Six days after the 9/11 attacks, in remarks made at the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C., President George W. Bush told his audience, “These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith.” He went on to say, “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about.”
Many scholars agreed, but other people disputed this, claiming that violence against non-Muslims is grounded in the Koran itself, and cited texts to prove their point. I am not qualified to speak about the Koran but the frequent false claims I’ve heard made about the Bible give me cause for skepticism. I’ve known people to lift biblical passages out of their literary context and the historic realities that surrounded them to “prove” their respective and, sometimes ludicrous, points.
After the 9/11 attacks, there was a backlash against American Muslims that was shameful and wrong. The president spoke candidly about this and condemned it. Now, 18 years later, I wonder if someone ought not speak as candidly about the acts of violence perpetrated on ethnic minorities by racists and white nationalists and state clearly that such behavior is abhorrent to the people of Jesus, wherever they’re found.
I wonder this because I once sat across the table from a Muslim who told me: “If you’re born in the United States, you are a Christian - unless you are a Jew or a Muslim.” I would not want that man - or anyone else - to think the murderer of worshipers in a Pittsburgh synagogue was a Christian because he was born in the United States. Likewise, it would be a mistake to think that the man who killed Muslims in New Zealand must be a Christian because he is not a Jew or a Muslim.
Hatred, and the violence it breeds, is inimical to the way of Jesus. His people are even forbidden to take revenge against those who hurt them. And it is not just hostile actions that are banned, but hostile attitudes. They are ordered to “get rid of anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from (their) lips.” Jesus and his earliest followers not only condemned violence toward people of other religions or races, they insisted that Jesus’s people show love to such people.
The Bible, which Christians consider divinely inspired, claims that we are aliens. Nevertheless, we have been loved and accepted by earth’s rightful landowner, God, who insists we follow suit. We are commanded “to love those who are aliens.” The biblical writer states that God “watches over” and “loves the alien,” and Christ’s people are expected to love and watch over them too.
Jesus goes even further: We are not only commanded to love strangers, but enemies - the people who seek to do us harm. White supremacists see people of other races and ethnicities as a threat to their way of life and desire harm to come to them. But Jesus tells his followers they must love even the people who oppose them, pray for them, and do good to them.
No one said that following Jesus would be easy.
The Bible not only commands God’s people to treat aliens with love and justice, it also provides examples of how to relate to people who serve other gods. Abraham was highly respected by people of other religions because he treated them with respect as friends and neighbors.
The Gospels do not recount many encounters between Jesus and non-Jewish people but when he did relate to non-Jews, he helped them. In fact, his highest praise was reserved for a non-Jewish soldier who served the much-reviled occupational army that subjugated his native land.
Unlike his master, St. Paul’s extensive travels led him into many encounters with people of different faiths. While he announced the good news of Jesus to them unapologetically, he never despised them or ridiculed their religion. He wanted to win them, not subdue them.
Readers who consider themselves Christians but have climbed onto the bandwagon of racial and religious hatred ought to review what Jesus and his apostles did and said. If, after doing so, they stay on that bandwagon, they should at least stop calling themselves Christians.
Shayne Looper is the pastor of Lockwood Community Church in Branch County, Michigan. Read more at shaynelooper.com.