For the past thirty years, the Religious Right claimed that the US government and liberals are doing all they can to persecute Christians. The rational response is that such persecution does not exist (unless you’re Todd Starnes and just make stuff up). However, since 2001 religious persecution has existed in the United States. Many people, especially right-wing aligned Christians, have done all they could do in order to persecute Muslims. We can recall the controversy over the “Ground Zero Mosque” that forced developers to abandon their plans. Recently, however, a gun shop owner received praise by proponents on the right for refusing to allow Muslims to enter her store. Her criteria for if someone is a Muslim is if they have an Arab-sounding name. Even Texas’ state representative Molly White forced Muslims to declare allegiance to the United States before they could enter her office.
With recent events, of course, there’s a real reason to fear extreme Islam. After all, though ISIL and Boko Haram weren’t created in vacuums and there’s certainly a cause to their reaction, they are still Islamic-based and it’s worrisome. These are violent groups and we’re right to worry about extremism in any religion (or political ideology). Regardless, does such a concern justify treating all Muslims with disdain?
Leaving aside the political and legal quagmire of discrimination and privately-owned businesses, let us look at how Christians should respond to Muslims (or others). As Christians we of course acknowledge that Islam is wrong, that it is a heresy of Christianity. In fact, it was St. John of Damascus, writing under the Caliphate, that stated Islam was a heresy of Christianity. We do not embrace Islam and find it to be false. There’s nothing wrong with disagreement and such disagreement can create very healthy, interesting, and challenging discussions with Muslim friends. Why, then, do we isolate ourselves?
Sadly, Muslims aren’t the only targets of Christian isolationism. Throughout history many have faced the wrath of Christian isolationism. Martin Luther encouraged the German princes to oust all the Jews from The Holy Roman Empire, even if they converted. At other times it was witches. The Moors faced great persecution in Isabella’s Spain. Even Africans had much to worry about from Christians (even though the Pope declared slavery heretical and was defied by the European powers). Native Americans, American slaves, and many other groups felt the wrath of Christian isolationism, while few Christians stood for the ostracized and brutalized people.
Leaving aside the legal arguments for whether or not someone can or should deny service to another person, let’s look at the Christian perspective. Should a Christian refuse a Muslim – or anyone for that matter – service at his business? A very quick look at Christ’s life gives the obvious answer: No.
One can serve others without partaking in their respective sins or beliefs. After all, Jesus did it quite a bit. He still partook in the Temple gatherings even though the Pharisees dictated the rules. He still attended feasts where sinners were very present. He still drank with prostitutes and laughed with tax collectors. While Jesus did not own a business, he displayed his message in a very clear manner. He also called on Christians to duplicate what he did:
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16 ESV)
The point being Christians are to be a light and to serve others in all instances. How does that work as a business owner? If you deny services to a certain group of people then how are you being a light to them? How are they seeing your light if their only interaction with you is to face rejection?
Matthew 16:18 has Jesus telling Peter that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church. The funny thing about gates is that they don’t move, they don’t charge into battle, they just stand still. For gates to prevail means they’re being attacked and pushed against. To not prevail it means that attackers have broken through the gates. For too long Christians have used this passage to justify believing that hell won’t conquer them, but they have it the wrong way around; hell has no choice but to be conquered by the Church. Hells gates stand not because they are properly fortified, but because too many Christians hide away in fear from them and refuse to charge in.
Jesus was a friend to all those who needed it. In Matthew 9 he points out that it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. It is after that when he says, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” We who claim Christ must acknowledge that we, too, are sinners. That without Christ we are no different than any group we wish to malign; all are lost in darkness and violence.
Christ came to save all. Those of us who have embraced Christ, imperfect though we are, are still called to be light to the darkness. We can’t be light if we seek to segregate ourselves from the darkness. In order for light to matter it must permeate within the darkness. In order for gates to fall they must be attacked by an invading force. And in order to see Muslims come to Christ, they must interact with Christians, and sometimes that includes your place of business.