Saturday, September 16, 2006

Real Muslims--Real Christians: The Seeds of Genocide and Hope

“They want all of us to convert to Islam.” These were the first words, two Sundays ago, out of ninety year old Bob, a parishioner in the church where I serve. “Well,” he continued, looking at the floor quietly, thoughtfully, and even a bit unselfconsciously, as if he were talking not to me but to himself out loud, “I won’t do it, no matter what! That’s all there is to it!”

At coffee hour, another parishioner, Alice, of the same generation as Bob said, “Who would have ever thought that we would face what we only knew about in history, being asked if we believe in Christ and being forced to convert to Islam or be persecuted if we don’t.”

I felt like I was living in another century too when I watched the same young bearded man they watched, wearing a turban, speaking on an al-Qaeda videotape calling for all Americans to convert to Islam. Bin Laden recently called non-Muslim lands apostate and subscribes to bringing the rule of Allah to the Earth. Amadinijad has said the same. Like Alice, my mind went back in history to Christianity’s adolescence, when during the Crusades, the cross was turned into a sword, and Jews and Muslims were given the choice to convert or die. I felt a chill go down my spine. Is this really happening? Will it happen in my lifetime? Images of a church burning in Gaza this week and massacres of worshipping Christians in Afghanistan some time ago came to my mind. It was happening elsewhere. It could happen here.

This week Pope Benedict said something very negative about Islam during his visit to Germany. He quoted from a 1391 text of a dialogue between the Christian Byzantine Emperor Manuel Paleologos and a Persian on Christianity and Islam. “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” The Muslim world was offended and outraged. Real Islam, they said, is a religion of love and peace. This is a false Islam.

It had happened in the past with Islam. Omar and his successors brought Islam to many parts of the world through bloody conquests. Churches were desecrated and turned into Mosques. The blood of the “infidels” both Jewish and Christian ran like rivers.

Today we see Muslim homicide/suicide bombers throughout the world, huge disasters with 9/11, Madrid, London, and elsewhere. Kidnappings, beheadings, and millions of Muslims calling for the death of infidels. I would hate to be a loving and peaceful Muslim too, who cringes at the debacle, fears death threats by extremists calling themselves Muslims, and floundering in how to move forward with integrity and faith. But which Muslim today would criticize Omar or say that he was not a true Muslim?

I teach the Holocaust. When my audiences are Christian, many are deeply offended when I say that the Holocaust, which took place in Christian Europe, would not have been possible without the help of Christians and Christian theology, particularly Lutheran and Catholic. John Roth says it like this. “…while Christianity was not a sufficient condition for the Holocaust, nevertheless, it was a necessary condition for that disaster.” It’s a hard bullet to swallow for sure. It is for me too. A common reaction is to defend Christianity with the rationalization that a Christian, by definition, cannot murder. Therefore, they say, they weren’t real Christians. But they were, just like those who espoused to be Christian during the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Pogroms were real Christian. And their actions were backed by Christian theology. The Crusades are part of Christianity’s history. The Holocaust is part of Christian history too, not just Jewish history. Saying they aren’t real Christians doesn’t make it so.

Robert P. Ericksen points out in his book "Theologians Under Hitler," that Paul Althaus, Gerhard Kittel, and Emanuel Hirsch were three very influential Protestant theologians in Germany who welcomed Hitler and his antisemitic policies. We must claim them as Christian. They were real Christians. Oh, we cling to the Bonhoeffer’s too, knowing only too well that history has yet decided our attempts at faithfulness in the challenges we have been called to and are blessed to live in now.

Both Christian and Muslim estremists teach us something important. They have found the seeds of genocide in each of our faiths, and they have acted on them. One thing is for sure, neither of us can remain scriptural literalists any longer. These deadly passages, the theology that flows from them, cannot be ignored. The long theological and scriptural investigation, which already began in Christianity after the Holocaust, hopefully will begin for Islam now. That is our only hope!

Yes, extremists are ours. Both Christians and Muslims, both past and present, whom we would love to disown, but cannot. They are ours then and they are ours now. Only by this claiming can we repent. Only by this claiming can we change. Only by this claiming can we become whole.


Until next time. Thank you so much for reading.

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