In the wake of 11 September 2001, 7/7 in London, the Paris attacks, and everything else surrounding the ‘war on terror’, there has been much discussion and debate about Islam- whether or not it is a ‘religion of peace’, whether or not it condones violence, whether or not it is oppressive to women and other faiths, the meaning of the word ‘jihad’…
I won't go into the weaknesses underlying much of this debate, or the dangers of trying to make generalizations about a staggeringly diverse faith spread across dozens of nations, cultures, and political systems. That’d take too long and give you and me a headache…
I want to reflect on one word that keeps appearing:
Where, it's asked, are the voices of ‘moderate’ Islam? Why don’t ‘moderate’ Muslims say more, do more, condemn more? How do we make Islam more ‘moderate’?
Of course, underlying these questions is the assumption that moderation is an intrinsic good, and who would argue with that? Moderation is the voice of reason, of control, of discipline.
‘Moderate’ Democrats, ‘moderate’ Republicans, ‘moderate’ public opinion, and all that…
Who would ever be uncomfortable being called a ‘moderate’, right?
Actually, I can think of one group who I think might react very negatively at being labelled ‘moderates’, and ironically it might be a good portion of those calling for Islam to be more moderate:
Christians, particularly Evangelical Christians.
I spent many years in the Evangelical Christian subculture, attending an Evangelical Baptist school, getting my BA from an Evangelical Christian university, and working for many years for an Evangelical Christian missions organization.
While I remain a Christian, I have rejected the ‘Evangelical’ label for many years and struggled with much of Evangelicalism even while immersed in it.
But out of that lifelong experience, I can definitely say this: nothing within Evangelical Christianity ever led me to believe that being ‘moderate’ was a good thing.
Quite the contrary, we looked down on ‘moderate’ Christians;
they were ‘lukewarm’; God had rejected them.
We were constantly told we needed to be more excited, more committed.
The end was near, and time was short.
Real people were going to a real hell, real soon.
America was corrupt and crumbling... and don't even get started on Europe...
Most people, we were constantly told- most Christians, in fact- had rejected God, turned away, gone soft.
DC Talk, 'Jesus Freak'
Most Christians didn’t preach the ‘real’ Gospel for fear of giving offense.
We needed to stop caring so much for unbelievers’ feelings; in fact, if unbelievers weren’t angry and offended, we were probably doing it wrong.
We needed to be more ‘sold out’;
We needed to ‘press in’;
We needed to ‘go deeper'.
We were not simply a faith; we were an army- and not the logistical parts of the army, but the fighting part, and make no mistake, we were in a 'war'...
Carmen, 'God's Got an Army'
We needed to be louder;
We needed to be more fervent;
We needed to be more visible;
We were to be unashamed;
Newsboys, 'I'm Not Ashamed'
And we must never- ever- compromise.
In short, we had no desire to be moderates, thank you all very much…
This is the problem of assuming that words mean the same thing to everyone, and assuming all issues within all faiths are solved with the same solutions (I’m thinking about all the rhetoric about Islam needing a ‘reformation’…)
But regarding the issue of ‘moderation’, what do I think needs to happen?
Extremism of rhetoric and action is a grave and complex issue for people of all faiths and none. We all need to be thinking together and acting together to confront it.
Evangelical Christians might need to examine their own faith- and how it might come across to others- before weighing in with their opinions about how other faiths should improve themselves;
Evangelical Christians might need to begin to engage more with members of the Muslim communities in their midst, being willing to listen and learn before presuming to teach;
Crucially, Evangelical Christians need to engage with Muslims as Muslims, free of agenda or mission;
to be blunt, discover who people are - and why they might feel good about who they are- before launching into the process of making them more like you…
I’d say something here about taking care of the log in Christianity’s eye before we nag Muslims about the speck in theirs, but that might be taken as needlessly messianic…
Anyway, let’s all think before we speak, listen before we pronounce, and think before we act.
That sounds eminently moderate to me...