Engaging Muslims: Speaking the Truth in Love

© 2015 Robert Osburn

With every terrorist attack by radicalized Muslims, many Americans wonder whether, as Robert Spencer suggests in his new 2014 book, whether an Arab winter has come to America.  Not just to America, but also to Nigeria, Mali, France, Denmark, the entire Middle east, and even Japan. 

President Obama declares terror the enemy, not Islam.  As the US president, he may be strategically avoiding the obvious truth that Islam is the central cause of terror in the 21st century.  Christians who engage our Muslim neighbors have, by contrast, only one strategic orientation: Speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15)

If we only speak truth, but have no love (defined as the relentless pursuit of the other’s well-being), then our words are like jagged shards of glass that cut and shred.  Likewise, the strategy of love minus truth is mere tolerance, all vacuous and empty, rather than active pursuit of the other’s well-being.  Both diminish Muslims’ dignity.  Either way, the black-robed imams of terror win. 

A truly Christian response, by contrast, is both simple and complicated: We love Muslims (as we do atheists, homosexuals, Hindus, etc.), but that love will be both honest about the reality of Islamic terror and earnest in helping them find true hope in Jesus Christ.

What does it mean to love Muslims? It means conversations that refuse to skirt religion in favor of secular pieties.  The former they relish, the latter they find alien and off-putting.  It also means building friendships that welcome them into our lives, so that they see how lives built on “speaking the truth in love” are structured.  It also means taking the risk to “do good (to) those who (may) do evil” (Luke 6:35).

Since about 85% of Muslims are either nominal or moderates who do not in any way support the actions of Islamic terrorists, they will yearn to be with you in your generous openness. You may also at times stand up for their right to build mosques, because we know that our right to build churches and preach the Gospel depends upon the same appreciation for the religious freedom championed by Os Guinness in his 2013 book The Global Public SquareBoth your gracious kindness and your sense of justice will open the door for Jesus Christ into the lives of many Muslim friends, especially as they recoil from the horrors of the daily bloodletting done in the name of Islam.   They desperately need to know that His blood was shed for them to free them from the mounting miseries of an Islam radically defective at its founding.

You may wonder whether your love for your Muslim neighbors qualifies your love for your other neighbors.  Absolutely not. Your love for your neighbors, including Muslims, means defending them against evil.  Thus, responsible and reasonable efforts (including reasonable surveillance programs) to secure citizens from Islamic terrorism are fully justified. 

As I have indicated already, love alone is not sufficient.  The Greek verb in Ephesians 4:15 can be translated “truthing,” which means that making the truth known amongst our non-believing friends is non-optional. Without a hint of aggression or hostility, we must help them to see that Christian doctrine of original sin is the best explanation for evil in our world.  Since Muslims lack it, they also lack humility and a self-critical spirit.  The former is necessary for the give-and-take of public life, the latter for resisting Islamic utopianism.  Proudly declaring that Islam is the world's greatest religion and God’s final revelation exposes a hubris in the heart of Islam that knows not the evil and blindness in the human heart.  The fact that a few Muslims deploy strategic deceptions (called taqiyyah) in service to Islam only heightens their need to come face-to-face with their own sin and a Savior who can forgive it and set them on the path of becoming truth-tellers.

They also desperately need to hear (and see) true victory is not world domination, which is the goal of a minority of Muslims and which is taught in Islamic holy texts. About 15% of Muslims share the goals of radical and violent Muslims, and are inspired by and seek to imitate the bloody, expansive founding narrative of Islam.

But, many Muslims, understandably, are very uncomfortable with this, and thus, I found in my doctoral research a decade ago that many devout Muslim international students welcome conversation with those whose worldviews differ from theirs. Likewise, a truthful, friendly, deeply Christian spirit ought to animate our conversations with Muslims, much as is evident in Joshua Mitchell’s marvelous book Tocqueville in Arabia: Dilemmas in a Democratic Age (2013).

The truth is that rather than Islamic supremacism (which in fact diminishes God by exalting Muslim victories), the Bible teaches that the true victory came on the Cross through the redemptive crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.  His bloody self-sacrifice has the power to transform people in a way that makes flashing swords and beheadings look like child’s play (Romans 5:6-11).  When He returns a second time, He will achieve the victory that both destroys evil but also magnifies self-sacrificing love (Revelation 20).

Speaking the truth in love is, in fact, a powerful win-win-win proposition: Muslims find the Savior they desperately need, the human race is spared the evil of radical Islam, and God’s Kingdom is infused with new, fresh recruits whose horizons are marked no longer by blood, but by self-sacrificing love.

But, how are we to speak the truth in love when our Muslim neighbors resist Him who gave His life for them (and us)?  In terms of our civic obligations, appeasement and apologies (as demonstrated by President Obama at the recent National Prayer Breakfast) often characterize Christian engagement in discussions of interfaith relationships and civic and political engagement.  While many apologists for Islam welcome this as evidence of their superiority, such efforts usually demand that we lie or deceive in order to project false humility.  Instead, when Christians speak the truth with love, we show them how to engage the public square.  Following this model of “civility with conviction,” championed by evangelical thinker Richard Mouw, is exactly how our Muslim friends who choose to remain in Islam must comport themselves in the years ahead. 

Mere tolerance will be no defense against Islamic supremacists.  They see through its secular and nihilistic spirit. By contrast, the Christian insistence on speaking the truth in love will both open the doors to their hearts while also teaching them how to behave as fellow citizens.  If they choose to resist both, then our obligations to love our other neighbors will obligate us to welcome government vigilance in a way that few of us will welcome, but all of us will demand.

 

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