What’s the responsibility of Christians in the aftermath of the violence at the Islamic Center of Fort Collins?
From the Fort Collins Coloradoan:
The damage at the Islamic Center was first discovered when people arrived for the first prayer of the day [Sunday, March 26th] about 5:30 a.m.
Several large rocks were thrown through glass doors and into the prayer room, and a Bible was thrown through the broken glass. Outdoor furniture was overturned and the legs of a chair were jammed into the handles of one of the center’s outer doors.
On Monday, police arrested Joseph Scott Giaquinto. He’s accused of breaking windows, overturning furniture and throwing a Bible into the prayer room.
“When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:1-3).
Because this is a discussion of our relationship with people of differing faiths in a pluralistic culture, it is right to begin with an affirmation of authority. Jesus has authority over all. We believe that and we live with neighbors who do not. That will never change.
When we consider how Christ’s authority applies to this specific situation, we have at least two options. We can ask questions about what our neighbors (the perpetrator, the press, our city leaders, etc.) should do or ask what we Christians should do.
This post will look through the latter lens. What does Jesus require of Christians in the face of violence toward our Muslim neighbors? How should we live in accordance to his authority? A brief review of the Bible will be our guide.
Old Testament Ethics
Even while residing in the Promised Land, Israel lived with neighbors who did not share their faith or traditions and, therefore, the Old Testament provides the ethical framework for the treatment of the sojourner and alien.
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)
“For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.” (Jeremiah 7:5-7)
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” (Zechariah 7:9-10)
“Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 3:5)
Israel was a mistreated stranger in Egypt. They cried out for deliverance and God faithfully responded. It would indicate a forgetfulness of God’s mercy and a troubling lack of gratitude if Israel were to turn and perpetrate the same injustice. Therefore, God stands firmly against mistreatment of the alien and sojourner.
Now, these commands have a specific context, but there is an embedded principle we must recognize: God equates our lack of mercy toward the vulnerable as a lack of gratitude for his mercy toward us.
The Example of Jesus
“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:21-23).
First century Palestine was pluralistic. It was ruled by Roman authorities and inhabited by irreligious and strictly religious people. Jesus encountered prostitutes, demoniacs, swineherds, tax collectors, Romans, Greeks and Pharisees. In every case, Jesus’s posture was to seek and to save that which was lost. He moved toward the Samaritan woman at the well and he interceded for his executioners. To move toward and care for the immediate and eternal needs of all our neighbors is to follow in Christ’s footsteps.
The Teaching of Jesus
“And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority” (Mark 1:22).
Sprinkled throughout the authoritative teachings of Jesus we find clear instruction regarding our posture toward neighbors who do not share our beliefs. “As [we] wish that others would do to [us], [we are to] do so to them” (Luke 6:31). Jesus indicates that the ethical framework of the Old Testament is contained in two commands: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39). In fact, Jesus goes this far in his prescription for love: “I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45).
Perhaps the most poignant of Jesus’s calls to love our neighbors is found in the parable of the Good Samaritan.
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37)
The lawyer’s intent in this exchange is conspicuous. He is trying to find the limits of his responsibility in “loving his neighbor.” He is “seeking to justify himself”—to find the point at which he has loved his neighbor enough. Jesus replied with a story that moved his audience to consider more than self-justification. He challenged them to, at all times, have the disposition of a neighbor. All three men in the parable were innocent of the crime but only one took responsibility for the victim. He was the one who proved to be a real neighbor.
It is important to recognize that Jesus intentionally chose a Samaritan as the hero. In the pluralism of first-century Palestine, the Samaritans would have occupied a position very similar to Muslims in present-day America. Jesus purposely agitated his audience so they might see the peril of their religion. “Theologically correct” citizens innocent of violence toward others can still miss the heart of God if they are unwilling to take responsibility to care for neighbors who are hurting in the margins.
The violence at the Islamic Center may not be our fault, but, as those who claim Jesus as Lord, the safety of our Muslim neighbors is our responsibility. Therefore, we are in full accord with our faith when we extend ourselves to our Muslim friends, share in their grief and commit to their safety. Let us do so with compassion and confidence—knowing what it is like to need mercy and receive mercy.
“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).
“Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation”
(1 Peter 2:12).