So many thoughts run through my head as I think about the 10th anniversary of the attacks on America on September 11, 2001. A few nights ago, I watched the Smithsonian documentary about the attacks, and it was painful and nearly unbearable to watch the images flash across the screen. It took me back to being a scared 21 year old college student who immediately began to reach out for anything steady and sure in a time in which the whole world seemed to turn upside down. Looking back, many decisions I made in the couple of years following were directly caused by the feelings of unsteadiness and doubt that began that day.
I didn’t know much about the Middle East, and I knew even less about the Islamic faith, and ignorance breeds fear and hate. I listened to television preachers talk about God using “the heathen” to judge America for our sin. I heard racist jokes about “towel heads” and watched people suddenly become wary of every dark skinned person they met. I remember my brother was particularly tan from working an outside job that summer and was pulled from boarding line at an airport to be searched simply because of his dark appearance. Apparently his blue eyes weren’t as convincing as his dark skin.
I couldn’t really blame those who responded in ignorant fear; I didn’t have any knowledge to counter their fears.
But one thing that I worked hard to never allow within myself was a close-minded, racist hate of those of Middle Eastern descent. If there is one thing I hate about the stereotype of Southerners is that we ignorantly stereotype others. Arab Muslims didn’t attack America; but a group of people who were Arab Muslims did. Just like many Caucasian Christians have done through the years as well.
In the years since, God has given me a soft heart for those of the Islamic faith. Instead of closing my heart to them, he sent me to Afghanistan to minister to the women of that country. He gave me a passion for learning about them and their culture, and he allowed me to come back to America and begin shedding light on fear and ignorance by teaching those who are willing to learn about those who follow the man Muhammad.
I am praying this weekend that Christians will memorialize those who were lost in a tragic display of hate and deception without further stigmatizing and reflecting the same hate toward all Muslims.
To hate and fear a group of people is to deny the Word, which states, 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Ephesians 6
Hating and attacking humanity that perform acts of terrorism (large or small scale, political or personal) is to hate and attack those who are held captive by a spiritual enemy. Would an army ever attack POWs? No, they attack the enemy holding the POWs captive. It’s time to quit attacking the POWs and start fighting the real enemy.
To hate all Muslims for the terrorist acts of a few gives permission to people of other faiths to identify all Christians with those who bomb abortion clinics or protest at soldiers’ funerals or stand on street corners and scream racist and homophobic “sermons” of fire and brimstone. I don’t want to be associated with Westboro Baptist or the Branch Davidian cult, so I choose to not associate all Muslims with extremist terrorists. I do choose, however, to see them as sinners who need a Savior as much as I do.
But being a follower of Jesus is to be a disciple of a radical extremist, per his own words:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5
So this 9/11, I will mourn those who were lost in an unprecedented attack on innocent lives, on our country and the ideals in which we believe. I will mourn the loss of my own idealism. But I will also mourn for those deceived into believing they were completing a righteous act of God. I mourn for those souls lost for eternity, and I will make it my goal to be more intentional in following the teaching of Jude, the brother of Jesus who encouraged us to “save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.”
And I will celebrate the spirit of renewal and restoration that has been shown in the lives of those impacted by 9/11 in the last decade. We have risen from the ashes of destruction, and the human spirit of survival and forgiveness has shown in ways rarely seen before.
Hate the deceiver, love the deceived. It is, afterall, the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. Romans 2:4