If Dallas is going to be the city it wants to be then Christian pastors who now rail against Islam out of ignorance and fear need to engage Muslims in dialogue and learn about the religion from its followers.
My city, Dallas, wants to be something. It wants to be an international hub of commerce. It wants to be a cosmopolitan center for the cultivation and appreciation of the arts. It wants to be a place whose citizens or all races thrive, whose families are safe from violence, and whose children excel.
And this cannot happen yet. Because in the heart Dallas, in one of its biggest churches, pastors like Robert Jeffress (and others like him across the city) systematically attack the foundations of a diverse society by attacking its foundation of tolerance and respect for religious minorities. You can see one example here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=vvjMUrPUfC4
Let’s look at two statements in Jeffress’ speech, “Islam is a false religion.” and “It is inspired by Satan himself.” Either statement is bound to be offensive to the 100,000 plus Muslims who are decent, hardworking citizens of the metroplex. It is hard to imagine building a religiously diverse society when the 10,000 or more members of a church in the heart of Dallas believe that their neighbors are followers of a Satan inspired religion.
Or take his statement “It is a biblical response to bomb the you-know-what out of ISIS.” ISIS controls areas that have hundreds of thousands of perfectly innocent Muslim, Christians, and others. These people, who already live in fear of their lives from ISIS, will be and already are the first victims of the bombs falling on ISIS troops. What pastor is saying to Dallas area Arab Muslims and Christians is that the US government has an obligation to engage in bombings that will slaughter their relatives and friends. He’s saying that Jesus has empowered the US government to kill untold numbers of innocent people. That hardly seems likely to help us develop a diverse and civil society.
Of course there are theological and biblical issues as well. Let’s take the claim that Islam is a false religion inspired by Satan.
To see if this is true lets look at what Muslims believe, their basic creed. 1. There is one God. 2. There are angels. 3. God has sent prophets, including Moses, David, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Jesus. 4. God has sent books, including the Torah, the Psalms, and the Words of Jesus. 5. There will be a judgment day and Jesus will come again.
And lets look at Muslim practice. There are five requirements of Muslims: prayer, fasting, giving to the poor and need, religious pilgrimage, and acknowledging that Muhammad is God’s prophet. Of these only the last is in any contradiction to Christian and Jewish practice.
It appears that Jeffress is saying that Satan has created a monotheistic religion that believes in angels, the same prophets Jews and Christians believe in, the same books that Jews and Christians regard as scripture, and the truth of the judgement day and the return of Jesus. That Satan created a religion that calls its followers to prayer, fasting, feeding the poor, and religious pilgrimage.
Another thing he said. “You cannot find a verse in the New Testament that commands us to kill the unbeliever.” He can’t be serious. He knows that Jesus said that not one word of the law will pass away. And he knows that the law of Moses is pretty explicit about the religious obligation, in at least some cases, to slaughter every single person who doesn’t worship Yahweh.
And he seems to forgotten that Jesus also says “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” And Jesus said: “But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one.”
It seems pretty obvious that Jesus was arming his disciples to do some pretty serious harm. And as Jeffress himself has acknowledged elsewhere, Christians have committed atrocities in the name of Christ.
Rather than acknowledging these verses that for centuries justified Christian violence Jeffress rather selectively quotes Jesus, “those who live by the sword will perish by the sword.” He then compares single verse to a selective set of quotes from the Qur’an that speak of killing. This kind of proof texting is unbecoming a pastor who claims to be a scholar of the Bible, particularly when it seems to contradict what follows.
Now let’s turn to the Acts 17 verse the pastor of First Baptist Dallas uses to show that God created national borders? “From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live . . .”
He knows enough Greek to know that the word “nations” here means tribes or ethnic groups, not modern nation-states. So is he suggesting that each ethnic group should stay in the boundaries created by God in the past and defend them?
Because if so then Native Americans are obliged to drive all those Americans of European descent back to their ethnic homelands, as they should those of African descent, Asian descent, Indian descent, and Middle Eastern descent, leaving only the native Americans. Or do the native Americans also need to go back across the Bering straits to their origins in Asia?
And what about all the mixed race families? Does my wife need to return to China while I head for England and our poor children live in some kind of oceanic limbo?
But let’s assume that, violating every rule of literal Bible interpretation, Jeffress is suggesting that the borders of the United States as a nation-state were drawn by God. Which borders? From the revolutionary war? After the Louisiana purchase? After the seizure of native American lands? After the various wars with Spain and then Mexico? And what about Puerto Rico? Is it in or out? Which borders exactly did God draw and we must defend?
It seems that God is constantly redrawing our borders. Or, more likely, we see cherry picking a verse to justify a statement that has no basis in the Bible. (There are, I note, other arguments for the defense of national borders, but we do not find them here.)
Finally there is the quote from Romans that is used to argue that the US government should “bomb the you know what out of ISIS.” (And thus apparently to continue fulfilling the prophecy that by living by the sword our nation will die by it.) To justify this statement he reminds us that in speaking of the government the Bible says: “It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.” That comes from Romans 13, which bears reading in its entirety.
“13 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; 4 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. 6 For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.”
Now with these verses in mind look at what Jeffress says about about the authorities that God has appointed to lead our nation. “First of all, Christians and churches need to refuse to bow before the government on this issue,” (http://www.christianpost.com/news/robert-jeffress-supreme-court-has-declared-open-season-on-christians-who-oppose-same-sex-marriage-140907/#RkoKAPD6V1idxLKA.99)
And concerning President Obama he has said that he is “paving the way for the anti-Christ,”
Given this and similar statements it seems hard to believe that he takes his Bible very seriously, at least not verse Romans 13:2 saying that the ruling authorities are appointed by God. It appears that Christian leaders like this Dallas pastor are in rebellion against God, refusing to respect the God-ordained authorities who, the Bible says, “are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.”
(I note that many scholars don’t believe that the verses in Romans are intended to apply to a democratically elected government, but it is not I, but Jeffress who explicitly has said that they refer to the US government and President Obama.)
So you can see why Dallas, with this kind of preaching from the center of our city, will never reach what it aspires to be. It appears that at the heart of our city there is are churches that hate the ideals and values of hundreds of thousands of its citizens, preach bombing that will kill innocent people, and are led by pastors who by his own words is leading his congregation into rebellion against God and God’s divinely appointed authorities.
Except this isn’t really what is happening. What is happening at the heart of our city is that Christians are anxious and afraid and striking out blindly at what they believe threatens them. Jeffress and his people are grasping at every straw, even abusing God’s Word and violating its teaching to justify their fear and anxiety and try to make sense of the world they live in.
When what they actually need is what we all need: the peace of Christ, and to get to know their neighbors so that they can love and respect them as children of God.
If Dallas is going to be the city it wants to be then Jeffress and his fellow pastors who rail against Islam out of ignorance and fear need to engage Muslims in dialogue and learn about the religion from its followers. Only then will they be able to show the kind of leadership our city so desperately needs.