Sunday, November 29, 2009

Swiss Voters Ban Minarets: Not the Way to Go for Christians

Minarets, the tall spires which often top mosques, have been banned by Swiss voters.

Supporters of the ban say that minarets represent extremism. Opponents say that the ban is a violation of Muslims' freedom of religion.

As a Christian, I believe Jesus when He says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).

I believe the apostle Peter when he says of Jesus, "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).

So, it distresses me every time I see a mosque or shrine of any other religion. I desperately yearn (and pray) that all people will come to know God through Jesus Christ, repent of sin, and believe in Him as God and Savior.

But banning minrets is no different from banning churches, synagogues, or temples. Unless all people are free to practice the religion of their choice, no choice they make will have any meaning. Banning public displays of religious belief drives it underground and can breed the resentment that leads to the kind of radicalism that the proponents of this ban claim to want to thwart.

At one level, as a Christian, distressed though I may be at the sight of minarets here in my country, I can also be somewhat heartened by them. They display an impulse or desire for God that, I believe, can lead to Jesus Christ and everlasting life.

For this sentiment, I take inspiration from the first-century preacher and evangelist, Paul. When he entered the city of Athens toward the middle of the first century, he saw a town that was, not Christian, but deeply religious. The New Testament book of Acts says that Paul "was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols." Idols, of course, are false gods. They're lifeless and incapable of giving the life that only the God revealed in Jesus Christ can give.

But, later when Paul spoke with the Athenians about Christ, he began by saying, "I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, 'To an unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, does not live in shrines made with human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things..." Paul went on to explain to the Athenians who had an impulse to reach out to and be known by the transcendent, that in Jesus Christ the God of the universe had reached out to humanity, gone to a cross for our sins, and risen from the dead to give new and everlasting life with God to those who dare to trust in Jesus. (See Acts 17:16-34.)

Minarets distress me. As do the words of those who, as was once true of me, profess to be atheists. But denying people freedom of religion or freedom of speech is not the way to ensure the peaceful assimilation of peoples into societies.

Nor, from a Christian perspective, is it the way to turn people toward peace with God and peace with others through Christ, the desire of every Christian as well-expressed once by Paul when he stood before a king on the charge of being a Christian. When Paul used his appearance before the king as an occasion to share his faith in Christ, the king asked, "Are you so quickly persuading me to become a Christian?" I love Paul's answer, which I've referenced many times on this blog: "Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that not only you but also all who are listening to me today might become such as I am [a believer in Jesus Christ]-except for these chains." (Acts 26:28-29)

Christians should have no part in repressing people in any way. We want all people to be free to discover Jesus Christ through our faithful, peaceful, loving, and non-coercive witness for Him.

Banning minarets in Switzerland, or anywhere else, can never come to a good end.


Charlie said...

Your comparison to Paul in Athens makes a lot of sense, Mark. Christianity thrives in a free marketplace of competing ideas and viewpoints. Unfortunately, there is no vibrant Christianity left in much of Europe to compete with Islam.

The Swiss are worried about Islamism, rightly, but suppression won't work. By walking away from Christianity and embracing secular rationalism, the Swiss and others have left a gaping spiritual void that Islam is filling.

Mark Daniels said...

You are spot on, Charlie.

Thanks for the comments.