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Franklin Graham and the Politics of Fear

There is no shortage of fear in this world, and of course no shortage of things to be fearful of.

Given recent comments by a well-known U.S. evangelical Christian leader, Franklin Graham, concerning his views on Islam and Muslims – and how he feels his country should respond to it/them – it seems there is the need to address some basic gospel principles, yet again, in relation to the responsibility followers of Christ have toward their Muslim neighbors.

Islamaphobia was defined in the 1997 United Kingdom Runneymede Trust report as “an outlook or worldview involving an unfounded dread and dislike of Muslims, which results in practices of exclusion and discrimination.”

Regardless of the degree to which you consider groups such as Islamic State, Boko Haram, al-Qaida and the like as representing “true Islam,” these groups are hell-bent on causing fear and terror.

Fear of these people and what they represent, it can be argued, is well founded. And fear is a powerful motivator.

However, when our actions are driven by fear, the consequences are more often than not negative.

Many Muslims and Christians that I know are very quick to distance their beliefs from the belief-inspired actions of others from within their faith tradition.

There are countless actions carried out by “Christians” that I consider completely at odds with my own understanding and practice of faith.

Do they worship the same God as me? Maybe, but their understanding of him seems so radically different to mine that it would not be ridiculous to suggest that we do in fact worship different gods.

When our practices or actions – including words spoken or written – are motivated by fear, we have a problem.

Fear of a particular people group is typically a result of ignorance and tends to lead in a direction of greater fear and hostility.

Franklin Graham published on his Facebook page a post – couched in nationalistic sentiment – that demonstrates paranoia, ignorance and fear to a degree that is almost unbelievable.

If the influence of Graham was not so significant, it would be easy to pass his statement off as the words of a solitary “lone voice,” much like we can with the Florida pastor who sought to burn copies of the Quran.

However, Graham is a powerful voice that has lost sight of some of the central tenets of the faith he professes.

He suggests in his post that the U.S. is under attack from Muslims “at home and abroad” and suggests that no Muslim should be allowed to emigrate to the U.S. – much like the immigration policy ban on Japanese and Germans during World War II – “until this threat with Islam has been settled.”

All this was in response to the callous murder of four Marines by a “radical Muslim” in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

In case you missed them, significant Muslim groups and communities were very fast in their public condemnations of the killings.

These include the American Muslim Advisory Council, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Islamic Society of North America and Muslim communities from Nashville, Tennessee, and New York.

Mickey Maudin, senior vice president at HarperOne wrote in 2011 – amid yet another controversy involving an evangelical leader – of his concern for the church.

“As a young evangelical, I was socialized to see the biggest threat to the church as theological liberalism,” Maudin said. “But now I think the biggest threat is Christian tribalism, where God’s interests are reduced to and measured by those sharing your history, tradition and beliefs, and where one needs an ‘enemy’ in order for you to feel ‘right with God.'”

Maudin’s comments offer insight into Graham’s comments, revealing that it is beyond tragic that he views Muslims as enemies of the U.S.

Being British and having spent but a few days in the U.S., I am no expert. However, I know for a fact that the sentiment of Graham is not shared by U.S. Christians.

I also know that Graham’s words – as would be expected – have caused bitter and often hateful words of response and counter response.

Given this, how are we to oppose hostility and violence, from wherever it may originate, in a way that does not lead us into further hostility and violence toward the perpetrators of that hostility?

As followers of Jesus, this is something we must reflect and act on – not allowing evil to cause us to respond with evil.

The Institute of Middle East Studies in Beirut, where I work as assistant director, is involved in The Feast – an intentional interfaith youth initiative which brings Muslims (Sunni and Shiite) and Christians (Maronite and Evangelical) together in order to explore faith, build friendships and change lives.

The dialogue values of The Feast stem from a place that is not fearful of the other but wanting to grow in understanding in order to create a future in which fear, ignorance, hatred and violence are not the norm.

Around 30 Lebanese young people from different religious and sectarian communities of Lebanon are learning how to relate to each other in ways that our religious leaders need to listen to.

Is it possible that a group of Muslim kids in Beirut have something to teach a well-known evangelical Christian leader about the gospel of Jesus Christ?

There are three values that I think are particularly significant in light of the aforementioned events:

  • We will not judge people here by what some people of their faith do
  • We will be honest in what we say
  • I will speak positively of my own faith, rather than negatively about other people’s faith

God does not need people who claim to worship and follow him to attack the faith of people whose religious tradition is different. Since when did God need a defender?

When we become so caught up in fear of the other, it becomes impossible for us to genuinely follow Christ in loving God, in loving our neighbor and in loving our enemy, the central teachings of the Christ we follow.

Arthur Brown is the assistant director of the Institute of Middle East Studies (IMES) based in Mansourieh, Lebanon. A longer version of this column first appeared on the IMES blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @arthurandlou and IMES @IMESLebanon.