The Christian Response to Religious Extremism

By Jim Wallis 9-21-2012

Most people, Christian or not, know the story of the Good Samaritan. In it, a man, who is presumably an Israelite, is mugged on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. A priest passes by without stopping. So does a Levite. But then a Samaritan — someone who belongs to a radically different socioeconomic and cultural group than the Israelite — stops to help. This is Jesus’ vision for us as we answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?”

So it should shock us, surprise us, and sadden us, when we hear about tragedies like the shooting at the Sikh gurudwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. For the victims of such attacks — whether they are Sikh, Muslim, Hindu — are our neighbors too.

Jesus does not give us the wiggle room to be neighbors only to those who look and think like us. Caring about our neighbors isn’t about convenience or comfort; it’s about the Gospel’s call to love all those whom God created.

Our team at Sojourners is running a campaign to share this faithful message. Along with Oak Creek, we’ve raised money to buy billboards in Joplin, Missouri and Murfreesboro, Tennessee — both towns where local Muslim communities and their places of worship have come under attack. The messages in these ads were simple: “Love your Sikh neighbor,”  “Love your Muslim neighbor.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that the number of hate groups has grown by 60 percent since 2000. In 2010, 20 percent of attacks were motivated by the religion of the victim (compared to the 47 percent that were racially motivated). Christians need to do more than condemn these attacks. We have to address the root causes of this violence. We have an extraordinary opportunity to begin a deeper national conversation about combatting hate in our public circles.

Senator Durbin (D-IL) held a hearing this week on the rise of hate groups and the threat of domestic extremism, but it's the first congressional  hearing on domestic hate crimes since 2009. Frankly, it’s about time and much needed.

The conversation on religious freedom must include those 20 percent of attacks that were motivated by the religion of the victim. We cannot have religious liberty for all while religious minorities, which is to say our neighbors, still worship in fear.

Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO of SojournersFollow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

Image: Pan Xunbin/Shutterstock.

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