Today’s post comes from Jim Eaton, lead pastor of Mosaic Church, a multicultural Converge congregation in Frederick, Maryland. The son of a missionary, Jim is well versed in racial and cultural issues and recently completed two terms as a Converge overseer. His comments here are about American Muslims, not radical Islamists, and emphasizes the biblical perspective of welcoming "the stranger" in our midst—a message lost in the mainstream media.
He spoke calmly but deliberately. “I have lived in America for nearly 50 years. My children were born here. My grandchildren were born here. But when we gathered together as a family recently, for the first time I heard my children say, ‘We have serious concerns living in America.’ ” This Muslim Indian-American businessman was speaking at a roundtable discussion last week in Washington, D.C., where I was invited to co-lead a conversation on facilitating Muslim-Christian understanding in these troubled times.
Last week’s catastrophic suicide bombing in Istanbul, Turkey, was matched two days ago by still another horrific tragedy, this time in Brussels, Belgium. Muslims around the world find themselves caught in a wave of radicalism, which only serves to amp up Americans’ anxieties and fears. Incendiary rhetoric on the presidential campaign trail doesn’t help.
As Christ-followers, we are called by Jesus Christ to love our neighbors irrespective of their culture, race or religion. The Holy Spirit is clear: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV).
Gentleness and respect. Not fear but love. This includes Muslims.
It might help us in our pursuit of relationships with our Muslim neighbors if we could separate fact from fiction. This month the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), led by Dalia Mogahed (@DMogahed), published the “American Muslim Poll: Politics, Priorities and Prejudices in 2016.” http://www.ispu.org/poll
The report says that American Muslims:
- Are the youngest and most racially diverse major religious community in America—the only community without a majority race.
- Are the only faith group in America to identify bigotry and civil rights as a priority.
- Those who regularly attend mosques are more likely to work with their neighbors to solve community problems. Frequent mosque attendance has no correlation with attitudes toward violence; rather, it contributes to higher levels of civic engagement.
- Those who say their faith is important to their identity are more likely to say being American is important to how they think of themselves. There is a correlation between a strong religious identity and a strong American identity.
- Are both pious and patriotic, optimistic and weary of discrimination, similar to Jews in their politics and much like Protestants in their religious practice.
Here’s the deal: our perceptions are fed by two sources. First, we get most of our info from the news. News is driven by ratings, not by truth. And 80 percent of news coverage about Muslims is negative.
Second, we tend to live in silos: Racial silos. Cultural silos. Religious silos. Half of Americans do not personally know a Muslim.
The reality is that American Muslims share many of our values: they cherish faith, they love their families, they love America. Unlike Western European Muslims, who struggle to integrate into society because of the colonial histories of Europe (they don’t feel they can ever really be part of these countries), American Muslims love this country. They feel that America is the best hope for the future of their children.
They love our ideals. It’s our reals they struggle with.
American Muslims wrestle with fear, just as many other Americans do. The public relations person for a Washington area mosque related to me: “Families in our mosque are coming to me saying, ‘Our children are too afraid to eat in the public school lunchroom. They’re eating their lunches in the restrooms. The other children are calling them ‘little ISIS.’ ”
Let’s break this cycle of fear and misinformation. Let’s covenant before God to ask the Holy Spirit to change our hearts toward our Muslim neighbors. Let's ask God to create opportunities for us to build relationships with them. You will discover, as my wife Natalie and I have, that they will become some of your finest and truest friends.
And the Spirit of Jesus Christ will shine the glory of the gospel into their hearts.