Saturday, September 11, 2010

Qu'ran Burning and All That

What to make of the proposed Qu'ran burning?

First, we the issue is complex. The whole western world is now embroiled in a clash of world views. The clash of world views is complex in that it involves many variables. It is not merely a Christian - Islam clash. It is a clash within Islam between moderates and extremists. It includes secular humanist socially liberal westerners who advocate tolerance and freedom of religion vs other westerners including some Christians who advocate action to suppress what are seen as threatening forms of religion. It includes different understandings of the use of force and involvement in the state with some wanting preventative action against the perceived threat of Islam. It involves questions of identity and value in the west including the freedom of religion, cultural identity, the status of women and so on. It relates to whether a person who comes to live in the west should assimilate and adapt to the western way or is free to retain their religion in all its dimensions even where it clashes with the dominant culture. Similarly, should the western nations demand such an assimilation, and if so, to what? It is an identity issue. As a result, there is no simple response. These complexities and more mean we face unbelievably challenging times. We need to think very well about these issues at the level of a theology of culture, of state, of freedom, of religious tolerance, or war and so on. We need to understand Islam and the problem. We need to think deeply about a theology that will give us a basis to act in the current rising crisis.

Secondly, we have to get used to these things. We are in a crisis. Events such as Sept 11, the July 7 bombings in London, are symptoms of a much deeper problem. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may be followed by more in Iran and Yemen. In Europe Islamic populations are now well established in many cities and places and due to birth rates and immigration, is growing quickly. This is leading to a clash of civilisations day by day in the cities of Europe. Responses such as burning of the Qu'ran, the banning of the Burqa in France and other nations, objections to mosques, the rise of the extreme right across Europe, are inevitable. As I travelled Europe recently I felt this in the air in media and from relatives and people we met. Things are going to get messier and messier. A polarisation is occurring. There is deepening fear of Islam, Islamophobia, emerging. There is confusion concerning Islam on the streets, some seeing it as a friendly if rather insular religion with some radical factions; others seeing the whole thing as a threat because of its writings and the violence of recent years believing that mosques are in effect terrorist units. There is the fear that Islam seeks to take the world and will use force to do it. As such, we need to prepare for this. The threat of communism has waned, this is the clash that will define the next years of planet earth.

Thirdly, the stakes are high. At the heart of all this is Palestine, oil and nuclear weapons. There is great distaste in the Arab and Muslim world at the nation of Israel. There is a desire to conquer it and drive the Jews out and establish a Palestinian state. On the western side, oil is needed to retain its affluent lifestyle. Because of this, neither side can or will back down. I ponder (only ponder) whether this sets  the scene for the ultimate conflict that will precede the return of Christ which may (depending how we understand the end times), culminate in war around Jerusalem (cf. Zech 12-14). The great fear on the part of the US and other nations is that Islamic nations gain nuclear weapons. Iran is a huge threat here and the Iraq war was motivated by the false belief that they were gathering WMD's. Afghanistan is critical as Pakistan does have the nuclear weapon and the throught of the Taleban gaining power in Afghanistan could lead to them gaining power in Pakistan and getting access to the weapons. The greatest threat is an Arab nation or Muslim extremist group gaining a nuclear weapon and attacking a western nation or Israel. This would set the world on a much more extreme and dangerous track! Can western nations continue to stop them gaining such weapons? So, the stakes are high. As such, the world will not back down and this thing is here to stay.

With all this in mind, what is our response as believers? Well, we all have to find our way in this situation. We have to do some great thinking. We need to think about war and when and if it is just, we need to consider the role of the State and Christian involvement in it, we need to think about Islam and what Jesus would urge us to do were he here now (how would he relate to it), we need to consider Christian responses to the Roman Empire in the time of Paul and others and extrapolate to ours, we need to think at a personal, regional and national level.

For me, above all, I believe that we must live by faith, hope and love. Faith and hope lead us to not live out of fear but out of confidence in God who is involved in world events, shaping them, holding back evil, working for good. As Rom 8:28 says, all things will work for good for his people. So, we live by faith and not fear. Faith means we articulate our desires to God in prayer, knowing he hears. We need to be people of prayer for the world and this issue and we will see God work in it and through it. We know too that at the return of Christ events will get messier and messier. This should not faze us, we live by faith and not by sight. Hope means that all will work out in the end. We retain a positive relationship with 'our enemies'. We know things will work out.

Lastly, love. Agape should shape us. We are to love our enemies. We are to carry the pack of invading enemies. We are to demonstrate love to each other, to victims, to all people. I don't think it is loving to burn Qu'rans, even if we find its message false and even a threat to us. The pastor has it wrong for sure (did you see the gun on his desk?)! On other issues the outworking of love is more complex. The building of the mosque near ground zero leads to a discussion of whether love for the victims and the people of the USA would see it stopped and/or moved; or whether love for the 'enemies' and for moderate Islam would allow it to be built. I tend to the latter if the motives of the people involved is the fostering of peace. The burqa is also complex. Love for women in general could lead us to ban it as it is oppressive. Love to the Muslim might lead us to respect their culture and allow them to express it. I am still thinking this one through. Love should also lead us to get to understand Islam. It is not monolithic and not all Muslims are terrorists. We should seek to understand them, show them respect and hospitality, incarnate among them as did Jesus, reach out to them, to show them the love of Jesus. As this thing works out with more terrorist events, internal conflict in nations, perhaps even further international conflict, and dare I say it, all out war, we must live by the ethic of Jesus and love our enemies.

15 comments:

George said...

Mark the 'end times' will come, if not sooner then later and before then chaos will reign on many levels - not something to look forward to except that it will be finite, and there will be an end to it all.

What then do Christians pray for, that these current issues will go away or knowing that this must happen that the duration will be short. What can any Christian pray except 'Lord have mercy' and then get up off their knees and love their neighbor as best they can?

It is hard not to take a fatalistic view, but I guess there is a subtle difference between 'acceptance' (that these things must happen) and 'fatalistic' (which sounds so negative)

Hmmmm food for thought, will come back *smile*

Dr Mark K said...

I think we need to pray for all that we wish to see on earth such as peace, love, freedom, the end of oppression, injustice etc.

I don't think knowing that things are coming should stop us.

My role model here is a good one, Jesus. He was in the garden, knew his 'fate', knew he had to die to save the world, knew he would. Yet it did not stop him praying. In fact he prayer with tears and deep fervency knowing that it would not change the mind of his father. He then said what we should all say, 'yet not my will, but yours be done.'

Similarly, Paul with his thorn in his flesh. Further, in the OT David when he had sinned with the census knew God was going to punish him yet he fasted and prayed like crazy that he wouldn't.

While we can theologise around God's omniscience, predestination and prophetic prediction that some things are certain and think fatalistically, the Scriptures do not show believers acting in this way and simply accepting these things.

Rather, struggle, suffering, injustice etc led them to fervent prayer.

That is because they did not theologise in neat modernistic categories which ruled others out. They lived in tension. The knew that their all was set in one sense yet at the same time their faith was a relationship and God was movable.

Take Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham was able to get God to hold back and it ended up saving Lot and his family.

I say we get on our knees and name what we want from God. We pray it from the heart. I would not stop at 'Lord have mercy' I would go further. I would pray that Islam and the west find resolution and peace. I would pray that this pastor would not burn Quran's and if he does, that the Muslims would forgive him. I would pray nuclear weapons are turned into ploughshares. I would pray specifically for what I long for in every area of life. Yet I would then rise and say, 'yet not my will...' Then I would trust that whatever happens, 'all things work for good...'

One more thought, the second coming to me is a culmination and not an end in the absolute sense. It is the beginning of life on earth under the reign of God with all that we hoped for at last. It is a transition from a fallen world to a healed universe (multiverse?) Who knows? Maranatha.

George said...

I don't disagree, but I would say that one should not assume that the prayer 'Lord have mercy' is a quick 3 word throwaway that lacks depth or in fact does not include all the things you articulate. I envisage the prayer as one that falls in sync with Romans 8:26, yes we can articulate the words that you use but ultimately we are brought to the place where words have little use . . . I don't know I just have this picture in my head of Jesus in communion with the Father where words became almost unnecessary.

Good post Mark, good reply, much more to think about - thanks!

Dr Mark K said...

Hi. I agree with Jesus in communion with the Father to the point that words were unnecessary. I have read recently that the idea of silent prayer however is something that was not part of the mindset of the ancients. Rather, prayer was articulate, and more often than not corporate. They prayed 3x per day and they had set prayer forms in the synagogue a la Anglican liturgy e.g. the benedictions. I think it is both and. Words, heart, being with God, walking with God (Enoch), etc etc. And yes, 'God have mercy' is pretty basic. I think like the Lord's prayer it is a great place to begin and if one has nothing else to say will suffice. 'More than words' amen.

George said...

Its an interesting topic and sorry if its off the subject of the post, but then again maybe not in the sense that all the questions you raise about the 'Christian' response should find action beginning with prayer and ending with Jesus?

A changing perspective on my part would be that I felt verbalized words used to lead to silence as they became superfluous and well they might, but having said that silence may well lead us back to words as God clarifies (refines) our thought processes. I think the benefit of the spoken word is that it employs another one of our senses it brings the mystery of prayer into the world that we inhabit and can relate to. From there the Christian steps out ...

Dr Mark K said...

One of the functions of the 'verbal' is to move prayer beyond the individual to the corporate. I think we are meant to pray together a lot more. I note that the Lord's Prayer begins 'OUR Father...'Two or three can only agree where it is verbalised. I think we need to rediscover this alongside other dimensions including silence. I like silence because when I shut up I listen and I hear.

George said...

I like silence when hopefully it means I haven't said anything stupid

Howard Carter said...

I agree with You amrk there has to eb a Christ like response to islam and such events like 9/11 I wrote the following email to Pastor (dr) Terry Jones at www.doveworld.org under the title a better response not a bitter response.

Dear pastor Jones and the Dove World Outreach Centre Church,



I am writing to ask you to reconsider how you have advertised you will commemorate 9/11 this year.



When I saw the images of 9/11 (9/12 her in New Zealand) I had two thoughts. One was a feeling of sorrow and grief at the devastation that was caused (there were Kiwi's killed on that day as well) and the other was a deep concern that Christians would respond in a Christ like manner. Sadly that does not seem to have happened.



in light of Jesus commandment to love our enemies and Paul’s summation of the teaching of Jesus in Romans 12 to overcome evil with good can I implore you to reconsider your actions for commemorating 9/11.



I wonder if a better way maybe to some love and concern and care for a Muslim country suffering a more horrific and devastating disaster than this terrorist attack. the flooding in Pakistan has killed more people than 9/11 and has affected according to the UN close to 21 million people.



Isn't it a better way to show love in this situation and who knows maybe Jesus words that doing so will heap coals on the head of your enemies maybe true. I know it will speak to the heart of more Muslim people than burning a Qur’an.



Even the symbol of your church the dove speaks of peace and in the Genesis flood narrative is a symbol of hope in light of tragic judgement.



I also see that you are situated in Florida and in your living and collective memories you must know the impact of such natural disasters and the way in which aid and help from outside can bring hope and even change your thinking.



I'm not asking you not to act or to simply be silent and not make a statement but rather you can make a bigger splash through an act of kindness, not just a symbolic one with an inflammatory act.



In a blog on your website you say that you are not responsible for how people will react to your Koran burning. That any violence it causes is not your responsibility, that it is an act of your freedom of speech. But the Christian message is with freedom comes responsibility and wouldn't it be great if your act of kindness kindled an outpouring of such kindness, that would be something worth being responsible for.



Please reconsider



Howard Carter


In the end in media coverage the person who came across as most Christ like was actually Angelia Jolie in Pakistan highlighting the need for continued aid.

Howard Carter said...

HI Mark

Like you I wrestled with Pastor terry Jones' move to burn the Qu'ran. I felt that it did not relfect a christlike response to 9/11. Here is my response that I sent an email to him and his church on www.doveowrld.org

Dear pastor Jones and the Dove World Outreach Centre Church,



I am writing to ask you to reconsider how you have advertised you will commemorate 9/11 this year.



When I saw the images of 9/11 (9/12 her in New Zealand) I had two thoughts. One was a feeling of sorrow and grief at the devastation that was caused (there were Kiwi's killed on that day as well) and the other was a deep concern that Christians would respond in a Christ like manner. Sadly that does not seem to have happened.



in light of Jesus commandment to love our enemies and Paul’s summation of the teaching of Jesus in Romans 12 to overcome evil with good can I implore you to reconsider your actions for commemorating 9/11.



I wonder if a better way maybe to some love and concern and care for a Muslim country suffering a more horrific and devastating disaster than this terrorist attack. the flooding in Pakistan has killed more people than 9/11 and has affected according to the UN close to 21 million people.



Isn't it a better way to show love in this situation and who knows maybe Jesus words that doing so will heap coals on the head of your enemies maybe true. I know it will speak to the heart of more Muslim people than burning a Qur’an.



Even the symbol of your church the dove speaks of peace and in the Genesis flood narrative is a symbol of hope in light of tragic judgement.



I also see that you are situated in Florida and in your living and collective memories you must know the impact of such natural disasters and the way in which aid and help from outside can bring hope and even change your thinking.



I'm not asking you not to act or to simply be silent and not make a statement but rather you can make a bigger splash through an act of kindness, not just a symbolic one with an inflammatory act.



In a blog on your website you say that you are not responsible for how people will react to your Koran burning. That any violence it causes is not your responsibility, that it is an act of your freedom of speech. But the Christian message is with freedom comes responsibility and wouldn't it be great if your act of kindness kindled an outpouring of such kindness, that would be something worth being responsible for.



Please reconsider



Howard Carter

Howard Carter said...

There has to be a more Christ like way of responding to 9/11 than burning the Qu'ran. I sent the following response to Dr Terry Jones and his church in an email to them on www.doveworld.org.

Dear pastor Jones and the Dove World Outreach Centre Church,



I am writing to ask you to reconsider how you have advertised you will commemorate 9/11 this year.



When I saw the images of 9/11 (9/12 her in New Zealand) I had two thoughts. One was a feeling of sorrow and grief at the devastation that was caused (there were Kiwi's killed on that day as well) and the other was a deep concern that Christians would respond in a Christ like manner. Sadly that does not seem to have happened.



in light of Jesus commandment to love our enemies and Paul’s summation of the teaching of Jesus in Romans 12 to overcome evil with good can I implore you to reconsider your actions for commemorating 9/11.



I wonder if a better way maybe to some love and concern and care for a Muslim country suffering a more horrific and devastating disaster than this terrorist attack. the flooding in Pakistan has killed more people than 9/11 and has affected according to the UN close to 21 million people.



Isn't it a better way to show love in this situation and who knows maybe Jesus words that doing so will heap coals on the head of your enemies maybe true. I know it will speak to the heart of more Muslim people than burning a Qur’an.



Even the symbol of your church the dove speaks of peace and in the Genesis flood narrative is a symbol of hope in light of tragic judgement.



I also see that you are situated in Florida and in your living and collective memories you must know the impact of such natural disasters and the way in which aid and help from outside can bring hope and even change your thinking.



I'm not asking you not to act or to simply be silent and not make a statement but rather you can make a bigger splash through an act of kindness, not just a symbolic one with an inflammatory act.



In a blog on your website you say that you are not responsible for how people will react to your Koran burning. That any violence it causes is not your responsibility, that it is an act of your freedom of speech. But the Christian message is with freedom comes responsibility and wouldn't it be great if your act of kindness kindled an outpouring of such kindness, that would be something worth being responsible for.



Please reconsider



Howard Carter

Howard Carter said...

A well thought out response as per usual Mark. I felt the need to respond as well so wrote the following email to Dr terry jones and his church (at www.doveworld.org) under the title 'a better response not a bitter response' ( I got no acknoweldgement from them)

Dear pastor Jones and the Dove World Outreach Centre Church,


I am writing to ask you to reconsider how you have advertised you will commemorate 9/11 this year.


When I saw the images of 9/11 (9/12 her in New Zealand) I had two thoughts. One was a feeling of sorrow and grief at the devastation that was caused (there were Kiwi's killed on that day as well) and the other was a deep concern that Christians would respond in a Christ like manner. Sadly that does not seem to have happened.

in light of Jesus commandment to love our enemies and Paul’s summation of the teaching of Jesus in Romans 12 to overcome evil with good can I implore you to reconsider your actions for commemorating 9/11.

I wonder if a better way maybe to some love and concern and care for a Muslim country suffering a more horrific and devastating disaster than this terrorist attack. the flooding in Pakistan has killed more people than 9/11 and has affected according to the UN close to 21 million people.

Isn't it a better way to show love in this situation and who knows maybe Jesus words that doing so will heap coals on the head of your enemies maybe true. I know it will speak to the heart of more Muslim people than burning a Qur’an.

Even the symbol of your church the dove speaks of peace and in the Genesis flood narrative is a symbol of hope in light of tragic judgement.

I also see that you are situated in Florida and in your living and collective memories you must know the impact of such natural disasters and the way in which aid and help from outside can bring hope and even change your thinking.

I'm not asking you not to act or to simply be silent and not make a statement but rather you can make a bigger splash through an act of kindness, not just a symbolic one with an inflammatory act.

In a blog on your website you say that you are not responsible for how people will react to your Koran burning. That any violence it causes is not your responsibility, that it is an act of your freedom of speech. But the Christian message is with freedom comes responsibility and wouldn't it be great if your act of kindness kindled an outpouring of such kindness, that would be something worth being responsible for.

Please reconsider

Howard Carter

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