A few weeks ago, we spoke in a church where the sermon touched on the faith of Muslims. I wrote this quickly, to sort out my thoughts, and then put it to one side. I wasn’t intending hitting ‘Send’ – let alone ‘Publish’ on this particular collection of words. 

But in light of current events, I wanted to share it with you. Leaders, pastors, your words carry a lot of power, and you help shape people’s beliefs. Please, please take measures & extra measures to make sure your people will walk away loving their neighbors instead of mocking or fearing them. It is so important, especially in times like these.  

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Dear Pastor,

Thank you so much for the very warm welcome you extended to my husband and I when we first met a few weeks ago. We know the church well, but not you, and the fact that you sat down to chat with us, and we got to such good conversation so fast, meant so much to us. It is very evident that you have a pastoral, caring manner and we so appreciate you extending it to us, too. We are very grateful for your kindnesses to us.

I want to talk to you about Islam – a subject that came up in your sermon – and share some things that made me uncomfortable during the service. I had planned on saying something on the morning, but the words didn’t form articulately enough quickly enough, and wanted to make sure I wasn’t just reacting (or overreacting) to a gut feeling.

I am grateful that you were speaking about other religions in church. Church, I believe, should be a place where we can expand our knowledge of God and worldview, and also learn more about our neighbors, so that we can love them better, as Christ commanded us to do. I appreciate your efforts to do so.

I am grateful, too, that when you spoke about Islam you did include a few of the things we’d spoken about with you before, based on our own experiences living in Muslim-majority countries. I was touched that you thought to include a few bits from our conversation in your discussion.

Because our rural area doesn’t have any Muslims that I know of, I doubt if many people in the congregation have personally interacted with a Muslim person. Therefore, the information they have is likely limited to what they see and read in the news, and, in this case, what they hear in church. The news, as we know, is not always kind or fair.

And, as we had discussed before, terrorists and Muslim extremists are considered by almost all the Muslims I know, to be exceptions and not actually following modern day Islam. Similar to how most Christians view Westboro Baptist Church, Timothy McVeigh, or the Klu Klux Klan – as extremists with a warped view of the religion they claim. I was disappointed and disheartened to hear some of those extreme viewpoints – about violence and virgins, mostly – be presented as mainstream. Many of the beliefs you articulated are beliefs not held by the majority of Muslims today, with the exception of an extreme fringe.

I understand that time is limited in a sermon, and therefore anything that fits in the time frame of a few minutes will, of course, be extremely simplified. But while you spent time discussing the division between the Dar al-Harb and the Dar al-Salaam [the house of war and the house of peace], presented as a permit for violence, you couldn’t find time to mention the division between Sunni and Shi’a – a gateway to seeing Islam as less of a monolithic beast, and more of a complex set of ideas and practices.

I was also saddened by what you shared about the Muslim teachings on heaven. Your natural way of being humorous in your manner of speaking, I am so sorry to say, came across, at points, as mocking. I’m sure you didn’t mean it, and I am quite sure you didn’t even realize it. But I think it is dangerous, especially from a pulpit, to joke about core, identifying beliefs of other people. If a pastor feels it is OK to laugh at the beliefs of others, others in the congregation will certainly feel they can too.

Mostly, though, I was saddened by the missed opportunity. Because our area is so isolated from Islam, most people here unable to have little if any meaningful discussion with actual Muslims. This means there is little opportunity for people to find common ground with Muslims – even a minimum respect for deeply-held beliefs. Because of that isolation, when opportunities arise, we can help people respect, understand, and love their Muslim neighbors rather than fear or mock them.

If I did not know many Muslims personally, based on the bits you chose to share about Islam in your sermon, I would have left church that Sunday a more fearful of Muslims. It would have confirmed extremist views about Muslims, and made me want to protect myself from them, grateful that there are none where we are.

I also would have left thinking them a bit foolish. Which is not helpful. We can believe that our beliefs are right, without thinking other people foolish. This does not help us grow in love. And I find this incredibly sad, and, again, I sincerely believe this was not your intention.

As a person of authority you have great power to help shape other people’s beliefs. In tumultuous, divisive times such as these, I feel we must use every opportunity we can to try and grow in love for the other, as Christ commanded us. That doesn’t mean we don’t have differences, even profound ones. But still, we are to love.

America is more divided, more partisan, and more fearful than at any point I can remember in my lifetime – but we know that perfect love casts out our fear. Above all, this is what Sunday morning could have been – an opportunity for perfect love to cast out fear, of our neighbors, of people’s enemies, with respect and wisdom. Right now, we need every reminder of that we can get. We are all desperate for ideas and examples of concrete ways to love, honor, and care for others, especially those who are different than us.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7

Most Sincerely,

Beth

Untitled. Pen & Ink, 2017.

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