Saying No to a Registry for Muslims

According to media reports, political advisors close to Donald Trump are exploring the establishment of a registry for Muslim immigrants to the United States. The policy may extend as far as requiring all Muslim Americans to be signed up to a Government register.

No doubt such a decision will find many supporters, even among some Australians. It is likely that Trump policies may give greater voice to certain groups in Australia, and so as a way of pre-empting such conversations here, let me give 4 reasons why a Muslim registry is a really bad idea.

1. Lessons from history

When a Government decides to impose itself on a religious minority, hatred and intolerance is incited and people suffer. Is this not one of the plagues of the Islamic State? Indeed, in many Islamic nations non-muslim citizens are marked out and carry the burden of having to pay the Jizya.

Some commentators have already raised the example of Nazi Germany. On the one hand, I find it somewhat duplicitous  that ‘left’ leaning journalists are outraged when conservative commentators cite the example of Nazism, and yet they seem to have little qualm in using the analogy when it suits them. In this instance though, while being careful not to overdo the comparison, the question is not completely absurd.

2. Most Muslims are not terrorists

It would be foolish to deny a connection between Islamic beliefs and current terrorist activity across the globe. Whether it is IS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, and many others, one of the common threads is Islamic religion.

It is also the case that many nation states adhere to strict forms of Islam, and while we exchange trade and business with these countries, internally they impose a religion on their citizens that is often harsh, and where women are mistreated and non believers denied rights.

Without ignoring real ideological issues that are often found in cultures where Islam is dominant, this does not mean that the populations living in those countries are content with the status quo, or that they are potential insurgents laying in waiting. The reality is, millions of people are fleeing these countries in order to find a new life, a  better life.

Muslim people have been living in Australia since the 19th Century, and for the most part they are hard working contributors to our country. They are friendly, kind, and are important members of our diverse and pluralist society.

Should the many suffer indignity because of a few? Indeed, those few persons who are of concern to the Government, are they not already highlighted? If so, what is the point of another register which will require all Muslim people to be participants?

3. The hypocrisy

There is a hidden hypocrisy at work here, both in the political and religious arenas.

Over the last decade across Western Governments we have witnessed increased intolerance towards people whose religious convictions don’t conform to the secular humanist worldview, especially when it comes to the issues of sexuality and marriage. This has been evident both in the USA and Canada, and my own State of Victoria is among the leading examples of this Erastian movement. Those who have been working to remove Christian ethics in the public square may well cry foul over this proposed registry, but they do so from a position of illegitimacy.

This works both ways. So when Christians speak up and seek to defend their freedom of religious thought, speech and life, do we deny it for others?

It will be of no surprise to readers that I disagree with Islam, mormonism, atheism, and many other belief systems. These theologies hold a view of God that contradicts the person and teaching of Jesus Christ, and yet nation states are not Churches, they are (in our modern history) secular and pluralist institutions. As such, a functioning and maturity society will find ways for this diversity to cohere, and encourage public spaces for people to disagree and to debate with fervour and respect.

4. Threats of a registry creates fear and makes people vulnerable.

Would I like my own family to live in fear and with uncertainty, not knowing how the Government may act toward us, given our race or religion?

I know for a fact, many Victorian Christians have felt apprehension as our Government continues to pressure our children out of public schools, and we are experiencing uncertainty as legislation is introduced to control Christian Churches and organisations. Would we wish that on another minority group?

One American Muslim has written this,

“This is what it feels like to me now that the republican nominee is now the president elect.

He is the abuser. We are trapped. We are circling the wagons, trying to mitigate the damage by finding allies and waiting for the abusive behavior that we know is coming. We are sharing strategies on how to parent our children now that our president elect has taught them that being a racist, sexist, fear mongering, money hungry bully will get you the highest office in the nation.

We are trying to find the way to rebuild the inroads amongst ourselves while finding the strength and power to strategize how we can get free.

This is a far different place than I thought our nation would be today. I saw hope, I saw people of color being treated fairly. I saw refugees and immigrants being embraced for their unique potential; I envisioned a path towards unity. I live and breathe the mantra, Stronger Together every day.

Now I look out my door and wonder, which one of my neighbors thought it was a good idea to elect a president who wants to implement a Muslim registry. A database of anyone who practices Islam, so they can be watched and rounded up whenever he believes we need to be put in check.”

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Christians must speak up for our Muslim neighbours, not because we agree with their religion, but because they should not be discriminated against for their religious beliefs. They are citizens of our countries, and they are human beings who ought to be treated with dignity and kindness.

There is no doubt, Donald Trump’s ascent to the Presidency has sent many social progressives into cardiac arrest. What many thought was an inevitable social engineering quest from the left has become not so assured. Perhaps the rise of Trump will only prove to be a temporary swing of the pendulum, but for now, the shift is real and no one yet knows how far it will move.

Many Christians will be thankful that they may find some reprieve after years of pushing and shoving from social progressives, but I don’t believe we should be rejoicing at the prospect of a Trump Presidency.

As calls are made for a Muslim registry, Christians would do well to remember people like Naaman, the Samaritan woman, and the jailor in Philippi. Ask ourselves, how do we love our neighbours? Should we cause them to fear, or should we protect them? I reckon we would do well to reread Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan,

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

(Luke 10:25-37)

Walk a Different Path to One Nation

In the wash out from Saturday’s election I found this gem from a Facebook friend:

“It’s time for Christians to show some empathy for our Muslim neighbours. Christians cry “persecution” at the drop of a hat, but can we even imagine how Muslims must feel knowing there’s a whole party dedicated entirely to attacking them in the senate?!”

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In the midst of growing suspense as to who will Govern Australia for the next three years, emerging out of the smoke is Pauline Hanson. Hanson and her One Nation party are set to claim between 2 and 4 seats in the Senate (thanks a lot Queensland!). A centre piece of their campaign strategy are  policies relating to Muslims, including prohibiting further Muslim migrants and banning the building of Mosques.

The reality of fear mongering is that there is almost always a speck of truth to be found, but it is swamped by swathes of hyperbole, caricature, and untruths. Yes, there is a problem within Islam, as we have seen again in Baghdad, Dhaka, and Istanbul. As a Christian, I disagree with the Islamic view of God and of the world. But do we not realise that fear and hate breed only more fear and hate? Are we benign to the fact that our words are rarely hypothetical, but relate to real human beings? We can assume many Australian Muslims are today feeling apprehensive at the prospect of having in Parliament a block of Senators whose agenda targets them.

It is important to realise that fear tactics are not owned exclusively by Pauline Hanson; we have seen them employed by many and on issues ranging from asylum seekers to marriage, and dare I suggest, Medicare?  There is however, something particularly ugly about One Nation’s platform.

If One Nation’s aim was to win votes, the strategy has clearly worked. If however, their design is to create a better nation, their failure is inevitable because their ideology is premised on hate. This is a growing concern across the political spectrum as people refuse difference of opinion.  A democracy without dissent has lost its soul. Other groups can speak for themselves, but it is all very well for Christians to speak about preserving freedom of religion for ourselves, and yet in denying it for others, are we not in danger of falling into hypocrisy?

Christians must not only resist One Nation’s Muslim policies, but we must counter them by walking a different path.

One day Jesus was questioned by the legal and social commentators of his day, and he responded to their scrutiny by saying, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”

The pundits agreed, that is, until Jesus gave expression to this principle,

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

This is how Christians ought to relate to our Muslim neighbours.

Christians, Muslims and God: Does it matter?

The Wheaton College controversy regarding Dr. Larycia Hawkins and her comments about Islam is gaining momentum not only in the United States, but also here in Australia, with the ABC publishing two articles on the issue this week.

The controversy relates to this statement made by Dr Hawkins on twitter in December last year,  “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book”, and “And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”

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Dr Hawkins has been suspended by the Council of Wheaton College, and discussions are being held regarding potential dismissal from her teaching position.

There are many issues surrounding this saga, for here, I wish to offer comment on two of the questions: One, does it matter? Does it matter whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God or not?  Second, is Prof. Miroslav Volf right to use a Jewish view of God as a defence for the proposition that Muslims and Christians worship the same God?

First of all, does it matter?

Writing on The Drum, Ruby Hamad has bemoaned Wheaton’s position, referring to the ‘wildly disproportionate reaction from the college’ and  “it’s surprising that such a statement is even considered enough to raise an eyebrow.”

Hamad believes that Muslim and Christians do worship the same God:   

“That the world’s three great monotheistic faiths worship the same god is, or at least has hitherto been, a mainstream position to take. Muslims accept it as a given, the Catholic Church has taught it since the Second Vatican Council, and Pope Francis – who Hawkins referred to her in her statement – reiterated this last November, when he said that “Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters”.”

As someone raised in the Muslim faith, I find it bewildering that anyone denies that the God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are indeed the same deity. Muslims are taught from a very young age that Mohammed is the last in a long line of prophets tracing back to Adam, and that includes Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.”

Leaving aside some fallacious rewriting of history whereby she claims that “three great monotheistic faiths worship the same god is…a mainstream position to take”, and her strange recounting of Islamic teaching whereby young children are taught that the Christian God is identical with the Muslim God, I want to make mention of the Trinity and its place in this debate.

Hamad makes a passing reference to the Trinity and to Christology, but apparently these basic tenants of the Christian faith are no obstacles to someone wanting to insist that Muslims and Christians believe in the same God.

Really?

Now, there are theological arguments at stake that require careful exegesis, and many a tome has been written attempting to consider God. Although there are ideas here that have stretched the greatest minds in history, the essence is simple. One person may be an expert in trigonometry, and another not, but a triangle is a triangle and both can identify it as such. My point is, there are basic theological convictions held by Christians that are irrefutably denied by Islam, and there is no meeting place in the middle.

For example,

Christians hold that that God is triune, one God in three persons. Muslims, on the other hand, insist on God being a monad.

Christians believe that Jesus is fully God and fully human. He is the eternal God, God the Son, the second member of the Trinity. Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet from God, but he is not God (and neither did he die on the cross).

It does not require a scholar to appreciate that Christians and Muslims have a vastly different view of God. Christians love, worship and serve God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Quran explicitly rejects this God, and instead speaks of another who is monad. We can caste doubts on this clarity by writing lengthy and complicated essays, using lots of big words that no one understands, or, as Ruby Hamad has done, we can ridicule Wheaton College and suggest they are extreme, bigoted, and naive for holding to their beliefs. After all, none of us want to side with the stupid or the hate-filled! Sometimes, though, differences are self-evident and irreconcilable.

But does it matter? Is it a big deal? It is certainly a significant issue if truth matters. It is a big deal for the many thousands of Christians in the Middle East who are being persecuted and threatened with death if they don’t deny Jesus Christ is God. And it does matter if a person’s identity and being is to be honoured.

Allow me to illustrate by speaking about my wife, Susan. Susan is a particular human being, with a particular personality, history, attributes, likes and dislikes, appearance, and so forth. If I call her Lisa or Stuart, she is unlikely to respond, given that her name is Susan. If someone asks me to describe Susan and I begin talking about a 24 year old 5ft 10” red head who enjoys motocross, eating mexican food, and works in real estate, you may want to question whether I know Susan at all, let alone being married to her.

Manufacturing false allegations about a person in public may make me open to a defamation case. Misrepresenting a person is demeaning and exemplifies either ignorance or incredible rudeness. 

The caricature of Susan that I offer above is so far removed from the real Susan who lives and breathes and whom I love as my wife, it is nothing short of a fabrication; an unreal Susan. If it is respectful and right to represent a human being accurately, how much more if that person is God.

If God is real, it is only proper to describe him truthfully. If this God is holy and light and love and truth and Sovereign and personal (as the Bible teaches), then how much more care must we take before dishing out more relativist offal about religious sameness.

I now wish to turn to a second question, which relates to an analogy used by Miroslav Volf in his defence of Dr Hawkins view, an analogy that has since been repeated by others, including Ruby Hamad:

“This argument, however, is easily dispelled given that Judaism also rejects the trinity and doesn’t even acknowledge, let alone worship, Jesus as God. And yet, no one is proclaiming that Jews and Christians have entirely different gods”.

Is this analogy of Judaism valid? While this argument sounds lucid, it is in fact a logical fallacy, for the relationship between Judaism and Christianity is significantly different to that between Christianity and Islam.

There are not two different Gods in the Bible, one in the Old Testament and a different one revealed in the New Testament. That view is known as Marcionism, and it has always been rightly referred to as a heresy.

The God of the Old Testament is self-identified as the Triune God. The God worshiped by Israel was the Triune God, although it must be said that much more is made of God’s unity in the Old Testament than of his diversity.

Old Testament Judaism did not reject the Trinity, it alludes to it and prepared the people for the full self-disclosure of God who is one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Islam falls outside the parameters of Biblical testimony, and beyond fullness and finality of God’s self-revelation that is in and about Jesus Christ. If Judaism is an artist’s sketch, Christianity is the sketch being painted,  coloured and completed. In other words, Judaism leads to Christianity, whereas Islam rejects Christianity. That Mohammed borrowed some names and ideas from the Bible when writing the Qu’ran does not mean synergy of faith, indeed links are no stronger than those which Mormons have with Christianity.

Dr Al Mohler has offered this critique of Volf’s analogy:

“But this line of argument evades the entire structure of promise and fulfillment that links the Old Testament and the New Testament. Abraham and Moses could not have defined the doctrine of the Trinity while they were on earth, but they believed that God would be faithful to all of his promises, and those promises were fulfilled only and fulfilled perfectly in Christ. And, going back to John 8:56-58, Jesus said: “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad … Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”

Evangelical Christians understand that, theologically, there is a genetic link between Judaism and Christianity. That is why Christians must always be humbled by the fact that we have been grafted onto the promises first made to Israel. In terms of both history and theology, there is no genetic link between Christianity and Islam. The Qur’an claims that to confess Jesus Christ as the divine Son and the second person of the Trinity is to commit blasphemy against Allah.”

It is possible to believe in the true God and yet worship him wrongly, whether by attributing false characteristics and ideas about him, or by creating erroneous criteria for knowing him. But the view of God, as articulated in the Qu’ran and the Hadiths, does not fit into this category.

Volf and Hamad both argue that the real issue at Wheaton is not concern for God’s Being, but has to do with bigotry and anti-Islamic sentiments. I cannot speak for the Council of Wheaton College as I don’t know them personally and I certainly don’t have access into their hearts, but from what I have read, I have not picked up such a distasteful tone.

Given the allegations, it is still wrong to denude the major theological differences that exist. The truth of God matters. The glory of God matters. However, irreconcilable difference does not mean Christians and Muslims cannot be friends, and cannot work together in many areas of society. This does not mean that we cannot support the many Muslims who are suffering terribly in Syria. This does not mean that we cannot welcome Muslim refugees to Australia, and to provide them with a safe and caring community. This does not mean that we outlaw their beliefs, simply because we disagree with them. If Christians believe in freedom of speech, then we hold that conviction for Christian, Muslim, and atheist alike.

A true knowing of God will produce not only clear and robust convictions about God, but growing humility and thankfulness. For we do not own God. God is not our possession or our knowledge that is attained by some pseudo-superiority complexion. The God of the Bible is known only by grace, because of his incredible love toward defiant creatures. Grace produces humble convictions and loving concern for our neighbours, even our Muslim neighbours who matter to God and ought to matter to us.

The Creeds, Wheaton College, and the same God theory

Last week a Professor at Wheaton College tweeted, “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book”, and “And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”

The College has since suspended Dr. Larycia Hawkins. News of the suspension has caused a bush fire of controversy among American Christians, and the debate has also spilled over into Australia.

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Islam and Christianity share with Judaism a heritage from Abraham, and all three are monotheistic religions, but the similarities don’t extend much beyond.

Dr Hawkins is rightly seeking to express Christian love toward Muslim people. At this troubled time in world history, it is vital and godly for Christians to show love, grace, and hospitality to our Muslim neighbours and friends, including welcoming Muslim Refugees from Syria. But stretching commonalities in theology doesn’t help anyone, let alone glorifying God.

Miroslav Volf is a notable Christian scholar whom I’ve benefited from in my own thinking on other issues. He has weighed in on this debate in a significant way, arguing while Muslims and Christians hold different views of God,  ultimately the same God is worshiped. That doesn’t mean there is not crucial disagreement about God, however. It is worth reading Volf with his own words.

As I read an update of this story this morning, I was reminded of the Creeds. The historic creeds give articulation to the Christian understanding of God, as is found in the Bible. Do they help us in grappling with this question as to whether Muslims and Christians believe in the same God? How would a Muslim respond, for example, to the Nicene Creed?

“We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of Sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”

My point is simple, we mustn’t neglect the Creeds as we consider God.

It’s an opportune time of the year to consider who is God, for at Christmas the invisible God took on flesh, in order to take and die for our sins.

This Christmas we will sing, among other carols, ‘O Come all ye Faithful’ which has these words remarkable words about the incarnation of the eternal God, God the Son,

“True God of true God, Light from Light Eternal,
lo, he shuns not the Virgin’s womb;
Son of the Father, begotten not created;”

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Ed Stetzer has also weighed in on the controversy. As usual he makes a lot of sense.                                       http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2015/december/my-daughter-wheaton-college-protests-and-why-we-are-more-in.html

Al Mohler has written this importance response to the issue – http://www.albertmohler.com/2015/12/18/do-christians-and-muslims-worship-the-same-god/

Kevin De Young has written a useful piece on The Gospel Coalition website