A few weeks ago, an article that I found interesting appeared in our local paper (The Oklahoman, 7/17/2010). It was entitled “Religious Tolerance at Issue.” It told of a local neighborhood into which a new family was moving. The family happened to be Muslim. When one of the residents found this out, she “put a sign in her yard proclaiming her Christian beliefs and warning passers-by that Muslims are ‘dangerous.’” The writer of the article, Carla Hinton gave her thoughts on this and told how it disturbed and troubled her. We were told that the resident claimed she had a right to do this.
The rest of the article discussed free speech, religious intolerance and stereotyping. Ms. Hinton commented that “stereotyping doesn’t fit in with the tenets of many religious faiths – least of all Christianity” and that this was also “very unneighborly thing to do …” She then concluded by asking for her readers’ thoughts and said that they might be used in a future story.
Of course, I immediately e-mailed her my thoughts, and then waited to see them in print.
Two weeks later the column appeared giving some readers’ views. Though I was disappointed to find that mine were not published, I eagerly read them all. We were told that most readers agreed “that the yard sign was an example of religious intolerance,” though, “some others felt the woman who erected the yard sign was justified in doing so because of her Christian heritage.” I assume that the views published were a reasonably good sampling.
One comment warned of the dangers of tolerance, that it is a satanic tool and that Jesus is the only Way. Another pointed out that the woman’s beliefs and her “Christian” lifestyle didn’t seem to coincide and said that showing Christian love to the neighbor might cause them to want to know more about Christian faith.
One spoke of “the good and peaceful people who make up the Muslim community,” while another claimed this is all propaganda and that the lady’s sign was not unneighborly.
There were more, some in agreement with the sign lady, some in disagreement. All the published comments (seven) appeared to be from those who claim to be Christians.
So, what do we do with this? How can those who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ differ so strongly? Is this all simply a matter of opinion?
What bothered me is that though I would agree with much of what was expressed, I believe that the article and the responses seemed to ignore, even avoid, what Jesus Himself taught. (It’s in the Bible!)
When Jesus was questioned as to what the first and great commandment of the Law was, he replied: “’You will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it. ‘You will love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:35-40; Mark 12:28-31).
Jesus was quoting, of course, from the Old Testament Law. The commandment to love the Lord was from Deuteronomy 6:4, 5. The commandment to love one’s neighbor came from Leviticus 19:18. What is it about these two commandments that we don’t understand?
Just in case we’re looking for loopholes, the Bible seems to close them for us.
In the same chapter in Leviticus that Jesus quotes, there is another commandment: “The stranger (or alien) who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34). Both verse 18 and 34 conclude with “I am the LORD !”
And that’s not all. In Matthew 5:43, 44, Jesus expands it still further, “You’ve heard that it was said, “You will love your neighbor and hate your enemies. ’But I tell you ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’”
When a lawyer (teacher of the Law) tried to find a loophole by asking, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus told him a story of how one about whom the lawyer held racial and religious stereotypes (a Samaritan) behaved as a neighbor, and then told him to do likewise (Luke 10:25-27).
So if our neighbors include, not only those who look, behave and worship like us, but also aliens, our enemies, people of a different race or religion, then who is excluded? Certainly not the Muslims next door!
Jesus left us with two Great Commandments – to love God and to love our neighbor. He also left us with a Great Commission – to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). The two are not mutually exclusive, as some of the above comments might seem to imply. In fact, I believe that the Great Commission necessarily follows the Great Commandments. If I truly believe that Jesus is the only Way to God (as some of the comments claim), and if I truly love my neighbors, then my great desire should be to see them come to faith in Christ.
Also, we should beware of using loving actions as a gimmick to win them to faith in Christ. If I may express it thus: We are not to use the Second Great Commandment as a means of carrying out the Great Commission, we are rather to use the Great Commission as a means of carrying out the Second Great Commandment.
So what should the “sign lady” do? What should we do in a similar situation? She (we) should simply love her (and our) neighbors, which means seeking what’s best for them. This includes pointing them to Christ by her actions as well as her words. But if these neighbors do not choose Christ, loving them is still our responsibility!