There is a small extremist minority group within Islam, called the Wahabi, that is condemned by the vast majority of Muslims. I want to tell you a little story about them, because it can tell us something about Christians in the world.
Recently I watched a YouTube video from England. A British woman was checking out a protest by a group of Wahabi (very conservative) Muslims, working at engaging them in conversation, and trying to understand what they were about. As in America, there had been a couple of episodes of police conflict with Muslims, and the community was understandably upset.
As she engaged a few people in conversation, this woman was shocked to hear things said directly to her by the people with whom she struck up conversations. A fully veiled woman asked what man she was trying to seduce, since she was dressed in a red dress with no head-covering. She was told, “You look naked to me.” She heard the crowd chanting, “Police go to hell!” and asking about it, she was told that British law is wrong, and the only right thing would be for the country to follow Sharia law. She also was told repeatedly, and by a cleric, that everyone besides true believers were going to hell.
The woman who was asking questions was entirely taken aback by these messages. She couldn’t understand how anyone could think that their own way of thinking was the only possible right way. She couldn’t understand a mindset that no place for tolerance, acceptance, or respect for one another’s beliefs.
Please understand: this is a minority group among Muslims, condemned by most Muslims. The vast majority of Muslims are peaceful, tolerant, and respectful of the societies in which they live. Wahhabism is the official religious approach in Saudi Arabia.
I was also recently reminded that people who are not Christian have perceptions of us that are not entirely different from this woman’s perceptions of Wahhabis. They are offended that Christians claim to know something about God. Even to talk about God in very general terms seems offensive. And to assume that our culture is Christian is an insult. Why do people feel this way? How can I express greater tolerance, and how can I soften the hurt that Christians have perpetrated over the years?
The first step might be to acknowledge where Christians have gone wrong. There are some Christians who are a lot like the Wahhabis. They claim to have absolute answers to almost every question, they condemn everyone who disagrees with them–sometimes with soft earnest voices, and sometimes with loud hateful protests. They have tried to take political power and overturn the separation of church and state. And they believe that the rest of us are going to hell. I have spent plenty of years trying to counter the negative stereotype of Christians that comes from these extremists.
But it is not only the extremists who give Christians a bad name. We do it ourselves when we blithely assume that everyone else does, or should, think the way I do. We weaken the reputation of Christians when we paper over the problems of society and community with vague prayers and platitudes, and then don’t do anything about mending the hurts of the world. We turn people against God when we take the disagreements between Christians, and make them into gossip and public whining.
I am proud and pleased to serve a congregation that is trying to do better all the time. It is our constant task to spread so much love and service, that the worst people can say of us is that we are too kind, and foolishly generous for Christ.