Rise up against Christian extremists

Thoughtful Christians can’t win the argument with hate-mongers simply by shouting them down. They must respond with loving actions that say clearly to Muslims that the extremists don’t speak for us.

By David Burroughs

Where is the voice of the moderate church today? Where is the church’s voice when fundamentalists promote hate and cause pain and death all in the name of Jesus? When will the thoughtful church of God rise up?

I know I am not the only one who is frustrated when hate speech is linked to the Christian church. But where and how do we stand up and say, “Enough is enough?”

Chris Stevens, U.S. ambassador to Libya, was a well-respected and thoughtful diplomat. He was part of a new generation of career diplomats who know the language of the country where they work and get out of the embassy and know the streets.

He understood the complex issues in Libya and was working for things to change. But a crowd of Muslims, incensed by an anti-Islam film promoted by a fundamentalist pastor in Florida, stormed the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and caused the death of Mr. Stevens and three other U.S. citizens.

This is not the first time this pastor from Florida, who represents a small, backward, disenfranchised minority, has provoked the Muslim world. His threat to burn a Quran caused riots in Afghanistan that killed a dozen people in 2011.

As thoughtful Christians, don’t we have a responsibility to counter these voices with an outpouring of love, concern and respect for our Muslim brothers and sisters here in the U.S. and around the world?

I understand and defend every American’s right to voice his or her opinion on an issue, even if I find it offensive. That is part of living in a complicated democracy that protects freedoms like speech and religion.

I don’t oppose this pastor’s right to talk, but I do want the church to rise up in love and action in such a strong way that the Muslim world is reminded that his opinion does not represent the Christians in America.

We cannot just shout down these extreme voices with shouting of our own. Blogs, essays and letters to the editor have a place, but they can’t erase the damage done. The only way to marginalize and minimize these voices is by the actions of the people of God.

As Christians, we have a mandate to take the good news all around the world (Matthew 28). That mandate can’t be carried out with a sword. We’ve tried that before.

The good news must be carried like the new generation of thoughtful diplomats. It must be carried with gentle and respectful hands that are willing to work alongside those of a different faith. We must let our acts speak for us -- acts of love, charity, friendship, comfort and support.

So what can we do? Host Muslim-Christian dialogue in an effort to dispel the fear of the unknown. Talk without shouting. Raise the level of dialogue by becoming informed. Post articles and blogs that speak reason and truth. Be kind and culturally aware that we are representatives of both our nation and our religion when traveling abroad or across town. Stand in solidarity and support of the U.S. diplomatic corps as they pick up the pieces from this tragedy.

A few thousand students just spent a summer at Passport camps talking about how Christians living in community should be active representatives of Christ in the secular world. College students challenged teenagers and children to care for those around them, to bring God’s light and love with others as a way of both owning and sharing their faith.

In worship we sang a song by Michael and Lisa Gungor called “People of God.” That song comes to mind today: “People of God rise up, and shine God’s love. Tear down the walls that divide us. Let love rebuild and unite us. You are the light of the world.”

I say we rise up.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.