Following the news of the cold-blooded massacre of Muslim worshipers in New Zealand last week, we asked Samuel Green, a Christian apologist and expert on Islam with many friends in the Muslim community, if he would write us a response. Here are his thoughts.
I was returning home from an Australia-Indonesia interfaith meeting when I heard the news about the New Zealand mosque shooting. Like everyone else in the Australian delegation, I felt gutted. At the conference, we had just spoken frankly about how to promote peace and tolerance between the different religions, and how to deal with rising hostility from the secular and atheistic forces in Australia. We were feeling encouraged—then we heard the news.
At the conference, we had just spoken frankly about how to promote peace and tolerance between the different religions, and how to deal with rising hostility from the secular and atheistic forces in Australia. We were feeling encouraged—then we heard the news.
For the white Australians among us the news also had a specific tinge because, this time, it was something we had done. We have heard about attacks like this coming from others overseas—we’ve had attacks against us (Bali, Parramatta, Martin Place). But this time it was something we did to others—and on such a horrific scale. It was the secular white Australian from Grafton, the city of jacarandas, who was the shooter. This time it was us, and now Australia and New Zealand are going to have their own time of soul searching in response to this event.
When events like these happen how should Christians respond? I have five recommendations.
1. Call it what it is
First, we need to call it out for what it is—evil. This is the mass murder of innocent people and there can be no cause to justify it. It would be wicked to simply entertain thoughts of doing such things—how much more so to take the years needed to plan the murders: all that time hardening your heart against the obvious knowledge that this is the murder of innocent people. The shooting was also especially evil because it was driven by racism. In his manifesto, the shooter praises Dylann Roof who carried out the mass murder of African American Christians at the Charleston church. As Christians, we need to speak out and oppose racism wherever we see it. Racism is evil. All people are created equally in the image of God regardless of what race they belong to and as such have equal dignity and worth. And Jesus died to save all races of humanity. Christians must never entertain racist thoughts in their hearts.
All people are created equally in the image of God regardless of what race they belong to. And Jesus died to save all races of humanity. Christians must never entertain racist thoughts in their hearts.
2. Affirm our love and support for Muslims
Second, we need to affirm our love and support for the Muslim communities around us. They are feeling afraid and isolated in their own country. They have a right to protection and justice like all other members of society and they must be assured of this. If there is a Muslim community near you, or if you know a Muslim, then please contact them. Meet with them individually or as a church. Ask how they are feeling. Tell them that you see what has just happened as a terrible and evil event. Assure them of your love and support and defence.
3. Confront racism
The murderer in this incident was not motivated by Christian teaching but by secular racism. There are others who share his thoughts. If you have a friend who seems tempted by such racism what might you say to them? Here are some suggestions:
- Raise the topic and listen to them. It is better for you to talk to them than some racist online. Listen before you argue.
- Explain why racism is evil: All races created in the image of God and Jesus died for all races.
- Explain that racism is a sin for which God will judge them.
- Tell them they can be forgiven for racism through the death of Jesus.
- Show that racism is stupid because the world has many races and we cannot in practice get away from each other. Racism just doesn’t work. Instead, we need to learn how to live with others and pursue freedom for all. Show the church as a model of this.
4. Be discerning
Fourth, be discerning. Your friend may not be racist but might have concerns about the increasing influence of Islam in their country. Given the way Islamic majorities have (both historically and currently) have tended to treat non-Muslims, this is a rational concern. People who worry about such things are not racist for having such worries and should not be branded racist. But they shouldn’t be left to their fears. You can help people like this by:
- Listening to them.
- Sharing how you feel about that matter.
- Encouraging them to get to know some Muslims.
- Encouraging them to work for peace.
- Explaining how you trust in God when you are fearful or angry.
- Encouraging them to trust God and not to give themselves over to fear and hate.
5. Support democracy
Finally, we need to defend democracy and encourage everyone to participate. Modern democracies came out of the Christian West and they were developed as an alternative to using violence to solve issues. Christians believe words work. People like the Christchurch shooter reveal in their manifestos that they have given up on democracy and now turned to violence. We need to work hard and get involved in the messy business of democracy so that people don’t feel excluded and tempted to try the path of violence. If communities feel excluded from the democratic process there will be more trouble. Democracies need to be able to bring together those who strongly disagree so that they can speak, feel that they have been heard, and have their ideas publicly refuted or affirmed. We will never be able to stop all violence but the democratic system has proven that it can dramatically reduce it and so we need to defend it and encourage all to participate.