The fatal shooting of a suspected terrorist symapthiser in Endeavour Hills this week sees a needless loss of yet another life in the midst of heightened tensions over religious extremism. There is understandable angst when we hear of the disrespect of authority and the abuse of the freedoms and benefits that Australian life offers, but this is a sobering issue when this week’s death occurred within walking distance of our local church! Against the backdrop of fear, fury and finger-pointing, it might be helpful to make a few important observations.
1. Pro-Christian values make more of an impact on our world than anti-Muslim talk, as understandable as current agitation may be. Irrespective of whether or not terrorism in any way represents Islam, or whether or not Islam will advance in the face of pacificism, Christians need to more clearly and consciously advocate the cause of Christ in love toward all Muslims who are created in the image of God and for whom Christ also died. That is why I and others from our church have chosen in the past to travel to a city renowned for the kidnapping and killing of westerners by Muslim terrorists, in our desire to help churches that are growing and making a difference through their acts of radical kindness and compassion.
2. Prayer for Muslims needs to occupy more airtime than any demonisation of a few hate-preaching radicals if we believe that God can bring change. The majority of Muslims are surely able to respond to God through acts of love, miracles of healing and supernatural dreams (as seen in many stories emanating from Middle-Eastern nations); these affirm and attest to our verbal witness. Antagonism and aggrandisement will seldom effect any real change. Such responses can seldom rightly be advocated unless there is, at the very least, a sincere desire to pray for changed hearts and to promote the hope that God is truly as able to do the impossible as we willingly affirm in more comfortable and familiar scenarios.
3. Inter-religious dialogue needs to avoid any of the pretensions of common worship or of a common god. The distinctives of Islam and Christianity will never be surrendered by intellectual debate. Christians will rightly maintain that the Bible is unmistakably clear in asserting that faith in, and submission to, Jesus is the only way to salvation. So creating opportunities to better understand the differences so as to more effectively make that sort of pitch must show the love and grace of the God being represented. This needs to value the person, without resorting to an us-versus-them argument that simply erects more barriers and reinforces existing prejudices. In short, we can be so right and then so wrong at the same time. Defending a position will seldom by itself advance that position in any area of life.
In the end, Christianity offers Islam a relationship with a loving and personal God. If this is predicated on unconditional love by God for us, then we must surely reflect unconditional love for Muslims, irrespective of whether or not they readily accept our message and irrespective of what they do or do not do in response to it. This doesn’t equate with condoning or pardoning terrorism, of course, but such acts surely test the bounds of our love to people who God Himself never ceases to love.