We Christians have a bad habit of not paying attention. It has hurt us in the past, and it’s about to do it again.
Our big social concern in the 1990s was abortion. Another steamroller social issue was bearing down on us then, though: the homosexual attack on marriage, family, and sexual morality. If we had been paying attention we could have seen it coming. They gave us fair warning, after all: a 1987 article laying out their strategy for “The Overhauling of Straight America,” including these steps:
- Talk about gays and gayness as loudly and as often as possible
- Portray gays as victims, not as aggressive challengers
- Give “protectors” a just cause
- Make gays look good
- Make the victimizers look bad
- Solicit funds
- Getting on the air with advertisements, celebrity endorsements, and more
The authors followed up this short article with an influential book, After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 90’s. (One of the authors wrote under a different name when the book was published.) Springboarding off the article, the book lays out a brilliant strategic plan for social change. It wasn’t very honest. It was highly manipulative (read the linked article). But it worked. It worked partly because we weren’t paying attention. They handed us their strategy on a silver platter, and we could have countered it with truth against their rhetorical manipulations. But we didn’t even see it.
We’re making the same mistake again today. The big social issue for Christians in the 90s was abortion. That hasn’t gone away, but it was virtually eclipsed in the 2000s by homosexual rights activism. That’s not going away soon either, but it’s about to be overtaken in the 2010s, I believe, by Islam in America.
Islam in America means we’ll be facing more issues like the symbolism and/or reality of a proposed mosque near Ground Zero, or Rifqa Bary’s fate. It raises questions about alleged honor killings in Muslim families, or freedom to share the Christian message at an Arabfest in Dearborn. For all we know it could involve more Islamist violence.
How many of us reading this feel prepared to face those issues from a clear knowledge of Islam’s beliefs and the Islamic world’s intentions?
Not nearly enough of us. And it matters.
Let me illustrate. A pastor friend of mine told me he thinks the Ground Zero mosque issue is easy: it’s a simple matter of freedom of religion. If the government can start dictating where Muslims can build their places of worship, then it won’t be long before it will restrict Christian churches in the same way. If we want our freedoms, we have to allow them the same.
This is but one of many perspectives on the Ground Zero mosque. We could swap opinions on that mosque all day long and miss the far more important question: do we even know what we’re talking about? My pastor friend’s position illustrates the problem nicely. He views Islam as a religion that deserves the same rights and privileges as any other. That’s questionable, to say the least. The following quotes come from Islamic websites.
In general, one can see that Islam is a religion which not only governs the private religious life of an individual, but also mandates and regulates all aspects of public life. (Islam and Democracy)
Religion and politics are one and the same in Islam. They are intertwined. We already know that Islam is a complete system of life and politics is very much a part of our collective life. (Political System of Islam)
Since the Islamic conception of life is a co-ordination between the body and the soul, it was natural that a very close relationship should have been established between religion and politics, between the mosque and the citadel…. As we have just seen, the caliph inherited from the Prophet the exercise of the double power, spiritual-temporal, and he presided over the celebration of the service of worship in the mosque, and he was the head of the State in temporal affairs. (The Political System of Islam)
The West makes a natural mistake in their understanding of Islamic tradition, assuming that religion means the same for Muslims as it has meant for most other religious adherents ever since the industrial revolution, and for some societies, even before that; that is: a section of life reserved for certain matters, and separate from other sections of life. This is not the Islamic world view. It never has been in the past, and modern attempts of making it so are seen as an aberration….
Islam is a “total way of life.” …
Throughout history, being a Muslim has meant not only belonging to a religious community of fellow believers but also living under the Islamic Law. For Islamic Law is believed to be an extension of God’s absolute sovereignty….
As we have mentioned, in Islam God is acknowledged the sole sovereign of human affairs, so there has never been a distinction between religious and state authority. (The Basics of the Political System in Islam)
It’s not a simple matter of freedom of religion, is it? Islam, according to what we read here, is not simply a religion. It implies a political system of its own, one that historically has been very much at odds with freedom of religion.
There is an important lesson to be learned here about Islam, but first I’m more interested in the lessons we Christians need to learn about ourselves. We failed to do our homework on homosexual activism, and look where it got us. Islam is even less familiar, more foreign to our way of thinking, and the issues it will present to us are going to be more complex. Are we ready for them?
How shall we, for example, understand the relation of religion and politics in Islam? How accurately do the quotes above describe Islam? Do most Muslims think of Islam this way, or only a minority? If it is both religion and political system, how does the First Amendment apply to it? Shall we grant religious freedom to a system that historically has created Islamic states almost everywhere it went—states whose nature has been to deny religious freedom?
If you think the Ground Zero mosque comes down to a simple matter of symbolism, or of religious freedom, then you don’t understand the issues deeply enough. I don’t know them well enough myself. Karen Armstrong has made a very persuasive case in her book The Battle for God that much of the trouble the world is in today can be traced to not understanding Islam.
I asked a friend of mine in Josh McDowell Ministry for a good introductory guide, and he recommended Answering Islam: The Crescent In Light of the Cross by Geisler and Saleeb. Having read it now, I’m eager to pass along the same recommendation to you.
I was surprised at how little I knew of the Muslims’ faith, especially their view of Allah, the Qur’an, and Muhammad. Did you know Muhammad is not considered to be the founder of Islam—yet it is far more acceptable in Islam to blaspheme Allah than Muhammad? This sheds light on the riots following the Danish cartoons of Muhammad, doesn’t it? Is it confusing nevertheless? It certainly is—which should motivate us to study and to understand better than we do now.
Consider again: do you remember the uproar when copies of the Qur’an were reportedly mistreated at Guantanamo? Consider this from Professor Yusuf K. Ibish:
I have not yet come across a western man who understands what the Qur’an is. It is not a book in the ordinary sense, nor is it comparable to the Bible, either the Old or New Testaments…. If you want to compare it to anything in Christianity, you must compare it with Christ Himself.
None of us in the West understand, he says. If Islam is going to be as potent a force in our part of the world as I think it is, then we ought to begin understanding. (We need to respond spiritually, too; another topic for a later discussion.)
I’ve just acquired Kenneth Cragg’s The Call of the Minaret, a classic on the topic, so I’m told, and I’m beginning to look into it. I’ll be studying more and blogging more on this in weeks to come. But you’re not going to get what you need from me. I’m but a beginner—a beginner who is convinced we all need to study up on the next huge social/cultural/religious issue facing the Western world.
I don’t want us looking back twenty years from now and saying, “We had our chance, but we blew it off completely. They told us who they were and what we were doing, but we paid no more attention to it than we did to the homosexual activists before them. And now look where we are.”
Also posted at First Things: Evangel