Faith in the Headline News

Faith in the Headline News

Last night on Twitter and Facebook I made an ill-advised comment to the effect of, “If Muslims held a Bible burning ceremony, there would be some upset Christians, but we wouldn’t be threatening terrorist attacks over it.” It was ill-advised because it was the end result of a long thought process that nobody else got to be a part of. As I got sucked into a bizarre and undesired debate over Crusades and abortion clinic bombings, I learned quickly not to comment on controversial issues in 140 characters or less. Hence, this blog, where I can be as wordy as I want to be. Heh.

Matters of faith are all over the news lately. Of course, I use the term “matters of faith” quite loosely, as most of these issues don’t truly pertain to faith, per se — they pertain to what people who believe in a certain religious ideology are doing. And probably more important, the effect of 24-hour news in a web 2.0 world legitimizing their “causes”.

A Muslim group wants to build a “community center” with a mosque two blocks away from Ground Zero, where Muslim terrorists slaughtered 3,000 innocent people on September 11, 2001. Nearly 80% of Americans stand opposed to the plan, yet the group behind the plans are standing firm.

A pastor of a tiny fundamentalist church in Florida (quite ironically named the Dove World Outreach Center) is/was planning on burning the Koran tomorrow, in protest of Islam in general and the Ground Zero mosque specifically. Nearly the entire world outside of his church stands opposed to his plan, and yesterday he finally announced his intention to cancel the book-burning “ceremony”. (Cashing in on the media spotlight, two other churches – one in Tennessee and one in Kansas – have now announced that if the Florida church won’t burn the Koran, they’ll hold their own Koran-burning ceremonies tomorrow.)

These incidents are getting front-page treatment from all the media outlets, which is just making the imams and pastors more confident that their causes are important and that they are doing the right thing.

And it also exposes some hypocrisy in folks. People who defend the Ground Zero mosque on the grounds of religious freedom are first in line to denounce the Koran burning, even protected as it is by religious freedom and freedom of speech.

Can I say something that hopefully we can all agree on? Both of these plans are technically legal, and both are protected under our Constitution. But that does not stop both of them from being ridiculously stupid ideas.

If the builders of the Park51 community center (the official name for the mosque at Ground Zero) truly wanted to “build bridges” and “improve Muslim-West relations” – as is their publicly stated goals – it seems pretty obvious to me that they would realize when 80% of the country opposes the idea they ought to just put their mosque somewhere else.

And if the pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center truly wanted to be associated with peace (as the symbol of the dove signifies) and truly wanted to reach out to the world, he’d immediately have canceled his book burning – or never have suggested it in the first place.

The issue isn’t legality, it’s appropriateness. It’s also about what will advance (or harm) your cause.

I find it ironic that in the coverage of the Koran burning pastor, nobody (or at least very few people) have stopped to consider what I see as the most glaring issue: if it weren’t for the Muslim world’s response to this guy, his tiny church of a few dozen people would never have gotten this much attention. Muslims worldwide are threatening terrorist attacks because this guy was going to burn their sacred religious book.

Of course, these are the same Muslims who have a history of slightly overreacting to things… like when a Danish newspaper published cartoons poking fun at their religious leader, Muslims rioted and attacked Danish embassies – and the innocent people therein – across the globe. Over a cartoon. Or now, the lead imam behind the Park51 project told ABCNews two nights ago that they have to build the mosque at Ground Zero now, or Muslims worldwide would be ticked off and attack and kill Americans.

Um, yeah – let’s do whatever extremist Muslims want us to do, because they’re threatening to kill us. That sounds great.

So my comment last night was intended to highlight the fact that while everyone’s ragging on the Florida pastor for wanting to burn Korans (a response which I agree is well-deserved), nobody seems to be ragging on the Islamic world for promising death and destruction in retaliation.

(Of course, the question was more than hypothetical as well – in June of 2007, a group of Muslims attacked a church in Israel with rocket launchers and proceeded to burn all the Bibles and break all the crosses. The Christians’ response? We asked them to “put aside their weapons.” No violence in retaliation. Nor did we respond violently when people submerged the cross in urine or smeared poop on Jesus and called it all “art”.)

But even all of that, interesting and controversial as it may be, misses an even bigger point in all of this, which is what I alluded to at the beginning of this post: matters of faith in the news.

It seems to me that faith is rarely what the media portray it to be. Acts of faith aren’t loud and in-your-face like a Koran burning. Acts of faith are things like taking care of the poor, getting someone a meal when they’re hungry, visiting people in prison, helping someone pay the rent or put gas in their car, sponsoring a child so they have an education and school supplies and clothes and shoes, helping third world countries get clean drinking water, inviting people into your home and feeding them and giving them a place to sleep…

Acts of faith are guided by a principle Paul wrote to the ancient church in Rome: “As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

And because of that, true acts of faith will probably never be seen on the evening news.

Burning a Koran or building a mosque at Ground Zero doesn’t require faith, and neither one is an example of living at peace with others.

So what are we to do? Try and get our small, quiet, peaceful acts of faith broadcast to the world? I don’t think so. The best route seems to me to be this: let us continue to quietly and peacefully live out our faith. While everybody else gets caught up in the big controversies like mosque building and Koran burning, let us continue to do God’s work of redeeming a fallen world, even when (or especially because) the light of the cameras will not shine on us or our acts of faith.

“Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Faith in the Headline News

Faith in the Headline News

Last night on Twitter and Facebook I made an ill-advised comment to the effect of, “If Muslims held a Bible burning ceremony, there would be some upset Christians, but we wouldn’t be threatening terrorist attacks over it.” It was ill-advised because it was the end result of a long thought process that nobody else got to be a part of. As I got sucked into a bizarre and undesired debate over Crusades and abortion clinic bombings, I learned quickly not to comment on controversial issues in 140 characters or less. Hence, this blog, where I can be as wordy as I want to be. Heh.

Matters of faith are all over the news lately. Of course, I use the term “matters of faith” quite loosely, as most of these issues don’t truly pertain to faith, per se — they pertain to what people who believe in a certain religious ideology are doing. And probably more important, the effect of 24-hour news in a web 2.0 world legitimizing their “causes”.

A Muslim group wants to build a “community center” with a mosque two blocks away from Ground Zero, where Muslim terrorists slaughtered 3,000 innocent people on September 11, 2001. Nearly 80% of Americans stand opposed to the plan, yet the group behind the plans are standing firm.

A pastor of a tiny fundamentalist church in Florida (quite ironically named the Dove World Outreach Center) is/was planning on burning the Koran tomorrow, in protest of Islam in general and the Ground Zero mosque specifically. Nearly the entire world outside of his church stands opposed to his plan, and yesterday he finally announced his intention to cancel the book-burning “ceremony”. (Cashing in on the media spotlight, two other churches – one in Tennessee and one in Kansas – have now announced that if the Florida church won’t burn the Koran, they’ll hold their own Koran-burning ceremonies tomorrow.)

These incidents are getting front-page treatment from all the media outlets, which is just making the imams and pastors more confident that their causes are important and that they are doing the right thing.

And it also exposes some hypocrisy in folks. People who defend the Ground Zero mosque on the grounds of religious freedom are first in line to denounce the Koran burning, even protected as it is by religious freedom and freedom of speech.

Can I say something that hopefully we can all agree on? Both of these plans are technically legal, and both are protected under our Constitution. But that does not stop both of them from being ridiculously stupid ideas.

If the builders of the Park51 community center (the official name for the mosque at Ground Zero) truly wanted to “build bridges” and “improve Muslim-West relations” – as is their publicly stated goals – it seems pretty obvious to me that they would realize when 80% of the country opposes the idea they ought to just put their mosque somewhere else.

And if the pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center truly wanted to be associated with peace (as the symbol of the dove signifies) and truly wanted to reach out to the world, he’d immediately have canceled his book burning – or never have suggested it in the first place.

The issue isn’t legality, it’s appropriateness. It’s also about what will advance (or harm) your cause.

I find it ironic that in the coverage of the Koran burning pastor, nobody (or at least very few people) have stopped to consider what I see as the most glaring issue: if it weren’t for the Muslim world’s response to this guy, his tiny church of a few dozen people would never have gotten this much attention. Muslims worldwide are threatening terrorist attacks because this guy was going to burn their sacred religious book.

Of course, these are the same Muslims who have a history of slightly overreacting to things… like when a Danish newspaper published cartoons poking fun at their religious leader, Muslims rioted and attacked Danish embassies – and the innocent people therein – across the globe. Over a cartoon. Or now, the lead imam behind the Park51 project told ABCNews two nights ago that they have to build the mosque at Ground Zero now, or Muslims worldwide would be ticked off and attack and kill Americans.

Um, yeah – let’s do whatever extremist Muslims want us to do, because they’re threatening to kill us. That sounds great.

So my comment last night was intended to highlight the fact that while everyone’s ragging on the Florida pastor for wanting to burn Korans (a response which I agree is well-deserved), nobody seems to be ragging on the Islamic world for promising death and destruction in retaliation.

(Of course, the question was more than hypothetical as well – in June of 2007, a group of Muslims attacked a church in Israel with rocket launchers and proceeded to burn all the Bibles and break all the crosses. The Christians’ response? We asked them to “put aside their weapons.” No violence in retaliation. Nor did we respond violently when people submerged the cross in urine or smeared poop on Jesus and called it all “art”.)

But even all of that, interesting and controversial as it may be, misses an even bigger point in all of this, which is what I alluded to at the beginning of this post: matters of faith in the news.

It seems to me that faith is rarely what the media portray it to be. Acts of faith aren’t loud and in-your-face like a Koran burning. Acts of faith are things like taking care of the poor, getting someone a meal when they’re hungry, visiting people in prison, helping someone pay the rent or put gas in their car, sponsoring a child so they have an education and school supplies and clothes and shoes, helping third world countries get clean drinking water, inviting people into your home and feeding them and giving them a place to sleep…

Acts of faith are guided by a principle Paul wrote to the ancient church in Rome: “As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

And because of that, true acts of faith will probably never be seen on the evening news.

Burning a Koran or building a mosque at Ground Zero doesn’t require faith, and neither one is an example of living at peace with others.

So what are we to do? Try and get our small, quiet, peaceful acts of faith broadcast to the world? I don’t think so. The best route seems to me to be this: let us continue to quietly and peacefully live out our faith. While everybody else gets caught up in the big controversies like mosque building and Koran burning, let us continue to do God’s work of redeeming a fallen world, even when (or especially because) the light of the cameras will not shine on us or our acts of faith.

“Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Beautiful, or “Insane, Sad, Tragic, Horrific, Misguided, Dangerous, and Wrong”?

So Ramadan, the most important holiday in the Islamic faith system is wrapping up about now – but something that occurred during the past month is just now starting to garner some attention and turn some heads.

The gist of Ramadan is that for 40 days, Muslims fast from sunup to sundown and devote more time during those fasting hours to prayer.

It seems that a bunch of Christians took the opportunity during Ramadan this year to reach out and journey together with their Muslim friends. In a show of friendship, these Christians offered to celebrate Ramadan alongside them – to fast and pray from sunup to sundown for the same 40 days, and to share their experiences with one another.

I think that is an absolutely beautiful gesture, and it makes me wish I had Muslim friends to do that with. This idea was started by Brian McLaren when he wrote about it on his blog. He even explained, “We are not doing so in order to become Muslims: we are deeply committed Christians. But as Christians, we want to come close to our Muslim neighbors and to share this important part of life with them.”

Apparently, however, the thought of building bridges with Muslims is a bit too much for some in the evangelical world. Here are some of the saddest reactions I’ve ever seen to someone offering a hand of friendship in the name of the Gospel…

The President of a prominent conservative seminary said, “The logic of Islam is obedience and submission. For a Christian to follow these practices automatically implies a submission to the same rule. And beyond that, it’s an explicit affirmation that this is a good and holy thing. From a New Testament perspective, it is not a good and holy thing.”

Really? By praying and fasting at the same time as our Muslim friends, it automatically means we are following Islam? That has got to be some of the worst logic I’ve ever heard. And what “New Testament perspective” says hanging out with sinners (like Jesus) and being all things to all people (like Paul) is not a good and holy thing?

But it gets worse. The leader of a very prominent evangelical church in America had this to say: Christians observing a Ramadan fast is “insane at best. Sad, tragic, horrific, misguided, dangerous, wrong.”

Wow. Tell us how you really feel.

He goes on to explain that a Christian should never pray with a Muslim – instead we should distance ourselves from them and pray for them to know Jesus. Uh-huh. That sounds like a fantastically effective witnessing plan.

If there’s ever a case-in-point example of the two divergent paths from which the Church has to choose to map their way to the future, this would be it. It makes me really sad to think that there are still Christians in so many prominent positions out there who would rather tell a Muslim “You’re going to Hell” instead of offering to enter into their world and their experiences (hmmmm… kind of like Jesus there again).

I think it’s high time we as a Church (capital “C”) started following Jesus again instead of our worn-out, ineffectual, misguided, dualistic attempts at holiness. At what point do folks like the two quoted above look around and realize they sound more like the Pharisees condemning Jesus instead of the prostitute pouring perfume on his feet?

(And for that matter, when do I make that same mistake?)