Donald Trump has opened the door for quite the dialogue.
If you have not heard yet of his proposal, then you must have been asleep or on Mars the last couple of days. He is basically saying he would shut the US borders to Muslims until we figure out how to process people from a religious background where radicals are causing world terror in the name of that same religion.
First, you should know what I wrote in a blog post on September 24th called "The Reflection of Who We Are." As a side note in that article, I said I would rather write your name in for president than vote for Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton in the next presidential election for principled reasons which I expressed.
So before I deal with the more important question titled above, I feel that I must respond to Trump's controversial proposal. It doesn't seem fair to draw attention to it and not comment on it.
What Trump has proposed, whether I agree with him or not, seems to be legal according to a law passed in 1952 - vetoed by Truman but overridden by congress - called the Emigration and Nationality Act. In fact, President Jimmy Carter took action on this law, closing immigration to Iran and deporting Iranian students whose visas were investigated and deemed illegal. Few opposed since Iran was holding 52 Americans hostages, which they continued to do for 444 days.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, by executive order in 1942, incarcerated or relocated over 100,000 Japanese Americans due to Pearl Harbor. Since then he has been widely criticized for giving the order, as it seems most of those people were not a threat to America.
This controversy goes all the way back to John Adams, our second president who passed the naturalization act, restricting immigration more than either George Washington or Thomas Jefferson were comfortable with.
The issue is obviously controversial and raises questions of human dignity as well as national security.
I don't have the answer, but just for the record, my response as a US citizen is:
Will someone please give us a viable and fair plan to make America safe and secure and lead the nations to contain and de-fang this threat to everyone called ISIS?!
(There! I got that off my chest.)
Donald's proposal is getting a lot of attention because there is an incredible vacuum in our current national leadership to outline a definitive plan to deal with ISIS and Islamic extremism.
Now for the issue at hand.
This highly public proposal has blown the top off of hidden and repressed emotions toward the Muslim community in general. Today in every corner of our country, people are discussing their feelings and thoughts more openly.
We are trying to wrap our minds around a religion we do not understand.
It is difficult for us to discern the difference between the theology of Islam that is violent and the one that is peaceful. This became especially difficult when Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, who have lived among us as peaceful Muslims, rose up and suddenly killed 14 and wounded 21 county employees in San Bernardino, California. One report states the people of that city are highly in favor of Trump's proposal.
The fear of terrorism, and the fear of the religion with which it is associated, are growing rapidly due to recent events that recall the memory of 9/11.
My question is, what are Christians thinking and praying in the context of this cultural uproar?
How should we engage in this moment in history?
Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, and the second largest, next to Christianity. There are nearly three million Muslims (all ages) in the US. That is roughly one percent of the population.
Given whatever happens, how will you, a believer in Jesus Christ and His kingdom, perceive, respond to, and treat the people of another religion whose public trust is now suspect in our culture?
Are we to be afraid of these people and therefore restrict our relationship with them, not knowing whether they intend to harm us? Do we ignore, marginalize, reject and disdain a people that we do not understand and even fear?
Our time in history, as believers in Christ, is now being challenged!
Paul, the apostle, was once taken to the city of Athens, Greece, having escaped persecution and death from his many previous travels. Paul was known to confront the culture wherever he went with the realities of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
When he arrived and encountered the worship of different religions, the Bible says, "His spirit was provoked within him." But this trouble in his heart did not drive him to fear or to a defensive reaction, but challenged him to engage with the people themselves.
He went to the streets, conversing and persuading people personally, eventually gaining an ear with the leaders of the culture. They listened as he presented the clear gospel in the most prominent location in the city.
When I lived in North Carolina, I had the privilege of knowing a pastor in Raleigh who became a trailblazer in engaging with the Muslim community.
It all began when a Muslim family moved into his neighborhood. Like Paul, the conflict in his own spirit began to trouble him. But through much prayer, the Holy Spirit brought conviction to his heart. One day he courageously walked into a mosque at one of their specified prayer times, took off his shoes, bowed with the rest, and began praying to his Lord Jesus Christ. Afterward, he introduced himself to the imam and shared with him openly and graciously who he was and why he was there. He pursued a personal relationship with the imam.
As this pastor and church began to pray regularly for God's leadership in their new venture, they discovered in the newspaper that the Muslims were planning a huge flea market on a weekend at the state fair grounds. The Christians decided to show up early the first day of the event, long before the doors were open, and offer to help set up tables and merchandise.
Their arrival was quite awkward. Why were these Christians here to help serve an event that was exclusively planned and operated by Muslims? It was unheard of. Were they here to cause problems? Were they undercover agents suspiciously spying on the Muslim community?
After a little convincing on the part of the pastor, the Muslims allowed the church’s servanthood and began to engage with them in conversation as they worked side by side. This was the beginning of a deeper relationship between the religious leaders of the Muslim community and this pastor. The journey was long and difficult, and sometimes confusing and suspicious on both sides.
Eventually the pastor gained a level of trust with some of the leaders, without compromising his faith in the least. In fact he remained very open and shared clearly the gospel, showing them the scriptures. They had never understood the connection of Jesus' death to salvation. They particularly questioned the importance of the blood of Christ. Muslims believe in Jesus as one of the prophets, but not as the Son of God.
One day, after much interaction and relationship development, a prominent Muslim leader asked the pastor to write a regular article for their publication that was sent out to the Muslim community in the city. They specifically asked him to explain the aspects of Christian doctrine that they did not understand so that they could learn more about the Christian faith.
What this pastor has accomplished in his leadership has opened the door for a new mindset for those of us who have no clue as to how to engage.
I propose that it is time to live like the apostle Paul. Don't be afraid to be who you are in Christ. Don't be afraid of people who are different than you and are of clashing religious faiths. These are people created in the image of God, loved by the Jesus of the cross, and targeted by heaven to receive the love and grace of Father God.
And in case you need a scripture to help with your convictions...
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you…’” (Matthew 5:43-44).
So it doesn't matter whether or not you can determine if your neighbor is your friend or your enemy, the call of God is the same:
Love, bless, serve, and pray!
This is who you are. This is what you do at this moment in history.
Wake up, people of God! It's not time to be afraid. It's time to shine!