By: Rylie Shore
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
– Nelson Mandela
After 27 years in prison under the apartheid regime, Nelson Mandela emerged from captivity with a fierce commitment to see freedom and equality blanket his entire nation. Though South Africa’s history of racial profiling had dug canyons between whites and blacks, Mandela used his captivity as a platform to start reconciling all races to one another. In his famous book, Long Walk to Freedom, he writes, “It was during those long and lonely years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black. I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed […] For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
The legacies of those like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. are universal because in their pursuit of love, justice, and equality they reached through the fence to grab hands with the “other.” It seems that when stories of love weave across our manmade divides we stop to take notice.
Perhaps Jesus knew this. Perhaps that is why the Son of God adventured through his time on earth with those who struggled with their faith rather than the religious men of His time. Perhaps that is why the Risen King crossed the gender barrier by first appearing to Mary Magdalene instead of a male disciple. Perhaps that is why the Perfect Lamb stretched Himself wide to love the sinful. He wanted us to take notice.
When a lawyer asks Jesus to specify who he means in his commandment to “love your neighbor,” Jesus responds with the famous parable of the Good Samaritan. He tells of a Jewish man who is walking along the road when a gang beats and robs him, leaving him injured and lying on the side of the road. Two of his fellow Jews come walking down the road, see him lying there, and continue to stroll right on by. Then a Samaritan, who the Jews have a deep long-lasting hatred for, comes along on camelback, sees the injured lying on the ground, and helps him to an inn. The Samaritan pays for all of the Jew’s healthcare, food, and lodging, helping him to get back on his feet. Of all the stories to express the love of neighbor, Jesus provides this one of crossing cultural and class divides.
Could it be that when our love and compassion break across these social barriers they speak the loudest?
Former missionary and current peacemaker Rick Love is a bridge builder between Christians and Muslims. After living as a missionary in majority-Muslim Indonesia, Rick felt a nudge to shift his focus from evangelizing Muslims to making peace between the two faiths. In 2009, Rick founded Peace Catalyst International (PCI) with Jim Mullins and Michael Ly. The organization focuses on “wag(ing) peace by bringing Muslims and Christians together and creating space for conversations to happen and real friendships to be built.”
In Matthew 5:9 we hear Jesus say, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” We asked Rick what it looks like to be an everyday peacemaker and how to love our Muslim neighbors well. He is adamant that with over half of the world’s population being either Christian or Muslim, peace between the two faiths could very well be the foundation for a peaceful world. And if Christians and Muslims started to link arms as we wage peace and pursue love, the world just might take notice.
An Interview with Rick Love
What do your friendships with Muslims look like?
To be a good peacemaker you have to drink lots of coffee and tea and just hang out with people. I have a lot of meals with friends, and friendships evolve over time. Working together is a great way to build friendship. And when we work together, I think our friendship is rooted in our commitment to social justice or peace. When you love people and hang out with them, good things happen.
How have your friendships with Muslims shaped your faith or affected your worldview?
They’ve certainly shaped my faith in this sense – you have to go back to the Bible and say, “Alright, how does God relate to God-fearers? How does Paul address people of other religions?” General revelation teaches that all truth is God’s truth, or what is called Common Grace. I see a lot of Common Grace in their faith and in their culture.
In what ways has your faith/relationship with Jesus motivated you to enter into spaces of conflict and dissension?
Evangelicals aren’t known for being peacemakers. It is often considered liberal to be a peacemaker – it’s for the hippies and beauty queens. So I had to re-theologize. I had to go back to the Bible and recognize that peacemaking is a huge part of scripture. I have five theological degrees, and there was virtually no focus on peacemaking or conflict resolution. That was challenging. So I dug deeper into scripture, and I found that peace comes up over 300 times in the Bible.
When I think of peacemaking, I think of Jesus, His teaching, His death on the cross, His example, His person, and His return. It means everything. I do what I do because that is how I see Jesus.
My faith has motivated and guided me because I want to be a Jesus-centered peacemaker. He is my motivation, my sustenance, and He guides me to peaceful paths. Jesus is the embodiment of peace and peacemaking. Then you look at His teachings – “forgive from the heart” and “forgive seventy times seven times.” From every angle Christ teaches peace. Look at his example, Jesus was known as the friend of sinners, and his example was of nonviolent resistance. His teaching, His very example, was nonviolent. When he cleansed the temple, it does not say that He whipped people.The cleansing of the temple was a prophetic act. What I learned from this is that peacemakers sometimes have to be “peace” disturbers. There are times we need to challenge the unjust status quo.
What do you see as the biggest barrier for Christian-Muslim friendships, especially for those not already inclined towards peacemaking?
Fear. There is so much fear mongering. We need to focus on the facts. We need to build friendships. Islam is radically diverse. There are over 1.5 billion Muslims and over 2,000 Muslim ethnic groups. Then you’ve got the two major types of Islam: Sunni and Shia and eight different schools of law. I like to joke around and say that when many Americans think of Islam, they think of the oppression of women. They picture a woman from Afghanistan with a burqa (her face fully covered). However, in the neighboring country of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, a Muslim woman was the head of state. So when people say women are oppressed in Islam, you have to ask, “Which Islam?” There is a lack of knowledge, and as followers we are called to love God with our mind. One way to overcome fear is with facts.
Lastly, friendship. Nothing beats meeting a Muslim. My brother and sister-in-law have been supporters of PCI from the beginning. One time while they were visiting I invited them to a gathering. The gathering was to discuss seven resolutions against prejudice. Christians, Muslims, and Jews wrote the resolutions and were all going to sign it. I took my brother to the leadership meeting. He was engaging with my Muslim friends, and then he leaned back and said, “This is really good.” Just to be sitting at the table with me and a couple of my closest Muslim friends, watching us banter, was life changing for my brother. So friendship is a big factor. When people talk negatively about Islam I like to ask, “Do you have any Muslim friends?”
How do you continue clinging to the hope of peace in the face of conflict and division?
Peacemakers aren’t always peace achievers. Romans 12:18 says, “If at all possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” For me it is a matter of obedience to Jesus. In Hebrews it says to “make every effort to live at peace with everyone.” So this implies that peace doesn’t come easily. I need to keep working at it. It is not always possible to achieve. But I know that God’s end goal is peace. I am working towards the manifestation of His peace – I am trying to follow the one who is the embodiment of peacemaking.
I am also reminded that in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” I am proving that I am his child. True childhood is being a peacemaker. Jesus says to love your enemy SO that you will be children of your father in heaven. Thus in Matthew 5 he says that God’s children work for peace and love their enemies. I want to be pleasing and I want to be a good child. That keeps me going. There are enough illustrations in history, like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr, that you do see breakthroughs of peace. Those are some of my motivating factors.
Are there elements of Islam that followers of Christ should understand as they start to build friendships with Muslims?
I would encourage people to read Carl Medearis’ book Christians, Muslims, Jesus. There are a lot of books on Islam, but his book is relationally centered. On my website, RickLove.net, I have frequently asked questions about Islam.
But specifically, as Christians we need to recognize that we are monotheists, and how we describe the trinity can become an unnecessary barrier in our friendships with Muslims. Mark’s version of the great commandment says, “Hear, Oh Israel, the Lord is one.” Jesus begins by focusing on the oneness of God and then love of God and neighbor. One of his listeners responds with positive words about the oneness of God, and Jesus says, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” There are a lot of Muslims that are close to the kingdom because of their belief in the oneness of God and their love for him. So how we describe the trinity is an issue. They are radical monotheists and so are we.
Secondly, I think the greatest bridge with Muslims is social justice, working for peace, and working to serve the poor. Be aware of the oneness of God and be aware of social justice.
Culturally, there are differences with women and touching someone of the other gender, so you have to learn some cultural things. But love covers a multitude of sins. So go in and love and learn. Ask questions. Muslims are great. They understand that we don’t understand their faith or their culture. Make sure your heart is right, that you are loving. Then go forth.
Do you have any practical advice for readers who want to pursue building friendships with people of other faiths, particularly their Muslim neighbors?
I have two practical tools. There is Grace & Truth: Toward Christlike Relationships with Muslims. That book is a summary of Islamic faith and how we as Christians relate to Muslims. There is a chapter that was developed by over 70 leaders – it is a consensus document, and then I added some other things. It is a great tool.
There is also an online course called Christian Muslim Peacemaking 101 on the PCI website. It includes books, articles, and videos. You can take it at your own pace, and you aren’t graded. You can also come and join Peace Catalyst International.
In your recent book “Glocal” you wrote, “Three far-reaching global trends – terrorism, pluralism, and globalization – have irrevocably altered how we live, think, and communicate in the twenty-first century. These three trends function as either barriers or as bridges for Christ, depending on how we respond to them.” How can we use these three trends as bridges for Christ?
Well I think we start with terrorism. The vast majority of Muslims are not radical, so how we respond to Muslims can either bring peace or cause more conflict later. When we broadstroke and say that all Muslims are violent, those kinds of statements play right into the hands of terrorists. We are not being loving and we miss the fact that the vast majority of Muslims can be partners against terrorists. We live in a radically diverse world, and it is only going to get more diverse. We need to recognize that in the past we would talk to Muslims in one way, Christians in another way, secular culture in another. No longer. We live in a radically interconnected world. We need to realize that what we communicate may very well go beyond our intended audience. Whenever and wherever I speak I like to picture a Muslim, a Christian, and a non-believer sitting in the crowd. That helps me communicate wisely and winsomely. Our communication either leads to a beautiful witness or further alienation.
Is there anything else you would like to share with Western Christians about their interactions and friendships with Muslims?
We do peacemaking out of obedience to Jesus, to bless others, and to be true children of God. Christians and Muslims make up over 50% of the world’s population. We need to partner together to deal with violence at different levels. With recent events, we want to model Jesus and stand with our Muslim friends against hate crimes. Muslims are key assets to dealing with Islamic extremism. One of my Muslim friends has talked down eight people from joining ISIS.
Lastly, a good partnership and good relationship can address persecution of Christians and Muslims around the world. As we reach out and model that our love is not just for our own tribe, but for all people, Muslims take note. So be faithful to Jesus. It opens hearts for us to share our faith. It can undermine and prevent terrorism. It can lead to greater protection of Christians and Muslims who are persecuted. The Bible says live at peace with everyone.
To learn more visit www.peacecatalyst.org.