After the Orlando shooting, there was an almost reflexive response by analysts who gave the usual talking points about how Islam is a religion of peace and its practitioners are peaceful people. What the Orlando killer did, many Muslims and pundits said, had nothing to do with Islam. Terrorists are simply hijacking Islam. True Muslims oppose the Orlando killer’s behavior. Saying the shooting was Islamic terrorism wrongly brands all Muslims as violent people or terrorists. There needs to be more nuance, though.
One of the things I routinely call for when I teach on this subject is the importance of making a critical distinction between two things: Islam and Muslims. Islam is the religion and its teachings. Muslims are the people who follow Islam. These two are different. Just because a religion teaches something, that doesn’t mean all of its practitioners believe or obey that teaching.
The same is true with the distinction between Christianity and Christians. The Bible, for example, teaches that God hates divorce, that it violates our vow to God, and is forbidden with a few exceptions (I know this is debated, but that’s not my point here). Divorce, in most cases, is a sin and prohibited for Christians. There are many Christians, though, who don’t follow biblical teaching on this topic and have divorced, contrary to biblical guidelines. It’s fair to say, then, that although Christianity teaches that divorce is wrong, many Christians don’t observe that teaching.
The same is true with Islam and Muslims. Islam teaches that violent jihad is a valid Islamic doctrine. This is taught in three authoritative sources of Islam. The Qur’an, what Muslims believe is the literal word of Allah, teaches violent jihad in the Medinan surahs (the passages allegedly revealed to Mohammed when he lived in Medina). Read surah 9 of the Qur’an for just one example. The hadith, what Mohammed said and approved of, also teaches violent jihad. Read Sahih Muslim, book 1:29-33 for just one example. Finally, the Sunnah, the life example set by Mohammed, teaches violent jihad. Read The Life of Mohammed by Ibn Ishaq for just one example. My point is not to give all the citations from each of these three sources. I provide some in The Ambassador’s Guide to Islam, and they are also available with a quick Google search. My point is that Islam – the religion and its teaching – affirms that violent jihad is a valid Islamic doctrine.
To be clear, I’m not saying that Islam teaches that any Muslim can attack any non-Muslim at any time and for any reason. The commands to engage in jihad have conditions that need to be met before Muslims can attack. Also, once certain conditions are met, Muslims must cease hostility. I’m simply saying that Islam affirms violent jihad.
Some people are critical of my comments, claiming that I’m demonizing Muslim people. That’s not true. I’ll be the first to say that most Muslims are not violent people. Not only is my family from the Middle East, but over the years I’ve known and interacted with Muslims of all stripes. When they’ve come to my family’s home, they are kind, respectful, and even bring gifts. When I’ve visited their homes, they are hospitable, gracious, and kind. I’ve been going to mosques in both the United States and the Middle East (and taking Christian groups to them) for years and never have had a problem.
These Muslims don’t observe the command to fight. Many of them try to reform Islam by making it less violent, while others are simply ignorant of its teachings. Around 70% of Muslims are nominal (Muslim in name only). They don’t study the Qur’an, hadith, or Sunnah. They don’t even attend their local mosque. They’re born in a Muslim family or Islamic country and adopt Islam by default. These Muslims want to lead peaceful lives.
That’s why I’m mystified by the backlash against those who point out that Islam – the religion and its teachings – affirms that violent jihad is a valid Islamic doctrine, while also recognizing that most Muslims are ignorant of those teachings or reject them. This is an accurate and honest view that makes the important distinction between Islam and Muslims.
Furthermore, this view makes sense of reality. There are many acts of violence perpetrated by Muslims who cite Islamic authoritative sources as justification for their actions. There are also many Muslims who denounce these violent acts and refuse to engage in violent jihad. To deny either that Islamic sources affirm violent jihad or that many Muslims don’t live consistently with those teachings is to deny reality.
As ambassadors for Jesus, however, we’re commanded to proclaim the message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-20) to all Muslims, whether nominal or adhering to violent jihad doctrine. Though governments may distinguish between different kinds of Muslims, the Gospel does not. Every Muslim, indeed every person, is guilty of committing crimes against God and deserves to be punished. God, though, offers a pardon to every one of us. That’s the message we’re commanded to share with every Muslim we encounter.
[H]ow arrogant I was, to think that my form of small-town Southern-Ontario Catholic Christianity was the only way that people could come to know God properly, when there are billions of people all over the world who reach out to all kinds of higher powers and forms of spiritual enlightenment all the time? And those people feel the same kind of assurance, peace, and goodness that I do? I can't have the nerve to say that these people were wrong because how they relate to their god is different than mine, when all I have to justify my belief is a book.
This is definitely an idea you will run into: Billions of people have spiritual lives, so how can we claim we’re right and they’re wrong just because they’re different? How would you counsel someone who expressed this view? Can we know spiritual truth? How would you go about finding it? Tell us what you would say in the comments below, and Alan will post a video with his response on Thursday.
I highly recommend you watch “You Are Not Your Sexuality,” a talk by Sam Allberry (a Christian who has same-sex attractions) on sexuality and identity. He has much to say that is relevant to everyone (not just those with same-sex attractions) and relevant to all temptations and sin (not just those related to sexuality). I hope you’ll watch the whole thing (see below), but I want to emphasize three of his key points here.
First, I imagine that many of you were as surprised as I was at how many people were unable to understand how Christians could speak against homosexuality and think the Orlando massacre was an atrocity. Part of the misunderstanding comes from this: Our culture sees sexuality as being fundamental to our identity; Christians do not. Allberry explains:
The first thing we need to know is that our identity is in Christ…. One of the big things our culture around us is saying at the moment is that you are your sexuality. Your sexual feelings define you. They are who you are at the core of your being. They are you at your most you. And because that is the common belief, as you all know, that means everyone’s sexuality has to be affirmed. If you don’t affirm someone’s sexuality, you’re effectively rejecting who they are at their deepest level…. That is the unforgivable sin in our culture, and it is why non-affirming Christians are not just seen as wrong, not just seen as quaint, but increasingly, we’re seen as dangerous….
If you are your sexuality, then sexual fulfillment is key…. Being sexually fulfilled is intrinsic to being complete as a human being, if you are your sexuality. And so it makes the stakes incredibly high. And actually, the real tragedy of that is that it means the world ends up saying, in effect, that a life without sexual satisfaction is not a life worth living. The church doesn’t say that (I hope), the Scriptures don’t say that, but our culture does…. Jesus teaches us, and in His life He shows us, that sex and romantic fulfillment is not the key to making ourselves complete. Jesus was, after all, the most fully human and complete person who ever lived, and yet was celibate.
Second, when we’re tempted to grab something we haven’t been given by God (particularly in the case of sexual sin), it’s easy to tell ourselves the lie that we need to do so in order to be “who we really are.” Allberry points out that when we do this, we’re being the opposite of “who we really are”:
I am not defined by my sin. I’m not defined by my temptations. I’m defined by who I am before God the Father in Jesus Christ…. As I’m battling against those temptations, there are times I can hear a voice saying, “Sam, stop trying to be somebody else. This is who you are. Just accept it and run with it. This trying to be celibate and chaste, that’s just not you.” But actually, as I open the Bible, I realize that, actually, who I most truly, ultimately and fundamentally am is someone who is in Christ. And therefore, when I’m striving to be holy, when I’m striving to be Christlike, I’m not going against the grain of who I really am, I’m going with it. As someone who is in Christ, I am most being me when I am pursuing godliness, not when I'm pursuing sin.
Third, the Bible doesn’t teach that people who have same-sex attractions are in a separate category from everyone else. Jesus’ command, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me,” applies to everybody.
When Jesus says…“Repent” to everyone, Jesus is saying all of us are lined up the wrong way. All of us are oriented, spiritually, in the wrong direction…. Jesus says all of us need to reorient our lives at the most deepest level, and therefore, for any of us, discipleship is going to be costly…. There are things we’re going to have to turn around on that feel fundamental to who we are….
Denying yourself...is saying no to who you have thought you were all your life and saying yes to Jesus instead. That identity you have finessed and crafted over years has to be given over to Jesus. And friends, that is the case for all of us…. If you think the gospel is just kind of slotted in neatly to your life, not really required any particular deep changes, I don’t think it’s the gospel of Jesus you’ve been receiving. And so if we’re tempted to think the gospel is unfair to same-sex attracted people, it may well be that we haven’t really counted the cost of discipleship in our own lives.
Shortly after undergoing sex change surgery, most people report feeling better. Over time, however, the initial euphoria wears off. The distress returns, but this time it is exacerbated by having a body that is irrevocably molded to look like the opposite gender. That’s what happened to me, and that’s what the people with regret who write to me say happened to them.
Heyer goes on to tell the story of one man’s regret and to explain why our rush to treat gender dysphoria with sex change surgery is neither wise nor compassionate.
This reminds me of something I wrote several years ago:
Over the past couple of years I’ve had to learn the hard way that my strong feelings of compassion and empathy coupled with my desire to help people and make them happy can sometimes obscure the path of true compassion. I watched with horror as the actions of my emotion-driven “compassion” led only to greater harm to the friends I was trying to help. What was wrong? I was giving them what they said they needed. I couldn’t stand to see them suffer! I was confused and conflicted—I loved these people and wanted to help, but my short-term help was causing them long-term harm. When I finally accepted the fact that the truly compassionate thing to do was to withhold what these people were asking for, I had to do the most difficult thing I’ve ever done—I stopped giving it to them. I fought my feelings and forced myself to stand firm. I endured accusations of cruelty and lack of Christian charity. I withstood slander and gossip. I was rejected and berated. Believe me, it would have been much easier to give them what they wanted, and I certainly would have been happier about myself, but I desired to be truly compassionate to these people I loved—and that meant doing what was best for them, regardless of my feelings.
True compassion is not directed by a feeling. In fact, it may entail actions that cause our feelings of compassion to scream with protest. But, as I’ve said before, our emotions must submit to our minds. The impulse to be compassionate is good, but if we let our emotions determine the way we carry out that compassion, we will often be deceived. A careful examination of the long-term results of our actions is necessary to determine whether or not those actions are truly compassionate….
No doubt we’ll be called selfish and uncaring, and our own feelings may even condemn us. I know how difficult this is. All we can do is continue to remind ourselves that helping people in a real and lasting way is more important than satisfying and protecting our own feelings
I wrote those words in a completely different context, but the principle applies everywhere—personal relationships, public policy, child-rearing, medicine, education, and on, and on. Sometimes the easy response of giving a person what he immediately desires, in the way he immediately wishes to receive it, is not the compassionate response.
Great misunderstandings are caused when people assume their policy preference is identical with compassion itself, and that a rejection of that policy equals a rejection of compassion. This assumption is false, and Heyer’s article is a perfect example of why. Many doctors refuse to do transgender surgeries not because they hate, but because they care about their patients’ long-term well-being and want to practice responsible medicine. They are as compassionate as anyone on the other side, but their minds have led them to express that compassion differently. If people on the other side of this could give everyone the benefit of the doubt instead of jumping to a conclusion of “hate,” public discourse would be much better off.
The following is a rundown of today's podcast, annotated with links that were either mentioned on the show or inspired by it:
Guest Host: J. Warner Wallace: Ancient Myth Claims Aren't Just Like Jesus – Four Principles (0:00) / Has the Biblical Account of Jesus Changed over Time? (0:20) / The Best Piece of Christian Evidence (0:40)
“I read every day, and all my friends and family members do too. Are we not America? Or are you just weakly grasping for stories?”
“Just because people aren’t opting to read a dusty copy of War and Peace doesn’t mean we’re having a hard time comprehending things.”
“NPR, wipe those nervous beads of sweat from your brow, sit back, or read & conduct research at a library for another NPR story. There are plenty of bookworms, you just have to look for them.”
If you clicked the article to “hear” NPR’s argument and the evidence behind their statement, you were instead greeted by, “Congratulations, genuine readers…” NPR then explained: “We sometimes get the sense that some people are commenting on NPR stories that they haven’t actually read.” Each comment proved their suspicion. Each comment revealed the reality of why James penned his words in James 1:19. As fallen creatures, we are slow to hear and quick to speak.