “Jesus will continue to hate your guts unless you upgrade him from a prophet to a savior.” But I really think that Jesus has been telling me to say peace just like He said peace to his disciples in the upper room when He was first resurrected from the dead.

Maybe taking a picture like this is silly slacktivism. But I honestly believe that living in the kingdom means we live as though our impotent gestures of witness actually matter, that God is somehow coordinating these tiny, absurdly trivial-seeming acts in order to plant the seeds that He intends to use to grow His kingdom. It’s a dark moment in time. I’m scared of what’s happening in the Middle East. Mobs are attacking US embassies. People are being murdered. It may or may not have had to do with a stupid video. It’s ridiculous for people to kill other people over a stupid video whatever its contents are.

But I refuse to make this part of the story of why Muslims aren’t really human. Or part of an argument for why Israel doesn’t have to follow international law or the ethical standards of its own beautiful religious heritage in how they treat the Palestinians. Or why mosques should not be allowed to open in our country because Islam is not actually a religion but a terrorist movement. Or why our government should just ditch drones altogether in its fight against Al Qaeda and use cruise missiles instead since every child that dies was just going to grow up to be a terrorist anyway.

I’m actually on an email list of a pretty well-connected fundamentalist Baptist missionary who started up a secret facebook group “For Preachers Only” and somehow invited me to join, I guess because he thought there was something “redeemable” about me. His emails often include decent devotions and sound Biblical teaching but they’re poisoned by paranoid rants about the Muslim Brotherhood taking over our government. What is Jesus going to say to the Franklin Grahams and John Hagees when they meet Him face to face? Will they be with the sheep or the goats? I’m really not sure. Because I think Jesus would tell those who throw His name around but spend the larger balance of their emotional energy gathering facts to write a dissertation on why all Muslims deserve to be wiped off the face of the Earth that they should have put a millstone around their necks and jumped into Lake Galilee (Matthew 18:6).

It’s absolutely horrible how Christians are being treated in Pakistan. It is utterly barbaric for a mentally challenged child to be put on trial for the death penalty even if she did actually use a Koran’s pages to start a cooking fire in a village that probably doesn’t have newspapers. I have facebook friends who are underground church pastors in Bangladesh and Pakistan that have witnessed horrific persecution. And yet I still say Salaam alaikum. And it is absolutely Biblically sound to do so, not only because the bullies and the psychos in Islam are not allowed to speak for all Muslims any more than Fred Phelps (Mr. God hates fags) and Terry Jones (the Koran burner) can speak for all Christians. Peter said, “Honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:17) about a man named Nero who used Christians as human torches to light his gardens while he held his orgies there. Was Peter “sympathizing” with Nero’s terrorism?

As I’m typing this post in a Denny’s in Fairfax, VA, two guys have been talking about what a woos Obama is and how it’s all his fault that the fundamentalist crazies have exploited the Arab spring. One guy said, “I’ll tell you what… If you sent me to Libya with a bomber plane…” (Never mind that he wouldn’t fit in the cockpit). I wonder if these guys go to church. If so, what are they learning there? Is this kind of juvenile discourse the fruit of hearing week after week what a wrathful God we serve without getting bogged down in things like Beatitudes, spiritual fruit, or that thing called love? I’m really not trying to score points here. I just feel surrounded by symptoms of a complete lack of mature Christian teaching. I really do not have any agenda in ranting and raving about “rival” theologies other than trying to find the weed that is responsible for the bitter fruit among my people. I want to yank out those weeds so desperately because I’m a gardener and I hate weeds!

Why is American Christianity producing Terry Jones and Fred Phelps and John Hagee? And some imbecile will say “Well at least they don’t launch RPG’s at embassies!” That’s not good enough! This is so much more than a stupid debate. We are charged with the sacred task of sharing God’s beauty with the world. And an even greater evil in my mind than being in the bondage of Satan and doing his bidding is to be someone who has seen and tasted the beauty of God and finds a way to make it ugly to other people. Those who persecute Christians actually perversely contribute to their eternal salvation and the spread of Christianity (e.g. the early church after Stephen’s stoning, the underground church in China and Iran, etc). But someone who causes a “little one” to reject Christ by misrepresenting Him has committed an eternal crime against that person. That’s why Jesus says that such a person is millstone-worthy. “Woe to you Pharisees and scribes, hypocrites! For you lock others out of the kingdom of heaven. You yourselves will not enter and when others are going in, you stop them” (Matthew 23:13-14).

I say Salaam alaikum because my enemy is not flesh and blood but the one who the Greeks called διαβολος (“devil”) and the Hebrews called שטן (“Satan”). The enemy’s constant goal is to make us into each other’s enemies. He will not win, because God will use even our impotent gestures of witness to sow His peace. And if we chicken out or get drowned out by the rage of the evil one, then God will make the rocks themselves cry out (Luke 19:40). The universe will not sustain the victory of evil. I serve a God who is reconciling all things to Himself in Jesus Christ despite all evidence to the contrary. Salaam alaikum. Allah akbar.

55 thoughts on “My impotent witness against holy war

  1. Thank you for this kindness and respect you I am a young Muslim and Christian love and we love our Prophet Jesus as a prophet Mohammed not differentiate between them.In the Koran there are 5 times the name of our Prophet Muhammad and there are 40 times the name of the Prophet Jesus .We do not differentiate and we are not terrorists.We are peaceful people, but unfortunately Alaovernmh Israeli-made problems between Muslims and Americans.And I swear to you all that the events of 11 \ 9 \ 2001 Israel did in the reason that makes Muslim terrorists.

    And kill our children and women in occupied Palestine is our land.And I’m sorry about the murder of U.S. Ambassador in Libya because no guilt and I am sad because of this thing.We know that that offended the Messenger Muhammad was an Israeli, not an American.I hope to reach my message to Americans. Ali Othman From Kurdistan of iraq

    • Salaam alaikum Ali. I do not agree with how the Palestinians have been treated, but the Israelis and Jewish people around the world have also suffered. It is a complicated situation — I want the best for both of them — but my country has sinned in our one-sidedness in letting Israel spend our money however it wants. To me, it is what the Israelite prophet Daniel called a “desolating sacrilege.”

      In our Bible in Isaiah 2, Isaiah prophesies that one day all the nations will come to the mountain of the Lord to receive His teachings and make peace with one another. I pray for that day to come. May God’s mercy be upon you. Salaam.

  2. Pingback: Freedom of Speech = Freedom to Insult, to Criticize, and to Apologize

  3. Morgan: glad to see you changed the Arabic. However, to make it completely proper you need one more change. When addressing someone (in this case you are addressing the city) you preface the person whom you are addressing with “ya”, which literally translates to “O” as in “O Muhammad.” The other addition you need is to address the people as opposed to the city. In this case you would say: salaam ‘alaikum, ya naas benghazi. (literally – Peace be upon you, O people of Bengahzi).

  4. BTW, Morgan, I’ve often made a similar point you are making in this post with regard to the way Christians feel free to stereotype and slander Muslims and Islam. Whenever they pass around an unsubstantiated accusation that condemns all Muslims on the basis of what a few have done while not even beginning to do the same for Christians (have you ever noted how Christians are individuals but Muslims are always a group – all sharing responsibility for what some do?), or passes around the kind of nonsense to which I was responding here. Whenever that is done we need to be strongly reminded that one of the ten commandments is “thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” There is a lot of “false witness” bearing among Christians these days and few feel any sense of guilt for doing so when it comes to our Muslim neighbors.

  5. Pingback: “When There is No Peace” « Pastor Mack's Place

  6. I may, indeed. I suppose, from my perspective, saying “The peace of God be with you” does not convey horror at all. The tone of the post as a whole communicates to me that you find the John Hagees of the world more horrifying than this kind of violence. Jesus’ message to the people of Benghazi and everywhere else is: repent and follow me. How about peace to the families of the victims? How about peace to the Christian minorities? How about asking the people of Benghazi to turn in those involved? It seems to me that your priorities are out of order, based on an overreaction to all the hate speech that is and has been being directed to Muslims. I have no issues with Muslims as a whole. I loved my time traveling in the Middle East. But we must not overlook or minimize the actions of the few to coddle the sensitivities of the many.

    • Coddling? Really? So you really do hold all of the people of Benghazi collectively responsible for the actions of a terrorist group. That’s like saying that the city of Los Angeles is responsible when the Bloods and the Crips have a gun battle. I guess that would work if everyone in LA was black and brown like everyone in Benghazi is.

      This is about evangelism. This is about the name of Christ. That’s my only concern here: how we represent the One who we’re supposed to be representing. I’m not hearing too many people “err” on the side of “apologizing for America.” It’s all in the opposite direction from my vantage point.

    • “The tone of the post as a whole communicates to me that you find the John Hagees of the world more horrifying than this kind of violence.”

      The last time I checked, the Hagees, along with the political figures their words empower, were responsible for well over a hundred thousand deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq, and thousands more in Pakistan, Palestine, Somalia, Yemen, and yes, Libya. So I’d say they’re more terrifying by that order of magnitude. Is my logic flawed? And do you, in any event, think it’s the responsibility of a pastor to “convey horror”? That’s certainly not my understanding of how it works.

      As for me, I’ll evince some “horror” over attacks on US embassies when the US starts respecting other countries’. Until then, I can’t get too worked up over private citizens of some other state not acting better than my own government.

      http://www.haaretz.com/news/u-s-troops-raid-palestinian-mission-in-baghdad-1.8637
      http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/1999/oct/17/balkans

      • Well said, Morgan. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to find a blogger with your kind of sensibility to the growing wave of Islamophobia in America.

        If you are interested, I run a blog for the Lutheran School of Theology’s (Chicago) Center for Christian-Muslim Engagement for Peace and Justice which is mainly a news site for links to articles that help readers get a more balanced view of what is involved in Christian-Muslim relations. I focus mainly on the US, but when something like the embassy attacks occur I put these links on, as well.

        Here’s the link: http://lstcccme.wordpress.com

  7. A radical overreaction to bigoted psychopaths is, I’m sure, a temptation. I think the reaction I’ve seen from my more progressive Christian friends borders on ignoring the evil that was actually done, and loving Jesus never warrants that. Some people will, sadly, need to be reminded that not all Muslims are terrorists. But that doesn’t take away from the horror that evil was done by a few in the name of their religion. That minority, however small, must still be taken seriously and brought to justice. I think it is perfectly consistent with the biblical witness to ask God both that they be brought to justice and that He, in His infinite mercy, would forgive them.

    • What have I said that indicates that I’m not sufficiently horrified by what happened? Where have I even said the word forgiveness or anything that “sympathizes” with the attackers? I’m
      just unwilling to put this event on any kind of running tally of proofs that Muslims are unfit for human society that would then culminate in a final
      solution. If I haven’t been clear about what I am saying and not saying, please help me find where. You may be superimposing your reaction to what others have said onto me (which I do all the time myself).

  8. “‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:14)

    I’ve noticed among liberal and progressive Christians what I would consider a rush to reconcile this. Don’t get me wrong: it is our calling as Christians. But so is the call for justice. I get suspicious of people who rage for justice without a call for peace; but it is equally problematic to cry out for peace with no concern for justice, or a concern for justice that is only eschatological.

    • So you have no problem conflating a small band of terrorists with a whole country or religion of people? Have you seen how psycho people are talking?

  9. Tan: there is a difference between American Christian responses to this and Middle Eastern responses to slanderous attacks on Muhammad. The difference is the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment more or less relegated Christianity to “opinion,” looking askance on any attempts to elevate “mere words” or “religious sentiments” to the level of mortal offense. Middle Eastern peoples still understand the biblical link between word and deed, still understand that the concept of Word becoming flesh (or book as in Islam) elevates slander to a fighting offense. Not too long ago after similar riots related to the burning of the Qur’an, a Pakistani Muslim was quoted as saying “Dying is nothing. The honor of our Prophet is everything.” While Christians mouth such sentiment, very few would feel that anything slanderous would be worth putting our lives on the line to defend.

    • Very astute point. Pre-Enlightenment Catholics and Lutherans killed each other all over the place. In Geneva, John Calvin burned Servetus at the stake not for deliberately insulting God but for having the wrong opinion about him.

  10. Morgan,
    Your gesture as you stated, is not impotent, but a witness of the kingdom that matters. Your anger and lament are also righteous. We must neither be filled with hate, nor silent in the face of so much ugly distortion of Christianity.

    May the things that break the heart of God, keep breaking yours. And may we all plant seeds of peace and love, building upon and extending the kingdom that is already here–as we also actively hope for the kingdom that is yet to come.

  11. I wonder why people forget that when the art installation “piss Christ” went up, or when “The Last Temptation of Christ” was shown, movie theatres received bomb threats, people went nuts. Its not just Islam that has people determined to “protect” God from what somebody else says or does. It happens right here in the good ole USA.

  12. Correct me if I’m wrong. Fifty-one times each day (3Xday x 17 recitations of the daily prayer) (it could be a total of 54, but no less than 51) devout followers of the religion of peace ask their god to keep them separate from those g-d has cursed (the Jews) and those who are led astray (Christians.) I suspect the one true God will grant them their prayer, should they persist in their religion to their death.

    I sympathize with and join you in your prayer. English would have been sufficient.

    The deaths of the four innocent americans are the result of a planned Islamic terrorist attack.

    We understand there is no such thing as a holy war; the religion of peace doesn’t and won’t until Jesus returns, at which time they will bow and confess Jesus is Lord.

    • I wasn’t commenting on the validity or invalidity of Islam. I am concerned about my witness as a Christian who has peace through the blood of Jesus Christ. Bless you brother. Replace all anger with prayer. It’s hard to do but our Lord has commanded it.

      • No anger here. I pray for the peace of Jerusalem; I pray for the conversion of Islam. Your message to the people did not mention Jesus. Indirect witness is most often wasted on the lost. Jesus instructed his disciples to shake the dust off their feet in towns where the message about Jesus went unheard. That’s the loving thing to do.

    • Morgan: you really shouldn’t let this one go. I’m looking for some substantiation to this. What is it you are accusing Muslims of doing, jwlung? Saying what “51 times a day?” I lived for thirteen years in the MIddle East and am studying Christian Muslim relations at a doctoral level and this is the first time I’ve ever heard this. It certainly was never practiced in any of the Muslim countries I’ve lived in (three), nor visited (many more).

      This is bad enough – this astonishing fiction you have created – but your statement about an “Islamic terrorist attack” underscores why its so good to see someone like Morgan, even with his less than complete understanding of Arabic or Islam, attempting to correct the stereotypes that are perpetuated by people like yourself.

      The problem here is the use of the term “Islamic” to describe what happened as it suggests that all 1.4 billion Muslims were responsible for this attack, or that the Muslim religion itself is complicit. All that can really be said is that people who claim ties to the Muslim faith carried out an attack. It says nothing about either Islam nor any other people who are members of the Muslim community, any more than the name “Christian” attached to the man who deliberately set out to insult Muslim with that truly awful, offensive film, says anything about either the Christian faith or those of us who bear that name.

      This is exactly the kind of stereotyping that has led to the worse kind of atrocities against people of faith, as it bears all the marks of anti-Antisemitism, with its blanket condemnation of Judaism and Jews based on what some members of that community may or may not have done.

  13. Love your comments, but I think you’d better go back to the drawing board with your Arabic. Anyone who reads Arabic (including myself) will see right away that you don’t have a clue what you have written. Arabic letters cannot be written separately like you have done. As it is it has about as much meaning in Arabic as this does in English: ;lkaserlkasndf;lkajsd;fakshdf.

  14. Thank you, Morgan. I’ve been fuming about the violence for a day now, and your post has brought me back to fuming at the right enemy.

  15. It looks like when you copied and pasted the text, or your friend sent it, the lettering in Arabic got reversed. The letters are correct if you read them left to right, but Arabic is written right to left.

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