A Few Bad Apples

A few bad apples ruin the bunch.

Isn’t that the truth?  You find a few and it’s easy to assume the whole bunch is like that.  We tend to define people by the lowest common denominator.  Instead of looking to the best and the brightest as examples of a group of people, we tend to take the worst of them and then lump them all together.  Think of the stereotypes that define you.  Male, female.  Young, old.  White, Asian, Hispanic, African.  Gay, straight.  There are tons of them out there.  I don’t know about you, but I cringe every time I see a bad Asian driver.  There’s a stereotype out there that we’re all horrible on the road, so who needs another guy to mess that up?  The truth is Asians are among the country’s best drivers!  According to a study by the American Council on Science and Health, Asians had the lowest number of fatal car crashes by far compared to other ethnicities.  White people had a rate of about 12 car deaths per 100,000 while Blacks had a rate of about 13 and Native Americans had the worst rate at 17.  Asians on the other hand only had 5 deaths per 100,000.[1]  How do you like them apples?  But the stereotypes get perpetuated by what we choose to notice rather than what is real.  You know who else are really good drivers?  Women.  The fatality rate of men and women in car accidents favors women over two to one.[2]

Death rate per 100,000 by race according to the American Council on Science and Health (2016)

After 9/11 there was hatred in the air toward anyone who even LOOKED Arabic. 

Even though the attacks were brought about by a small, militant, terrorist group of jihadists from across the globe, suddenly anyone of Middle Eastern heritage was suspect.  I can’t even say Muslim, because the prejudice went beyond that.  If you wore a hijab and looked Arabic, people would suddenly become nervous around you.  You were the target of law enforcement all over the country.  People of Arab decent were pulled aside in airport security lines routinely and inspected.  There were even suggestions of “rounding up all of the Arabs” and locking them behind barbed wire fences “for their own safety.”  Nightmare flashbacks to the internment of the Japanese population sprang immediately to mind.  It’s sad to think that in all of these intervening years, in all of the speeches, movies, shows, and educational programs we’ve had about the internment, there are still people who haven’t learned that a person’s gender, faith, or ethnicity does not define who they are. Even today violence and discrimination against people of the Islamic faith continues.  In 2010, the FBI reported the highest number of hate crimes against Muslim people since 9/11.[3]  So that distrust and rage hasn’t gone away over time.  But we allow ourselves to be convinced that every Muslim person is suddenly suspect, even though the Islamic faith has been in existence for centuries, even though there were mosques before 9/11.  It’s as if we suddenly took notice and in an awful way.  We allowed our perception of Muslims be tainted by a few bad apples.

Japanese internment camps – image courtesy of Los Angeles Times

I can understand that fear. 

I can understand why we revert to a protectionist mode when we feel endangered or when our loved ones are in danger.  And it’s easy to let that fear grow into blind hatred, but if it means anything to be Christian, we can’t allow ourselves to do that.  We have to step up and embrace with love even those who might be our enemies – real or imagined.  Because we are called upon by God to do more.  This passage is from Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth.  He may have written many more, but this is the second of the letters we have collected in the Bible and in this particular passage, he’s writing to the church about how our focus on Earth has changed since Jesus came and redefined the meaning of life.  That this physical form we have is nothing but a shell and that our real home is in Heaven.  That there is a part of us, now that we partially understand, now that we have seen a glimpse through Jesus of the life to come, that yearns for that life.  But we also believe that there will be a day of judgment where as Paul puts it, God will judge us for what we did in these mortal shells.  And so part of our role as believers in Christ is to convince others of THEIR heavenly role, to help them to see this shell is nothing more than a temporary home and something greater awaits them.  Because when judgment comes, we want as many as possible to stand on the side of Christ.  We want to be able to hear God say those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  This is how Paul describes that role in his letter to the church. 

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

No matter where we go or what we do, we are always ambassadors for Christ.

We are Christ’s ambassadors.

And Paul tells us that we aren’t just trying to convince people for our own sake.  We’re trying to bring them to Christ “as though God were making his appeal through us.”  Paul tries to convince us that just as we see the world differently because of Christ in our lives, we also have to act differently and have a different view of the world.  Not because God is forcing us to, but because if we really accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we can’t help but be transformed by his life-giving message.  We can’t help but be motivated to bring others to him.  And in one line, Paul makes it abundantly clear what Christ expects of us: “he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”  We must do whatever we can to heal the rift between humanity and God.  And that means we need to bridge the gap between us.  We are called to make the first step, to make the first move, to be the ones to show humility and love before anyone asks us to.  That is our role as Christians, to show the abundant love of God for no other reason than our overwhelming need to have others know the love of Christ for themselves.

This is the role we are meant to play, not only with our Muslim friends but all of humanity.

To be certain there are wide differences between us – between Christians and Muslims, but there are many similarities as well.  Both consider Abraham as one of the fathers of our faith.  In fact each religion traces it’s roots back to Abraham’s two sons, Ishmael and Isaac – Ishmael is considered to be the ancestor of Mohammed and Isaac the ancestor of Jesus.  And contrary to some popular belief, we worship the same God.  Muslims refer to God as Allah, but that difference is in name only.  Just as French use the word Dieu to refer to God or Japanese say kami-sama or people who speak Spanish say Dios people who speak Arabic refer to God as AllahAllah is to Arabic as God is to English.  Both faiths believe that salvation comes by submitting to God.  In our Western culture, we tend to downplay the role of submission in our faith, but we shouldn’t.  It’s that unwillingness to submit that brings pride, arrogance, and self-reliance upon us and makes it difficult for us to fully rely on God.  In Islam, submission is at the heart of their faith.  In fact, it’s even part of their very name.  The root word “slm” means “to submit.”  So the word Islam is roughly translated as “submission to Allah.”  And a Muslim person is defined as “one who submits to the will of God.”  A Muslim person is “one who submits to the will of God.” 

There are differences to be sure.  Differences that cannot be overlooked.

In the Islamic faith, Jesus, while thought to be a great prophet, second only to Mohammed himself, is not considered divine.  He is not the Son of God, but merely a man favored by God.  He did not die on the cross and was not resurrected, and these are essential elements of our faith.  We believe Jesus is the savior precisely because he DID die on the cross and in that act of sacrifice covered the stain of sin on our lives so we could be reconciled to God.  In his resurrection, we know that he truly is God because only God could conquer both death and sin.  In Islam, they confirm the life of Christ and even the virgin birth, but deny that Jesus sacrificed his life on the cross.  They also believe that the Quran is the final revelation of God.  Unlike the Bible which was written by human hands that we believe was inspired by God, the words in the Quran are thought to actually be God’s words.  In fact, they are written as if God is speaking.  Mohammed’s followers would in fact write down the visions God revealed to him using the first-person vocabulary.  As Hamilton wrote in his book, for them the Quran is the equivalent of Jesus because it is thought to be his final word.  As we worship Jesus, God made flesh, they worship the Quran as God himself being revealed through Mohammed.  It is also why to followers of Islam that the Quran is only to be read in Arabic because it is the language through which God revealed himself to Mohammed. 

UCLA vs. Cal in Berkeley 2018

But what does that mean for us as Christians?

It’s true we have our differences, differences which divide us from being able to agree, but how is that any different than being fans of the Dodgers or Giants?  UCLA or Cal?  Chocolate or vanilla?  Does that mean we have to hate one another?  God calls us to be ambassadors for Christ, but who are we being an ambassador for?  Who are we reaching out to?  Christ himself said, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that (Matthew 5:46-47)?”  There is no point in reaching out to those who are already Christian.  We must be willing to reach out to those different than us, those who believe differently than us, and the best way for us to do that is to show them the radical and inclusive love of Jesus.  Not by beating them over the head with Bible verses but making those teachings come alive by how we live our lives. Turning the other cheek, forgiving people, helping the poor, the needy, and the downtrodden.  In the beginning of the Christian movement, people didn’t come to Christ because of what we taught, but because of how we acted.  People were astonished by the loving kindness of this group of people who called themselves the followers of the Way.  And they saw a love and peace about them that convinced them to give their lives to Christ.  Application comes before education. Showing others the love of Christ can lead them to seek out Christ.  And it must be so again.  Challenge yourself to exhibit this radical love Christ had for others be they Muslim or Jewish or Buddhist or Hindu or even atheist.  Let the love of Christ shine within you by your actions.  Show kindness and even interest in others’ beliefs.  Be willing to talk to them about their understanding of God and show respect for them even if you disagree.  Make new friends.  Keep reaching out to old ones.  But always remember that you are an ambassador for Christ.  Don’t let the few bad apples convince you otherwise. 

[1] https://www.acsh.org/news/2018/08/10/most-dangerous-drivers-ranked-state-age-race-and-sex-13300

[2] Ibid. Women’s fatality rate is 6.6 per 100,000 while men are an alarming 16.8!

[3] http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2012/spring/fbi-dramatic-spike-in-hate-crimes-targetin

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