I’ve written a fair amount about contemporary issues regarding our relationship with Muslims. As a people group I love dearly and long to minister to for years to come, I have been quick to stand against xenophobia and Islamophobia. In our current climate in American Christianity however, there is fast and hard push-back when I stand with my Muslim brothers and sisters.
Standing with them, of course, does not mean I stand with everything done in the name of their religion– there is certainly no shortage of violence being done in the name of Islam throughout the world (as is the case with other religions, including my own). My fellow Christians are quick to denounce this violence– which I applaud as someone who is against all forms of violence.
However, I have been realizing over the course of time that American Christianity’s outrage over some of the violence that occurs under the umbrella of Islam, causes such a person to end up in a most peculiar position.
Let me explain.
When some Muslim extremists burn people alive, stone people to death, wage jihad to destroy their enemies and take girls as sex slaves, we rightly recoil morally and say that all of those things are disgustingly wrong. Many Christians then say, “any religion that condones this is evil” because they rightly judge those behaviors to be evil. However, this moral judgement– one that is absolutely correct in identifying these behaviors as evil– creates a serious problem for the Christian (or Jew) in that all of those behaviors are commanded and affirmed in the Bible.
When you read through the Hebrew Scriptures, it seems that not only did our spiritual ancestors practice these same things, but if one holds to a traditional position of inerrancy as I was taught as an Evangelical, they would also have to admit that God actually commanded and approved of it.
Stoning people to death? That’s what God supposedly picked for a punishment for a guy caught getting firewood on a Saturday when he was supposed to be resting. Stoning was how they rolled back then.
Burning people alive? The Bible commands it for daughters of priests who become prostitutes.
Death penalty for sexual indiscretions? Yup. You were even commanded to stone anyone to death who charged interest on a loan.
Command jihad? Absolutely. In fact, other than the Lex Talionis, the two main types of violence embraced in the OT were punishments for violating sharia law, and jihad. And, the OT takes jihad to a new level: it actually says that God commanded they kill all the babies and even the animals.
Sex slaves? Yup. The Bible says that after they conquer a city they can take the women, force them to come home and live as their wives. Straight up an endorsement of sex trafficking.
So, all those things that we find morally outrageous when Muslim extremist do them? Yeah, they are all things that God supposedly commanded in the Bible.
And here’s where rejecting the violence in Islam puts an American Evangelical and others in a very awkward position: it forces you into one of two positions. The first option is the way of hypocrisy, where one could argue that jihad, violent sharia, and sex slavery are evil when done in the name of Allah, but good when done in the name of Yahweh. The second option is that it forces one to re-think and ultimately reject the standard evangelical teaching on inerrancy of scripture. I went with what was behind door #2.
For me, this position isn’t so troublesome. When I see radical Muslims burn someone alive or wage jihad, I have no moral qualms about denouncing it. When I read of these same exact things in Scripture, I likewise have no moral qualms denouncing it. I have allowed these morally repugnant acts to force me to rethink traditional explanations of inerrancy, because I am unwilling to say anything other than “these acts are wrong in all times, and in all places, no matter who is doing them.” Whatever inerrancy means, it certainly must mean something different than the version we grew up with. (Today I prefer the word “inspired”.)
But for a typical American Evangelical, or any other of flavor of Christian who is quick to denounce Islam’s violence but quick to argue that every word in Scripture is without error? That’s a conundrum.
Just as I said that ISIS forces us to rethink hell, I also say that the violence we see occurring in Islam should force us to rethink biblical inerrancy.