My heart is heavy as once again a person professing allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) has carried out an attack on Western soil in Orlando and now in Istanbul, Turkey. Toward the end of last year, I said I hoped that I was wrong, but that we would begin seeing an increase in terror events in Western cities (along with ongoing terror in nonwestern cities). I am greatly grieved by the horrendous mass shooting in an Orlando, Florida, nightclub and the mass killing in Istanbul’s international airport. That follows the Paris terror event and the San Bernardino terror event and the Belgian airport bombing, but I am not surprised. I wish I were.
God is moving in important ways in the Muslim world, but so is the enemy. How we respond to this event in coming days matters to God’s kingdom. For that reason, let me once again address the problem that we face.
Our Natural Instinct Is to Blame Outwardly and Move Inwardly
These gunmen are dead, and it is natural that people want answers that he can no longer give. We want to know who we can blame for his actions and what can we do to prevent the next random attack. We failed to prevent the loss of life in Orlando and Istanbul , and we desperately want to prevent terror in the future.
As a nation, the U.S. is lashing out in the dark right now at anything and everything that might contribute to the next attack. The news media and political figures have focused on several details of the attack: Orlando’s terrorist attack was the worst mass shooting in America, with 49 dead and 53 injured. The attack singled out gay men. The attacker used guns that he was licensed to own. The gunman was Muslim.
The nation and investigators will spend the week and month trying to determine what group has the greatest fault for allowing this senseless tragedy to happen. Some will follow the president in refusing to blame the attack on radical Islam and will fault the violence instead to a lingering anti-gay sentiment in the U.S. Some will blame our law enforcement for failing to sniff out this man’s intentions when they checked his background for his security job or when they investigated him for a Syrian connection in 2013. Some will be encouraged by current efforts in Congress to reign in gun ownership. And some will follow those who think that by banning every Muslim from the U.S., we will protect ourselves. None of these approaches will prevent the next attack.
When people are afraid, their natural instinct is to retreat to a “safe zone”—to a zone filled with people like themselves, like-minded, like-religioned, and like-skinned. After an event like this massacre, Christians and Muslims alike will move inward and allow suspicion and fear to grow stronger between them. But is this the best way for us to respond to acts of terror?
True Islam Requires Adherents to Hate Outwardly and Persecute Inwardly
Despite the many possible causes investigators and the media are blaming for the attack, the truth is that the gunman in Orlando revealed his motive. He called 911 to declare that the attack was an act of allegiance to ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIS). We do not know if the shooter was present three months earlier when an imam in Orlando preached death as the correct response to homosexuals. But we do know that the imam did preach what Islam teaches: that gays should be executed. And we do know that the shooter targeted the Pulse club because it caters to gay men.
I have said many times that despite many Muslims who live peacefully in the U.S. and who proclaim that Islam is a religion of peace, the holy book of Islam and the works of its prophet show a religion of violence. The teachings of the Quran and Muhammed call for violence against “infidels.” Americans Muslims are not so much radicalized by ISIS as they hear the teachings of the imams and discover that true Islam looks like ISIS, and they want to follow true Islam. And true Islam requires that its adherents hate infidels. What we call “Radical Muslims” are indeed just “Committed Muslims.”
Does this mean we should agree with those who wish to call all Muslims terrorists and ban them from our country or severely restrict their freedom here?
Christ Asks Us to Love Outwardly and Forgive Inwardly
Whether by a Muslim or someone else, terror attacks occur because of hate. The more we marginalize other human beings, the more we will contribute to a culture that explodes with hatred. Christ calls us to something radically different. Yes, we are to love and pray for those in office, even when they do not follow our agenda. Yes, Jesus tells us to radically love those who offend us, to pray for those who do not yet know him, to forgive those who hurt us and to share with them how we were also forgiven.
So what does this mean? How should we prepare for and avoid terror? If we are to follow Jesus, the way to prepare for and avoid terror is to love our enemy and to share the Good News with those who most want to do us harm.
Many Muslims do want a peaceful religion. They just do not know the right way to find it. We must show them. Muslims who wish to make Islam a peaceful religion find that they have to ignore much of what Islam teaches. If a Muslim wants to know a God of peace, they must find the God who became our peace—and that is Jesus. There is no other way.
We Must Be Ready to Share Peace
Muslims transformed by the God and by the love of transformed Christians do not shoot masses of people. It is true that we must wisely recognize the harmful intent of the Islamic agenda while at the same time see the vast numbers of Muslims ready to come to Christ in the West and even in the Middle East and Iran if only we are willing to share Christ’s love with them. These terror events force Muslims everywhere to look harder at their religion and see it for what it is. Many Muslims worldwide are coming to Christ even now, especially in Iran.
How should we live with the threat of terror? We can become an army of love like the underground church of Iran. We should refuse to allow suspicion and blame to divide us and paralyze us. We should move even faster, stronger, and bolder to love the one who hates us and even hates his own people and make Christ known among them. I pray that you will ask God how you can begin doing this even now.
To the Glory of God and the transforming of Iran.