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.