The last 24 hours have seen unrest in Sydney caused on religious grounds, the likes of which I have not seen before in my life. Most people will be aware that the protests stem from a particularly offensive depiction of the prophet Mohammed by a western film. What appears to have started as a peaceful protest turned violent, and police intervened.
Let me be clear, that I am not condoning the actions of the protestors. I think that violence is never a solution to problems, and I metaphorically stand beside those who have spoken out condemning the actions of those who were involved in the protest.
Let me get a few things out of the way. I firmly believe that faith and trust in Jesus is the only way for any person to be saved. I do not believe there is any merit to the claims of Islam to truth in their faith, and see a number of inconsistencies in their beliefs, and hope that all people who trust in Allah for salvation may come to know the Christian God, and his son Jesus.
At the same time, a number of my friends are believers of Islam. As a number of my friends profess no faith or religion. Some of my friends, in particular followers of Islam, are quite passionate and committed to their beliefs – as much as I am to Christianity, and at times even more so. This does not mean that my opinion of them is reduced or diminished. They are intelligent human beings, who are lovely people that I enjoy spending time with.
What troubles me, however, is the reaction of many of my Christian friends. It appears that these events have created a climate where intolerant, sometimes abusive and racist rhetoric is now acceptable – both in public verbal conversation and online. More than that, the words and phrases appear to be targeted against all people of Islamic faith, stripping their humanity and treating them as nothing but objects to be condemned.
This attitude towards the Islamic faith, but more importantly, towards the individuals that profess to be part of that faith troubles me deeply. I do not for a second think that the Christian God will accept their faith on the last day – but neither do I believe the Christian God calls his people to condemn the followers of other religions.
Rather, as I read scripture, I see commands for us to love those who are outside the church (cf Luke 5:27-32), a call to share the gospel with all to the ends of the earth (cf Matthew 27), a call to be all things to all men (cf 1 Cor 9:22). I see Jesus reminding us time and time again to ensure that we have our own hearts and minds right before him (cf Matthew 5 and 6), and again being reminded by the apostles time and time again to ensure that we are living out the faith that we have been called to – and to put off rage, slander and malice (cf Eph 4:31).
Does this mean that we shouldn’t make the claim that Christianity is right, at the exclusion of all other religions? No – as Jesus says in John 14:
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
But when we speak to those outside the church, we should do this with gentleness and respect, so that, in the words of Paul, we might hope to win some. I am sure that Jesus’ command to love our enemies, and to love our neighbours as ourselves were not meant to exclude our responsibility to love those that we had little-to-no connection with. I’m certainly sure that they weren’t meant to give us the right to public vilify all who follow a different religion to us.
I want our Australian society to remain free to have open, intelligent and thoughtful debate about the truth and claims of Jesus. I believe that the strength of the Gospel of Jesus is sufficient to stand up to scrutiny, abuse and trial. I implore my Christian brothers and sisters to not create a culture in which it is right or acceptable to vilify another person’s faith; but rather to create a community where helpful and intelligent thought and discussion are the norm. I implore my Christian brothers and sisters to not react without thinking, but to instead consider their words and actions and how they might be perceived by others.
And above all, I implore my Christian brothers and sisters to each day seek to follow Jesus and be transformed by his spirit; because surely our presence in the world as salt and light is our greatest opportunity for impact on the world and community we are in.