Being a Message of Hope in a Terrorized World
The recent horrible terror events in Paris (and Nigeria, Mali, Egypt, etc.) are evoking many horror reactions around the world. The consequences of these events have been catastrophic for millions of people. One wonders what will come next. How do we think about that possibility? Most often, it also seems to cause powerful fear and anger. How do we deal with fear?
I see much too little thoughtful discussion among Christians about how we can respond to these events with positive impact. I note that the Pope has expressed horror, but has also clearly stated what values should anchor and inform our choices and behavior through these challenging times. Regretfully, in general, I see a relatively silent church on these issues. If there ever was an opportunity to make a positive impact, it would be now.
In the US, somewhat more than in Canada, I see a collective fear that is now distorting dialogue by being politicized. Just look at the US presidential candidate publicity. True, the US is marked more as a target than Canada, but the response to fear is one where it is seen appropriate by many to reject Syrian or Muslim refugees. While it is understandable that new refugees need to be vetted for terror risk, fear should not be at the expense of dominant compassion for people who are also objects of oppression and violence.
How much do our traditional values and faith in God mean in this context? Most regrettably, I also see many Christians caught up in the same fear and proposed actions that cannot produce the awareness of God being in control and caring.
I am most disturbed over the way so many Christians think, choose, and behave in relation to Muslims, because the terrorists are Muslims. Ironically, I doubt that most Christians have even seen the Quran, much less read it. It is said by many Christians that Islam is a religion that views non-Muslims as infidels who must be eliminated. I am not suggesting that we not have some questions about Islam and what it teaches about those who are not Muslims.
What the terrorists do is certainly not acceptable, but let’s be very careful not to make generalizations that have he capacity to create even more harm. Historically, Christians have not always treated Muslims as God would have us treat them. Just like the Muslims have extremists, so do Christians. Many Muslims remember those times.
As Christians, we must be known as people who represent Jesus with answers to the very trauma that so many perpetrate and experience today. How much do we speak out in public and follow-up with positive action? This is a glorious opportunity for Christians to make a positive public impact with messages of love, faith, and hope. We say it in very private venues, but Christians are too often known more for their views on other lesser issues of importance to them.
In my view, this results in Christians increasingly being viewed as not ‘walking the talk’ and not being relevant to the experience of people who do not know how Jesus can make a difference in all circumstances. Let’s have the impact of salt on others and be visible like a city on a hill. We are even encouraged to love our enemies, if that applies.
Several years ago, I was invited by more than twenty Chinese imams (Muslim leaders) to discuss issues related to leadership trust in China. I was told that significant adherence to Christian values for living had made America prosperous and strong. I was asked why America was abandoning the very values that made it strong.
The imams spoke of the need to re-visit those values, but that America seemed not to be interested in what really mattered. The imams saw rampant materialism and growing self-centeredness in the West. No wonder we are having credibility challenges with people, including with many Muslims. I assured the imams that I understood and that America also needed to re-visit those values to avert major problems.
Love is the Only Rule
In my view, Christians have no option but to love, accept, and forgive Muslims for atrocities some of their radicals heap on Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The Bible is abundantly clear on this point. The horrible terrorism behavior is not acceptable, but we must be known most for our love, nothing else. Love is also action. Talk alone will accomplish little and can create even more problems.
Paul says if we remember one thing in life, it is to love others. We need to be seen as people who constantly seek to ‘walk the talk’, with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Others must see that before they can hear our words. I believe that is what God expects of us.
My experience with extensive business leadership development in Africa and China tells me that when we model the life of Jesus and side up to people who are challenged with difficult circumstances, these people will be open to experiencing the practical love of God through us. People of the Muslim faith have the same needs.
This does not mean that we seize on quoting Scripture, but just practical loving, accepting, and forgiving. What are their daily challenges? How can we help? Let’s be the message and have people respond with questions about what motivates us to care. I have seen that this works in Africa and China. It actually works in America, too, when we are seen as relevant to the practical needs of people! People want to be loved, and will respond when they experience that.
Faith, Hope and Love
When I read the Bible for ways through which we can express our love, acceptance, and forgiveness with greatest impact, I see far more Biblical reference focusing on the needs of people who are poor than anything else. Often poverty is accompanied by many other challenges, too, like the Syrian refugees.
Poor people often do not have power needed to change their lives. The need for meaningful work has a lot to do with this. Many Christians are generous with the poor, but it is also clear that others are often more concerned with personal material issues than people in need. What do we really want to be known for at a time when the world cries for peace and hope?
It is interesting to note that much public communication today focuses on how the issues with radical Muslims may not get resolved enough without the young people, especially men, experiencing hope for themselves. Look at the unemployment levels among young Arab men in the Middle East and here. We may not be at fault for their circumstances, but we have responsibility for the results.
It is said that most of the Muslim radicals fail to experience a purposeful life and that taking things into their own desperate hands is seen by them as the only solution. Clearly, many of them believe it will take violence to change their circumstances.
In my view, opportunity knocks. When I express my sense of urgency for Christians to be counted where others hurt, I put myself there, too. I have much to learn, but I know that Jesus the answer to the needs of the terrorists. Since we do not have a good reputation with them, how will we begin to connect to show them who Jesus really is? If we do not seize the times when the need is greatest, who will?
I am very concerned about what kind of influence we Christians have with people in need and as advocates for them with our governments. God loves the Muslims just as much as us. Interestingly, I have reviewed a number of church websites, and saw little or nothing directly applicable to the problems many young Arab people face.
It will not be easy to change our habits, if we have not been connecting well with those very different than us and are people we are afraid of. I have learned that the differentness should not stop me from being an effective influencer for Christ every time I meet someone.
I may not speak Mandarin, but I know from experience that practical loving, accepting, and forgiving is a language everyone understands and basically desires. Whether everyone is situationally aware of that is not the point. I find it interesting that God created us to need love, acceptance, and forgiveness, and we will experience that by giving it to others first.
Let’s go for it!
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