On James McConnell, Peter Robinson, and Islam

I’ve been following this for a few days.  I’m a Christian, no secret about that, but there are a few things I understand.

First of all, there’s no point asking me to leave my Bible at the door before I come in, because it’s on my phone 😀 However, it’s about what I do with it.

The more serious bit of that is that I want to live and breathe the good news about Jesus.  Not to spend the day preaching, but, when I’m paying attention, to live like I believe the words I say I believe.  The only way to get me to leave my Bible at the door is to get me to stop breathing, although I need regular upgrades for how I live to reflect what it actually says.


Every Muslim I have ever known, and I have to admit to only having had one or two proper friends who happened to be Muslims that I can remember, has been a decent ordinary person who is as much of a threat to me and everyone else in Northern Ireland as the next white Westerner (a little ironic, really.)

More seriously, I think of my friend Jawad whom I haven’t seen for many years. He’s a good lad, loves Belfast, attends Friday prayers every week, dreams of Hajj to Mecca (he may well have made it by now – more than once). Knows something about being friends.

He also understands that he and I belong to religions that both claim to have the whole truth about God. At least one of us has to be wrong.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t respect each other as friends and each other’s right to have our beliefs. The same goes for any Muslim I meet – I will assume in the absence of other evidence that I should treat them with the same trust or mistrust as any other human.

That especially applies in a work context. I don’t care what the other person doing the same job as me is, in terms of gender, sexuality, colour, religion, or pretty much anything else. All I care is that they know what they’re doing or are there to learn, can preferably teach me a thing or two too, and ideally they make good work friends. That’s all that matters.

I did just say that I believe that Christianity has the whole truth about God. Well, maybe not really, because the argument is that we know just enough to be getting along with.

On the other hand, that “just enough” contradicts the beliefs of other religions. That should concern Christians, because if we’re right we should want others to join us.

However, we have to be careful how we do it. Preaching on how awful another religion is can lead to dehumanisation of its followers, and self-righteousness about ourselves. We have no right to that, and as soon as you treat people as though you are better than them or their beliefs are worthless, you lose the ability to witness to what you believe is the truth.

It also misses a massive point. We should never say “You should be a Christian because all those religions are worthless.” Rather, we should say “You should be a Christian because of Jesus and what we believe he has done” – let the gospel speak for itself. Of course, there is always what St Paul did in Athens, where he noticed something about their religion (the altar to the unknown God) and using it as a hook without denigrating it or the Athenians’ beliefs. His integrity was untouched, and his witness strengthened (and I saw an excellent blog post about this the other day – pity I can’t find it now.) Christianity should be able to stand on its own without needing to push others down to stand out – even Christian apologetics, defending Christianity on the facts as we see them, does not require us to denigrate other religions.

As Christians, we don’t so much have a right as an obligation. To live with respect for others, including their right to disagree with us. To honour them. To live lives that witness to God by how we love despite our own imperfections, not by how we condemn those of others. To love unconditionally and make people wonder “Hang on, there is nothing in this for them. What is going on? What makes them different?” or even “That guy knows he’s a hypocrite, and he doesn’t hide it, instead apologising for it. What’s happening?”

I think that’s one of the reasons I get wound up when people talk about being Protestant when they don’t pretend to be Christian or even go to church.  It denigrates my own faith because they’re taking a label that belongs to a particular sort of Christian and attaching it to things of man, including flags.

Love, honesty and humility.  All three will get you more listeners than denigrating others and their beliefs.

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