On this All Saints' Day, a day in which Christians remember those saints, both those recognized by the Church as well as those living quiet lives for Christ's Kingdom, I received a thought-provoking (and prayer-provoking) e-mail from K, a friend of mine serving as a missionary in Asia. She's also a superb writer and this morning she sent out a thought-provoking article on her observations of Muslim-Christian relations. With her kind written permission, I am reprinting her article in its entirety:
As part of my research for the week, I was reading up on the history of missions to Muslims since the founding of Islam.
Mostly, what I read made me profoundly sad. Sad, and frustrated. Because it seems like Christians and Muslims have been talking past each other for several hundred years, and fighting the same battles over and over again, without ever really understanding each other.
What makes it worse is that among Christians, Muslims often have the reputation for “hardheartedness” or “stubbornness” when they don’t immediately accept the gospel offered by foreigners. Reaching Muslims is seen as hopeless, impossible. But often, the problem is not that Muslims are refusing to accept what God has done, but simply not understanding what is being offered to them, because of religious vocabulary differences, cultural differences, or just plain old language differences.
Likewise, among Muslims, Christians have the reputation of being colonialist, overbearing, and stubborn in their insistence on trying to bring a foreign way of life (complete with dirty foreign meats and several foreign gods) into a very, very different culture.
The most heartbreaking passage of this particular paper pointed out that many Christians simply want the demise of Islam – if Muslims don’t become Christian, at least they can become secular. So Muslims who encounter foreigners often feel that the very foundations of their society are under attack – better that they learn to watch “Sex and the City” and wear revealing clothes than continue to worship the Creator God in the traditional way. As attractive as freedom in Christ is, it comes bundled with western promiscuity, western traditions, and a western worldview. And yet, we continue to call them the “stubborn” ones for refusing to change.
Seriously, I wanted to cry when I read that. Call me crazy, but I think God has a deep, abiding love for Muslims. I think their culture (like every culture) still carries strong reflections of God’s image. And I think that followers of Jesus must learn to change from within – first, from within themselves, and then from within their culture. I cannot preach a secular gospel; I cannot say that religious and cultural heritage don’t matter. Nor can I deny the power of Jesus to help people re-invent culture in new, God honoring ways. Because of the cross, everything is redeemable.
We need to stop looking for outward change, without caring about the heart reasons for the change. A woman who takes off her headscarf might be experiencing freedom in Christ, or she might be lusting after western culture. A man who stops praying five times a day could be liberated, or he could be lazy.
And we need to care enough about the people we’re supposedly trying to reach to try to understand their culture from the inside, and not just dismiss it as completely worthless or ungodly. After all, didn’t we all start from a place of unknowing, a place of groping after some form of truth in one way or another? No matter where we come from, God is able to redeem and transform us into a new creation; how can we say that anyone is truly beyond hope?
Thanks for listening to the sadness of my heart on this issue. Would you take a minute to stop and pray for the interaction between the Christian and Muslim worlds – to pray that there would be a brighter future springing from the knowledge of Jesus?
Thought-provoking? What do you think? Especially on All Saints' Day?
Thinking (and praying) tonight,