An Underlying Issue with the Letter Signed by Evangelical Leaders Regarding the Muslim Ban

Recently, over 500 Evangelical Christian Leaders signed a letter that was sent to the current President and Vice President expressing their grief over the recent EO, Muslim Ban, with a request for reversal.  This is great, it really is. Seeing Evangelical Leaders rise up and speak out is awesome, necessary, and helpful.  Thanks to all who participated in this initiative!

However, before we celebrate and move forward, I want to ask you to pause and reflect with me about some of the things that led us to this point to begin with.  Remember, Evangelical Christians (E.C.) are an incredibly powerful group in America and played a significant role in electing the Administration that promised and now enacted this Muslim Ban...

Over the years, my involvement with Muslim refugees through my organization, The Nations, has led to many interactions with Evangelical Christians and Pastors.  These experiences have taught me a lot, like how much I love our Evangelical Christian neighbors and how I admire their remarkable impact on American culture and so much more.  

But I have also noticed a fairly common thread that I believe, in part, is why we saw such overwhelming support by E.C. for a candidate that consistently campaigned on the promise of implementing a Muslim Ban that some now (rightly) reject. 

The simplest way I can describe it is, much of Evangelical Christianity has (often unknowingly) dehumanized our Muslim neighbors by viewing them and treating them as a project rather than neighbors. I think this is caused in large part by divorcing the Great Command from the Great Commission.  Stick with me as I try to explain.   

Make no mistake, I have met many E.C. and Pastors who deeply desire authentic friendships with Muslim neighbors.  These friendships are rooted in Love, genuine Love, and what has emerged from these friendships is remarkable, even miraculous and easily reflecting what Jesus described as the most important of all commands, Love God and Love your neighbor.

At the same time, I have encountered many E.C. who describe our Muslim neighbors literally as ‘Targets’.  Have you heard this too?  And it’s not just about the word ‘Target’ but rather a broader philosophy throughout much of Evangelical Christianity.  The concept is typically rooted in a teaching of Jesus referred to as the Great Commission.  The general idea is that E.C. must convert others to their religion, and by doing so, will fulfill a command given to them by Jesus.  It is in this place where I believe many E.C., often unknowingly, developed a dehumanizing, project mentality regarding our Muslim neighbors that is contrary to the way of Jesus.

I understand why E.C. interact with the Great Commission teaching in this way.  I ‘grew up’ around this philosophy and I understand its significance.  But my concern is that a black-and-white, unchallenged view of this teaching is leading many in a very traditional and unhelpful direction that was never intended by Jesus.

For example, if the way an E.C. lives out the Great Commission results in unloving behavior toward others, this conflicts with the most important command (according to Jesus), to Love God and Love your neighbors.  Simply put, if these two are in conflict, something is wrong.

I believe it is this divorce from the great command, in favor of a distorted idea of the Great Commission, that needs to be addressed because it is leading to some major problems.

For example, the resulting project mentality I encounter so frequently, makes it much easier for a person to share negative, fear-driven videos and articles about our Muslim neighbors and this has led to a severely warped perspective regarding violence in Islam across our society.  This practice has become commonplace for many E.C. and has helped increase the unnecessary divide between neighbors (I wrote an article about this in more detail HERE). It’s because of this project mentality that I think the negative consequences of these actions are being overlooked.

This can also lead to more significant issues like the relative ease in which so many E.C. turned a blind eye to the radical claims of a Muslim Ban during the recent campaign.  When we see others as a project, our connection to them as humans, neighbors, and friends is often catastrophically diminished.  Even to the point where a Muslim refugee is no longer thought of as a boy, face down on the beach or a boy sitting in shock in the back of an ambulance, but rather just the collateral damage of a broken world. 

Unfortunately, I could list countless examples of how this project mentality has been at the very least unhelpful and often, is in direct opposition to the Great Command. 

So, in regards to the letter that has been signed by many Evangelical Leaders and sent to the President and Vice President in opposition to the Muslim Ban, it is in fact a great thing that should be celebrated.  However, I also hope this is a time for Evangelical Leaders to step back and seek to understand why this sizeable and powerful group helped elect, or at the very least did not vocally oppose, the administration that promised this now rejected ban in the first place.

My hope is that Evangelical Leaders will consider how easily people can lose sight of the Great Command, while overemphasizing the Great Commission, effectually divorcing the two.  I hope Evangelical Christianity will recognize that when this happens, the result can be a dehumanizing project mentality toward others. 

I hope, we can all (re)discover the beauty and power in Loving each other as neighbors and move toward a new future, together. 

Rich A Rosendahl

Rich@thenations-dsm.org