In this corner, we have the folks who tell us that Islam is a religion of peace.
Of course, they’re wrong. Most of the people writing from this perspective are either trying to make Islam look better to Americans, trying to make America look better to Islam, or trying to fit world events into a worldview that regards faith as something shallow, intellectual, and unbinding (you know, like a Vicky Gene Robinson sermon).
We know better, we Southern Baptists. We know that faith is a powerful force shaping character and behavior. We know that not all faiths are the same. They do not merely go by different names; they teach different things; their adherents believe different things. The differences between Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X are preponderantly differences rooted in their different theological perspectives. Gandhi, Wilberforce, Bonhoeffer, Stalin, Hitler, bin Laden—these men became what they became because they believed what they believed.
Islam, like every false religion (including corruptions of Christianity), makes people worse. Breaking out all over the world today is a spate of violent acts perpetrated by Muslims. The Muslims who perform these acts are performing them because they are Muslims. They will tell you that they are performing them because they are Muslims. They often complete Islamic rituals before they murder people. They sometimes utter Islamic slogans while they are accomplishing their atrocities. They usually are faithful attenders of a mosque, and they usually attend with their co-conspirators.
All of this is considerably different from the average “Christian” terrorist we encounter. Home-grown non-Islamic terrorists generally are not faithful church attendees. Nobody observes the Lord’s Supper right before strapping on a dynamite vest. Nobody sings “Amazing Grace” while arming an IED. The “troubles” in Ireland and the Bosnian conflict are the only examples I can think of in my lifetime in which any form of Christianity played any significant role in motivating armed conflict among nation-states or paramilitary groups, and for both of those groups, ethno-nationalistic motivations were entangled with religious convictions in ways that differ in degree from what one finds in the Free Church tradition.
Islam motivates terrorism. Anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you something.
In the other corner, we have the folks who tell us that all Muslims are trying to blow us up or to impose Sharia law upon us.
Of course, they’re wrong. This kind of broad-brush prejudice is not only wrong factually, but it is also wrong morally. We’ve seen the harm that it does in our own country and in our own lifetimes.
We know better, we Southern Baptists. We know that not everyone in our churches has 100% bought in to what we teach. “What do Southern Baptists believe?” is a far different question, isn’t it, from “What does that Southern Baptist sitting right there believe?” Don’t you shudder when you sit down in a living room to explain the gospel to someone and you hear, “My Dad’s sister-in-law was a Southern Baptist, and she divorced my uncle to run off with the youth minister”? As Southern Baptists, we hope that people won’t lump us all together and judge the whole lot of us based upon their encounters with some barely attending, hardly committed, Southern-Baptist-In-Name-Only.
There was a day when Southern Baptists didn’t dance. Only they did. There were people who actually refrained from dancing based upon moral principle. A great many of those people were Southern Baptists. Those Southern Baptists who refused to dance (a) were ineligible for friendship with “Men Without Hats” and (b) refused to dance because they were Southern Baptist. They tended to be people who attended church very regularly. They tended to go to church with other people who refrained from dancing. If you asked them why they wouldn’t dance, they would ultimately tell you that it was because of their religious beliefs as Southern Baptists. All of that is true, and anyone who claimed that Southern Baptist teaching had nothing to do with the refusal on the part of some Southern Baptists to dance was in denial.
But to meet a Southern Baptist and then assume, “That person does not dance because that person is a Southern Baptist”—to do that was to make a foolish mistake. Why? Because not every Southern Baptist was equally aware of or equally committed to Southern Baptist teachings, and even for those who were very committed, some of them attended the kind of Southern Baptist church that never prohibited dancing.
So, there are ways here that Islam and Evangelical Christianity are not that different. Both have adherents who might kill you or molest your daughter or whatever. Both have adherents who are law-abiding citizens who really pose you no threat whatsoever. But there remains a way in which they are very different indeed: The least committed Christians are the most dangerous; the most committed Muslims are the most dangerous. The highly devout churchgoing Southern Baptist and the armchair never-goes-to-mosque Muslim are both very unlikely to do you any harm.
That’s why we don’t have to sacrifice religious liberty in order to be vigilant against terrorism. We can tell the particular sects of Islam that are the most violent. We can identify the specific networks of Muslims (like ISIS) who produce terrorists. We can then direct our prevention efforts and our warfare against those people. To defeat Boko Haram does not require revoking the permanent resident visa of your cardiologist.
So, to conclude, I don’t trust anyone who tells me that Islam is a religion of peace and that we all worship the same God and that the essence of Islam has nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism. It’s not, we don’t, and it does. I also don’t trust anyone who tells me that the only practical way to protect ourselves against jihadis is to cut corners on religious liberty. It’s not. We can BOTH “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution” AND resist “all enemies, foreign and domestic.” We can, and we should.
A presidential candidate who would say that is someone I’d be happy to pencil in on my dance card.
Metaphorically speaking, that is.