Sometimes because I write so much about Christianophobia, some feel the need to tell me that Islamophobia exists. No kidding? Do you think when stories such as this one come out that I am ignorant of Islamophobia? It is as if some individuals do not comprehend the possibility that we can have anti-Christian and anti-Muslim hatred in the same society.
But Islamophobia does not merely manifest itself in violent acts. It also manifests itself in the double standard some people have in their treatment of Muslims. For example, the desire to create higher barriers for Muslims to enter the United States can also reflect Islamophobia. When we treat individuals worse because they are Muslims, then we are furthering an ugly Islamophobic mentality.
Unfortunately, the way some Christians have approached Muslims reflects Islamophobia as well. There have been Christians who have tried to stop Muslims from building their mosques. Other Christians have called for a stop of Muslim immigration to the United States. This attempt to treat Muslims worse than we treat those of other faiths or no faith is wrong. The sad thing about the reality of how some Christians have dealt with Muslims is that we have a great deal of incentive to protect the religious freedom of Muslims. When we fail to do so, we fail to fully live out our faith, and we set ourselves up for future hardship.
Before I go into why Christians should defend Muslims, let me be clear about something. I am Christian and not Muslim. I believe that Muslims are wrong about the nature of God and in their belief that Allah is God. I support any efforts at witnessing to Muslims as long as it does not involve coercive tactics. To those who say that Christian proselytizing is evil, then I will ask you to give up telling Christians what to do. When you tell Christians what to do, you are proselytizing about your beliefs to Christians. Stop being a hypocrite!!
So my defense for religious freedom for Muslims is not a defense of Islam. I will leave that for Muslims to do. But I defend their right to be wrong just as I hope that non-Christians will defend my right to be wrong.
Why do I defend their religious freedom? One reason is that my faith makes it clear that God has given all of us free will to choose him or not. Christ calls us to Him but he does not force us to accept him. If the God of the universe allows us to have the choice of our convictions, then how can we deny that right to others? As Christians we are responsible for creating an atmosphere where others can see God’s glory in us. When called upon, we are to tell others the good news. What we are not to do is to force others to accept that news. It must be something they choose for themselves.
When we target Muslims by not allowing them to build a mosque or preventing them from coming into our country simply because they are Muslim, then we are, at least indirectly, trying to coerce them to become Christians. We are no more following the values of our faith than if we are lying to our spouses or gossiping about our neighbors. If we value human freedom to choose Christ, then we must create the atmosphere where that freedom can flourish.
The attempt to restrict the building of mosques is a no-brainer from my perspective. There really is no reason to disallow a mosque being built as long as other houses of worship are allowed in that very area. In others words, if an area is zoned to allow a church, then it should be zoned to allow a mosque. To do anything else is religious prejudice pure and simple.
The immigration issue is a little more complicated since there is a real danger of terrorism. It should not be controversial to say that our government has an important task in protecting us from those who want to do us harm. Finding out that someone is Muslim does contribute a little to our predictive abilities as to whether this immigrant may someday engage in terrorism. So you will not see me protesting the refusal to let in a particular Muslim unless I suspect that he or she is being denied only because he or she is a Muslim. I recognize that there may be other factors, unknown to me, indicating that this person is dangerous to the rest of us.
There is likely value in looking at Muslims from certain areas of the world and affiliated with certain groups. If they have relations with individuals who are known terrorists, then I do not want them to endanger my loved ones or me. But to simply refuse them just because they are Muslim is religious discrimination. We would be better pushing for an immigration system that is more predictive of who potential terrorists are rather than simply removing Muslims from coming into our country. Such an immigration system may indirectly remove more Muslims from coming into our country than other religious groups, but it will do so without the blanket prohibition some Christians support. I can see such a system as morally defensible, while the blanket prohibition is not.
So as Christians we should be pushing more for fair treatment of Muslims. Our values dictate that we should be at the forefront of protecting their religious freedom. The sad truth is that white evangelicals show lower support for the rights of Muslims than other Americans. We have failed to consider our own values for religious freedom when Muslims are the group targeted.
But even if we refuse to live out our values, we have a very practical reason why we should fight for the religious freedom of Muslims. Our failure to do so will make it harder to fight for our own religious freedom. Make no mistake about it. There are those who do not believe that Christians have a right to take their faith to the public square. They want Christians to keep their faith to their homes and their churches, and sometimes even keeping their faith to their churches is not enough. If they had their way, Christians would be second-class citizens. We do not need to give these individuals more resources to limit our religious freedom. If we fail to fight for the religious freedom of Muslims, then we will be doing just that.
For example, look at the move to keep Muslims from building mosques. If Christians are successful in keeping Muslims from building mosques, how soon do you think it will be before those with Christianophobia will use those same rules against churches? Certainly this would be likely to happen in the more secular cities on the East and West coasts. I know it will take some time in the South for this to take place, but do not get too comfortable down there. Remember that it was a Georgia governor who vetoed a religious freedom bill. Furthermore, since those who have Christianophobia tend to have a good deal of social power, the ability to apply the same restrictions to Christians will be quite possible for them.
So even if you are not convinced by the moral argument for fighting for the religious freedom of Muslims, I hope you will fight for their rights out of self-preservation. But I know that there are still some objections out there. So let me tackle some of them.
1) Just because we are consistent with our values does not mean that those who hate Christians will be consistent with their values.
That is correct. If we protect Muslims today, many anti-Christian progressives will still try to reduce Christians to second class citizenship. I have found many of them are quite creative in seeking rationalization for their Christianophobia. For example, when I interviewed them, many of them stated that they wanted Christians to stay in their homes and churches. While this is intolerable (Do we ask that feminists stay in their homes and inside feminist organizations?), there was an assumption that we would be safe if we did not venture outside of our churches. So why were the sermons of Houston pastors subpoenaed? I used to tell my Christian friends that as bad as Christianophobia was that its proponents did not want to interfere with their church services. After the Houston pastors and Eric Walsh, I can no longer say that.
So if those who hate Christians are not going to keep their values then why should Christians worry about being consistent? You mean beyond living out our faith in integrity? If that is not enough for you, then please remember that there are many moderates in the culture war struggle who can be persuaded by our consistency. If Christians work for the rights of Muslims, then these moderates are likely to side with Christians when certain secular forces engage in Christianophobia. But the opposite is true as well. If we try to take away the rights of Muslims, then those moderates are likely to support future efforts to rob us of our rights. Nothing is guaranteed of course, but the best way forward is to live with integrity.
2) Islam is not a real religion.
There are those who argue that we do not have to protect Muslims the way we have to protect those of other faiths since Islam is not a real religion. They argue that Islam is a political system and thus we do not have to let Muslims into our society. Or we do not have to give them the free speech rights that others have.
Islam is most certainly a monotheistic religion. Allah is the god they worship. They have religious practices and many of them faithfully practice those rituals with great faithfulness. I know of no scholar of religion who would dispute that Islam is a religion.
Are there Muslims who value political activity more than their spiritual beliefs? Yep that is the case. No doubt about it. Are there Christians who value political activity more than their spiritual beliefs? Have you been paying attention to the news? Both on the left and right, you have Christians who live out their politics. It does not matter whether I think their politics are correct or not, they have the right to do this as much as Muslims. It may be possible that the average Muslim is more engaged in politics than the average Christian. I have seen no surveys to answer that question, but there is the chance that this is true. Regardless, that is not important as it merely makes the Muslims different in degree, but not in kind, of their political activity. Unless we think that Christians should be forbidden to advocate for political change, we cannot use the Muslim’s desire to engage in politics as a reason to discriminate against him or her.
3) Muslims are trying to set up Sharia law.
When I defend the religious freedom of Muslims I am asked whether I want to have people come over who want Sharia law. For me this is like asking if I want people to come over who support the right to abortion (I am pro-life). I disagree with both individuals on their politics, but my personal political preferences should not decide who gains entrance into our country.
The Muslim who comes into our country, as well as the Muslim who is already in our country, has the right to whatever political beliefs he or she desires. As long as that person is not illegally forcing a woman to wear a hijab, then he or she can believe that all women should wear a hijab. If a political candidate runs a campaign arguing for enforcement of hijab wearing for all women, then I will not vote for that person. The Muslim has political freedom and so do I. And don’t you think that there will be more of us voting against the Sharia supporting political candidate than for him or her.
Let me drive this a bit closer to home for Christians. There are those who believe that Christians are trying to set up a theocracy. Yeah, I think that is stupid too, but those with this silly belief are out there and some of them have political power. Some of them will argue that political positions such as opposing abortion and same-sex marriage are really attempts to set up a theocracy. Do you want to have the right to hold to and fight for those political positions? If you do, then you better fight for the right of the Muslim to believe in, and even fight the losing battle for, Sharia law, because I promise you that the mechanisms you use to take away the political freedom of the Muslim will be dusted off when it is time to take away your political freedom.
I think that covers the major objections I have heard against supporting religious freedom for Muslims. Some Christians have argued that at times we may have to suspend our Christian values for the greater good. That is one of the arguments I heard for supporting Trump in the general election. I am not sure that is true, but it is possible that there are situations (Although support for Trump would not qualify as such a situation) where we have to be more practical and less ideological.
But supporting the religious freedom of Muslims is not such a situation. Fighting for their religious freedom is both ideological pure and practical in the protection of our own religious freedom. Given this reality, I hope to see more efforts to live out those values and to love our Muslim neighbor as we would ourselves.