Monday, April 4, 2011
Why a pastor who burns a Qur’an is in the wrong.
I’m not sure how you feel about the recent news of a pastor burning a Qur’an. I have quite strong feelings about this, because more than 20 people have been killed in protests, our work has been stopped this week, and we’ve been on the lookout because we’re all in direct danger here. I don’t entirely blame this pastor for what has happened here, but he did have a very negative impact on our security, and for that I am upset. I would like to back away from the center of this controversy for a moment however, and talk about the basic matters of culture, faith, humanity, and Christlikeness.
It seems that the pastor’s intent in burning the Qur’an was to urge Muslims to stop reading the Qur’an and stop being Muslims. The question is: how do you change people? Can you force a person to change? How do you respond when someone tries to force you to change? Are you happy to listen to them, eager to change for them?
Perhaps you utterly hate Muslims. That’s fine. Some people, in the name of Islam, have done atrocities to Americans and in America. Given that, what would it take for YOU to actually respect a Muslim or listen to what they have to say? What would they have to do to earn your listening ear, for you to welcome them to your home? They would have to do something, right, because you’re not going to automatically trust them, there’s too much negative sentiment about them for you to just let them come near you. So then… why do we think that they should listen to us, when a Christian leader does something that they consider an act of war?
Let me challenge you with some points that I also challenge Muslim friends with. You see I’m in the middle. I know Americans who hate Muslims, and Muslims who hate Americans, and I see the futility and the endless destruction that lays ahead if we do not work on our attitudes and approaches to one another.
Here’s my list of attitudes, actions and assumptions to avoid, if you want to maintain a positive influence on people from a much different culture and/or religion:
-Do not generalize:
If your nation and religion were summarized in a 30-second speech by someone from the other side of the world, do you think it would accurately represent who YOU are? If not, why do you listen to other people who make these summaries? If you use “Muslim” as a blanket over all Sunni, Shiite, Ishmaeli, Sufi, Wahabi, Arab, Palestinian, Afghan, Kurdish, Al Queda, and Taliban people, but cannot tell me the distinctives of each groups, what makes you so sure that fundamentalist Muslims will know the difference between Catholic, Protestant, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Pentecostal, Evangelical, Charismatic, Calvinistic, Health and Wealth doctrine, (shall I go on?). Do you like being lumped together as one big groupie called Christianity? If you would appreciate being differentiated from all the random things that fit into a Muslim’s definition of a Christian, then work on your definition of a Muslim, and let your respect and knowledge of the other to trickle into your communities.
-Do not compare “our best” to “their worst”:
I hear it all the time, statements like, “our culture is like this…, but that other culture, ugh, they’re like this…” When people describe themselves in comparison with a radically different culture, the inclination is to state what our ideal culture is like. Then when we describe the other culture, we point out the very ugliest aspect. An example? Christians say, “we love our women, we only practice monogamy, Muslims are despicable womanizers, they marry multiple women.” Muslims say, “we love our women, we ensure that every woman is protected and provided for, Christians only love themselves, half their marriages end in divorce.” Get over your pride, take a honest assessment of both the good and the bad coming from any and all cultures. You’d be furious to know all the stereotypes that I have heard some Muslims state about Christians, based on unfair comparisons. Take the higher road, stop doing this in reply.
-Do not slander “the others’ sacred”:
Honestly, if you want to be influential in changing someone, you can’t immediately impose your opinions on what they consider sacred. I don’t care how wrong you think the Qur’an is, you will NEVER convince any Muslim of this by burning it. Holding the truth is not effective if you use it as a jackhammer to the heart of the person you’re trying to help. Your truth and your opinion have to wait until respect has been shown, relationships have been built, and ears and hearts are open, otherwise, you’re just a crusader, and you’re going to die for foolish reason.
-Do not assume that history is the same from every culture’s perspective:
Though historical events happen in real time and space, the memory and record of them is depicted through different cultural perspectives. Within the differing accounts of history there are deep sensitivities, which, if ignored, will cause a lot of tension between cultures. Examples? How would the written or oral history of the USA differ between Americans and Native American Indians? How would it differ between Israelis and Arabs? Simply put, history is remembered different by dominant countries, than it is by ones that were suppressed. Just because one country beats another and stamps their name upon a place, does not mean that the losers will not harbor resent that will fester for decades. The rage coming out of Afghanistan, for example, is not new. Americans think that doing war there for 9 years is way too long? Afghans have lived through warfare for over 30 years. If you judge what we see today within a 10-year context, you’re missing the whole picture of what Afghans are expressing. The point here is: don’t assume, listen and learn.
That is the end of today’s list, but I’m not done yet because something should be said about tolerance. The word ‘tolerance’ is not popular where I come from. We all wonder, how could we combine Truth with tolerance? Truth does not make us more than humans. As humans, we have to humble ourselves to the fact that we are trapped in flesh and culture, we have a limited perspective on truth, and we make mistakes in implementing it. Truth does not trample on the very people that lack it. Truth does all it can to woo the one who lacks it to taste, see, believe, trust. There has to be some human decency and tolerance offered, in order for truth to be transmitted.
There are many BUT’s to what I am saying. The reason is, many Americans have accepted extremely unhealthy attitudes about the people behind the label “Muslim”. These attitudes prevent you from seeing these people as Christ sees them. Do you find it hard to think nice thoughts about Muslims because they seem so unrepentant? What should we do with their sin, make them correct it? What did Christ do with our sin? The believers and followers of Christ should be the leaders in humility, love, and forgiveness. Even though you deserved death for your sin, you were given life. Why do we care so little about the life-less ones?
It’s easy to hate the sin of another person, but be blind to our own. Therefore any quest to purge “the other” of their sin is precarious. Like I asked before, what is necessary for one person to gain influence in order to change another?