After 9/11, Muslims in airports made me nervous. Even 11 years later, I struggle with fears of hijacked planes, American flags burnt by angry crowds and smoldering ashes from a suicide bomber's attack.
My children, all born post 9/11, live in a world where shoes and belts can conceal explosive devices, the enemy doesn’t wear a uniform and soldiers and civilians alike may fall under attack. My children live in a world where homegrown terrorists are the norm and jihad isn’t a foreign word. Their world is fragile.
Yet I don’t want them to live in fear and ignorance. Muslims are part of their everyday lives. They go to the same schools, ride bikes on the same paths and play on the same little league teams.
I want my children to grow to love their neighbors. And, yes, this includes our neighbors who dress in hijab. However, if we believe the religion of Islam is contrary to the core beliefs of Christianity, how do we help our children to understand those differences and still teach them to love their neighbors?
There are Christian pastors sparking debate while trying to answer this very question. Steve Stone, the pastor at Heartsong Church in Cordova, Tenn., made a sign welcoming his neighbors at the Memphis Islamic Center. But he took his welcome a step further and allowed them to use the church as a mosque during Ramadan while their own Islamic Center was under construction.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who in March burned the Quran publicly, resulting in violence in the Middle East. Afterward, people were killed in riots in Afghanistan and schools were burned. Jones is not finished. He now plans to protest Friday outside a Dearborn, Mich., mosque, although he has been ordered to appear in court today to seek legal approval from the city.
Jones claims he’s not against Muslims, but wants them to “honor, obey and submit to the constitution of the United States.” Jones says he’s worried about Sharia, or Islamic law, being established in the United States.
Two pastors, two radically different ways to respond to Islam. And I’m not sure either one of them is right. I want my kids to understand the differences between Islam and Christianity. Specifically, I want them to know that salvation comes not from anything that we do, but from faith in God’s sacrifice of his son, Jesus Christ, on the cross. My husband and I have also taught them that responding in violence and anger to those who are different from us, as Jones did, is not Christ-like.
But one of the most important things I want my children to understand is that God is in control all the time. My kids hear about terrorism on the news and see it in newspapers. As much as I try to protect them from it, it can’t be completely avoided. They will hear about extremists and threats against our country, and I want them to know that whatever may happen, everything throughout history will ultimately work toward God’s plan and glory.
One of my favorite verses that calms me in this chaotic world is Isaiah 14:24: “Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand.” Verse 27 goes on to say, “His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?”
I love the imagery of God’s hand literally stretched out over the nations. Even in the turmoil and restlessness sweeping the world, sometimes driving me to fear, God’s hand is over it all. We may not understand it all, but he hasn’t left us. It is his hand and his purpose that should ultimately give us peace and hope.
That’s what I want to my children to know. God hasn’t left us, and there’s still work to be done to further his kingdom. I don’t condone Islam, nor do I want my children to, but it is our responsibility to love our neighbors, just as Christ first loved us.