While we lament the terrorist attacks in New Zealand as yet another tragic reminder that the world is not as it should be, we must remember the words of 1 John 4:18: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.
There is no better response to violence rooted in hatred and fear than a persistent commitment to love God and love all neighbors. We can do this by speaking out against Islamophobia around the world, as well as by showing compassion and support for Muslims in our own neighborhoods and communities.
I felt sick to my stomach. Then I thought about how often I have been the recipient of condolences from Islamic leaders around the world at the first news of an extremist attack on a church, as well as other profound actions of Islamic solidarity with persecuted Christians.
Muslims in Egypt circled around Cairo’s largest evangelical church to protect it from extremists during the Arab spring, and in the last two years alone several Muslim police officers have died in multiple countries protecting churches from extremists. For their heroism, they received praise from Sunni Islam’s al-Azhar University, which issued a decree honoring them as “martyrs.”
These are the stories that the extremists—whether they are neo-Nazis, white nationalists, anti-Semites, or Islamists—do not want us to tell because they degrade the “clash of civilizations” narrative they promote. Yet these are the stories that we must tell; and these are the friendships we must build, as Christians, and especially as evangelicals.
I’m very proud of the unbelievable strides we’ve made between evangelicals and Muslims in recent years, at a local level and at the highest level, and in every corner in the world. While one cannot rush trust, we must expedite these efforts, and extend them to all other religious communities. Orthodoxy—even the exclusivist kind—is not at enmity with friendship.
That’s why I grabbed my phone off my bedside table and shot off a simple tweet, that was shared by tens of thousands of Muslims around the world, including in New Zealand: “Nothing is more evil than killing someone at prayer. Muslims have stood in solidarity w/ Christians when their churches have been terrorized; today, Christians stand in solidarity w/terrorized Muslims. Mourning w/those who mourn; Weeping w/those who weep. بسم الله الرحمان الرحيم.”
Joseph Cumming, pastor of the International Church at Yale University, has worked among Muslims for three decades and travels regularly to the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia as an advisor to Muslim, Christian, and Jewish leaders:
Friday’s right-wing extremist, white nationalist terror attack on Muslims at prayer transported me in memory to October 1993, when a terrorist attacked the Catholic Cathedral in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania before Mass, gravely wounding and nearly killing two friends of mine—Fathers René and Paul.
The attacker told police I was his next intended target, and might have been his first. That was a frightening time for my wife and me with our twin toddlers, living nearby. We were deeply grateful for every Mauritanian Muslim who spoke out in solidarity with us or reached out to us in love.
Jesus says we must do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Do we want Muslims to speak out defending Christians targeted by terrorists overseas? Do we want Muslims to reach out in love to support their suffering Christian neighbors? Then we must speak out defending Muslims. We must reach out to Muslim neighbors, communicating love and support.
This is a frightening time for Muslims in America, as it was for Tree of Life Synagogue, for Mother Emanuel Church, and others. This time is also an opportunity to demonstrate the perfect love which the Bible says overcomes fear.
We may have thought that the greatest threat in the 21st century is Islamic terrorism. It is a threat; but equally so is our own bigotry, hatred, and racism toward others who are a little bit different. Islamophobia is turning into Muslim-phobia, and it may be time to think of Muslims as a persecuted minority in certain contexts.
Besides, if we want them to stand up for Christians against Islamic terrorists, we need to speak up, and stand up, when they are targeted. Didn’t Jesus say, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you?” We must, therefore, take the initiative and respond with courteous acts of kindness, warmth, and generosity to Muslims in our midst.
The killing of Muslims in a house of worship is appalling and must be condemned. But it reminds me that the West, and Christians in particular, need to have a serious and thoughtful conversation about Islam. Eighteen years after 9/11, I’m not sure we’ve even started one.
The crisis between Islam and Christianity is real—or at least, many Muslims and Christians perceive it to be real as social media reactions after the Christchurch massacre showed. The pent-up frustration is reaching a fever pitch. Liberals try to paper over differences between the two communities in a quest for positive consensus, but that approach doesn’t resonate with believers on either side.
The time has come for an honest and direct, albeit respectful, conversation between conservative Muslims and Christians. A conversation that begins from a recognition of difference rather than similarity. Only a no-holds-barred approach to tough questions can begin to help the two sides speak freely, listen intently, and begin to understand each other on their own terms. In the aftermath of Christchurch, Christians should lead the way.
The New Zealand Christian Network “has expressed horror and great sadness about the violent attacks today on Muslim people and mosques in Christchurch.” NZCN spokesperson Stuart Lange called the attack “utterly appalling” and said it “will be deplored by all New Zealand people of all faiths or none.” The network urges people to pray for all the families and communities which will be deeply affected, and to offer them support in every way possible.
Efraim Tendero, secretary general and CEO of the WEA, said: “With this terrorist attacks at Christchurch, we are once again reminded of the intertwined and deadly nature of prejudice and extremism, how it seeks to destroy and sow enmity among peace-loving people and communities. As followers of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, we condemn such violence and state in the clearest terms that there is no justification whatsoever to commit such a heinous crime against people of any faith or no faith.
“We mourn with the families of those who have lost loved ones in this tragic attack and pray for God to give comfort and healing to them as well as the community. As we all seek accountability and justice for all the victims of this tragedy, we are convinced that in crucial times such as this we need to all the more demonstrate the best in humanity by not repaying evil with evil, but by overcoming evil with good (Romans 12:21).
“As a global family of evangelical Christians—a diverse family that includes people of all complexions, ethnicities, languages, cultures, and social standings—we are committed to upholding that according to the Bible, God has created each human being in his image, which gives eternal value to each individual life. It is our hope and prayer that rather than dividing the community with hatred, this tragic event will bring the community together in condemning such hatred and that they would reach out to each other across any social or cultural barriers to extend comfort and support at this time.”
(The attack came on the same day the WEA presented an oral statement at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva that denounces nationalism. Furthermore, as part of its effort to build bridges of respect and understanding between people of different faiths and no faith, the WEA has also been engaged in dialogue with Muslims for many years. A recent example is Tendero’s participation in the Global Conference on Human Fraternity in Abu Dhabi last month.)