Refusing Fire From Heaven

refusing fire from heaven

It should go without saying that the shocking violence in Paris and massacre in Nigeria are heart-breaking tragedies. These hateful terroristic deadly acts deserve to be condemned without qualification. All violence should be deplored, but there is something about violence by people who claim to be religiously motivated that is particularly repugnant. All the major religions of the world claim to value peace and promote peace. So when those who supposedly are adherents of a faith kill and maim in the name of their faith, it is doubly appalling. Nevertheless, violence that is in some fashion religiously motivated has gotten the attention of the world and probably won’t go away any time soon.
And, yes, most of the violence that is being done in the name of religion at the present time is being done by those who identify themselves as Muslims. This has not always been so. Christians have a long and horrifying history of violence. But at present there are more people who claim the Islamic faith inspires their deadly actions.
This is happening to the great distress of most Muslims in the world who utterly oppose the destructive actions of the terrorists. Strangely, a lot of people seem to think the vast moderate and peaceful majority of Muslims are silently complicit. I’ve heard people say things like, “Why haven’t moderate Muslims strongly condemned the terrorists?”
The answer is this: “You’re not listening.” Or you’re listening to a news source that is hiding information from you. In fact, every major Muslim organization in the Western world and most of them elsewhere have condemned the Charlie Hebdo attack and every other radical Islamic terrorist attack of the past. The actions of the violent radicals are not representative of Muslims more generally. It is grossly unfair to lump the vast majority of Muslims together with the most destructive element.
This is not to say that there aren’t some serious problems in a number of predominantly Muslim nations. The Institute of Economics and Peace ranks over 160 nations each year from the most peaceful to the most violent. The five most violent nations, according to the 2014 ranking, were all predominantly Muslim nations. By the way, Iceland was number one as the most peaceful. The U.S. did not have a ranking to be proud of at 101. A number of Muslim nations ranked considerably more peaceful than did our country, such as Morocco and Indonesia, the nation with the largest Muslim population in the world.
Unfortunately a lot of people get their information about Islam from anti-Muslim sources. These are universally unreliable. Would you want people getting information about Christianity from those who are anti-Christian? What are the odds that fair and reliable information is going to come from someone who has abandoned the Christian faith or who despises the Christian faith? Slim odds at best. We would urge people wanting to know about Christianity to pay attention to those who are most knowledgeable and faithful.
Yet many people – Christians included – accept the word of those who want nothing more than to put the Islamic faith in the worst possible light. Sometimes they have made utterly false claims about what is taught in the Koran – such as it is permissible for a Muslim to lie to a non-Muslim or that all non-Muslims are worthy of death. This is not to say that there aren’t some problematic things in Muslim scriptures or practice. But there are troubling things in the Bible as well. Read Deuteronomy 20 if you think otherwise. Bottom line is this: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Luke 6:31).  We need to be fair.
So as we grieve over the deaths of innocent people in France and Nigeria and elsewhere that terrorists have attacked, let’s not howl with the wolves. Let’s not blame people who are not blame worthy. Let’s not support negative and harsh judgments toward Muslims generally and the reactions against them because of the evil actions of the very few who don’t genuinely represent the Islamic faith.
Predictably, there has been an anti-Muslim backlash. In France dozen mosques have been subject to attack by firebombs, gunfire, grenades and assaulted in other offensive ways. Muslim-owned businesses have been targeted. Many individual Muslims have faced harassment, intimidation and threats. Peaceful Muslims should not have to endure any consequences for the deadly evil actions of terrorists who abused the Islamic faith for their own ends.
I’ve seen memes on Facebook that disgust me, one saying “Kick Islam out of America.” Another claims, “Not all Muslims are terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims.” Really? Such a claim is clueless. A member of the White Patriot Party, Frazier Glenn Miller, shot and killed three people at a Jewish Community Center in April 2014. Neo-Nazi Wade Michael Page in August 2012 went into a Sikh temple in Wisconsin killing six and wounding three others. And lest we forget, it was in the name of defending Christian civilization that Anders Breivik killed 77 people and injured still others in 2011. Currently in the Central African Republic tens of thousands of Muslims are fleeing Christian militias who are killing, looting and destroying mosques. Violence and terroristic activity is not an exclusively Muslim problem. The last thing we need to do is to add fuel to the fire with our own misdirected animosity and hate. All violence must be opposed by those who claim to follow Jesus.
In Luke 9:51-56 we find Jesus traveling with some of his disciples. They cut through Samaritan territory as they head toward Jerusalem. This is not something Jews like Jesus and his disciples would normally do, because there was great hostility between the two peoples. There was mutual distrust that was based on a long history. The Samaritans were the descendants of Jews who were left behind after Assyria conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel, carrying off most of the population. They intermarried with foreigners and adopted some of their religious practices. Years later the Southern Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Babylonians and the population was taken into captivity.
Eventually these captives were released and allowed to return to their homeland where they began to rebuild Jerusalem. The Samaritans did everything they could to make life difficult for them. Later they did what they could to lead the Romans to be even more oppressive than they already were toward the Jews. And, of course, the Jews returned the favor and attacked the Samaritans in a variety of ways. Bottom line: they hated each other.
So when Jesus didn’t receive a warm reception from a Samaritan village, all the prejudice and hatred welled up in the hearts of his disciples James and John. Memories of all the horrible things Samaritans had ever done fueled their feelings. And apparently they recalled the story of the Prophet Elijah’s contest with some pagan priests when he called down fire from heaven (1 Kings 18:18-39). So our Lord’s hot-headed followers said to him, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” Obviously they were engaging in some self-righteous wishful thinking since they didn’t actually have the power to call down fire from heaven. Regardless, in their judgmental anger they claimed the right to destroy.
And the scripture tells us Jesus rebuked them. Essentially he told them to shut their hateful mouths.
A couple chapters further in Luke’s Gospel we find Jesus telling the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) in answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus made it clear that when he said “Love your neighbor as you love yourself,” your neighbors are not just people like you, people of the same race or place or class or religion. The love we are called to practice recognizes none of the limits so very important in our world. The love for our own does not justify us in unlovely destroying or discriminating against or marginalizing others. As followers of Jesus we are to love expansively.
Martin Luther King, Jr. wisely said, “Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class and our nation; and this means we are to develop a world perspective. No individual can live alone, and as long as we try, the more we are going to have war in this world. Now the judgment of God is upon us, and we must either learn to live together as family or we are going to perish together as fools.”
If we are going to follow Jesus, we must refuse the calls for fire from heaven. The world will not be made more safe by hating and discriminating against or attacking people who have done no harm. Instead we should stand along-side peaceful Muslims and work toward greater understand and harmony.
I am proud to be part of a denomination that unanimously passed a resolution that “condemns anti-Muslim speech and activity and calls upon the church to promote respect, civility and love toward our Muslim neighbors.” This is exactly what we will do when we follow Jesus, who taught us, “Blessed are the peacemakers; they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

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