Last week, as reports circulated that President-elect Trump was considering instituting a Muslim registry in the United States, I made a strong statement condemning this idea and stated with absolute resolve that, if it would make a difference, I would register myself as a Muslim in solidarity with my Muslim friends.
As you might imagine, my statement generated quite a lot of response. While some folks responded with clarifying questions and others noted their outright disapproval, the overwhelming majority of responses were extremely supportive—and this massive show of support came from Jesus-followers like me, from frightened but grateful Muslims, and even from non-believers.
I am genuinely grateful for each of you who responded, whether in critique or in support. It is my deep conviction that we need each other, because if we only dialogue with people who see things exactly as we do, then we miss amazing opportunities to learn from the different perspectives that are out there.
Thus, while I remain passionately convinced that this Muslim registry concept is a harmful one, I want to honor all of you by giving thoughtful responses to your questions and by doing my best to help you understand why I see things as I do in this case.
THE PROPOSED POLICY
I would encourage you to do your own research into the details of what has been proposed. For now, I will try to give you the big picture.
Last year at a campaign event, Mr. Trump told a reporter that he wanted to create a Muslim registry as a way of keeping track of immigrants to the US from majority Muslim countries. Last week, this talk was revived when a Trump advisor brought it up again in an interview. Later in the week, when asked in a TV interview if there was legal precedence for such a policy, a different Trump ally alluded to the Japanese internment camps.
WHY IT WILL MAKE US LESS SAFE
I have made it clear that I think that creating a Muslim registry is a horrific idea and will attempt to explain why.
It is important to note that we are talking about a policy affecting LEGAL immigrants. A few folks who responded to me last week raised the issue of border security. This policy will have zero positive impact on border security, because illegal immigrants will not voluntarily sign any sort of registry. This Muslim registry, then, would only impact immigrants who have been granted legal residency by the United States government.
The thing is that ALL legal immigrants are already registered. Our government knows who they are, what countries they come from, what their backgrounds are, etc. Our government is free to organize its database of refugees however it wishes. And our government can use its legal surveillance resources to keep an eye on any of these immigrants.
So, what then is gained by creating a second registry just for Muslim immigrants? The answer, as long as we are talking about national security, seems to be ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. This is why a similar registry started after 9-11 was later scrapped—because it was determined to be redundant and not at all helpful for catching bad guys.
I will take this a step further. I am convinced that the mere talk of a Muslim registry makes us all immediately less safe, as it fuels radicalism around the world.
The true radical extremists are constantly in the ear of young Muslims around the world, saying to them, “America is your enemy oppressor. Americans hate Muslims, and Americans want to destroy your way of life.” Every time some American political leader or Christian leader gets on TV and makes a reckless, sweeping generalization about Muslims, those words simply add fuel to the extremist fire. Thus, you can imagine that extremists around the world are having a field day with the Trump team’s comments about a Muslim registry and a comparison to the Japanese internment camps.
HOW THIS IS AFFECTING MY MUSLIM FRIENDS IN AMERICA
As you can imagine, my Muslim friends are absolutely and utterly distraught that this conversation is even taking place. They feel humiliated and crushed, and they fear for the future that their children may face. I can feel the weight of this, because they are my friends and because I share life with them and because I have been loved deeply by them.
Honestly, I'd rather stay out of this fray. But I could not remain silent and then hold my head up in the presence of my Muslim friends and pretend that I'm loving them. Love always costs something, and sometimes the cost is bigger than others. I'm willing to pay whatever it costs to love my Muslim friends well in the way of Jesus. It is noteworthy to me (and comforting) to know that there is near absolute unanimity on this issue among the Christians I know who share life with Muslims.
QUESTIONS FROM FRIENDS
If you signed a Muslim registry, wouldn’t you be denying Jesus?
First, call me an optimist, but I don’t expect to sign any registries. As I stated above, the idea being floated currently applies only to legal immigrants. As I am not an immigrant, I could not sign this particular list. However, if this thing snowballed and led to something even more outrageous (like a registry for all Muslims in America), then I absolutely would sign it—not because I am an adherent of the Islamic religion but rather because I believe in religious freedom for all of humanity. When I travel to countries where Christians are a minority, it undercuts my message of respect and rights for all if my own beloved home country does not grant those freedoms to all its residents.
This question about denying Jesus is a most important question, and it cuts to the core of this matter for me. Here’s where I am on it. If our government began to insist that all Muslims register, I am convinced (for myself only) that I would be denying Jesus if I did NOT sign that registry in solidarity with them. Jesus compels me to love God by loving others lavishly, and he requires me to extend this practical love to everyone—even those who feel like my enemies. (Here are 22 ways Jesus compels me to love God by loving others-- http://www.incomparabletreasure.com/2015/07/if-i-really-followed-jesus-how-would-my.html.)
Furthermore, in the vein of getting off on a technicality, the term Muslim quite literally means “one who submits.” I often use this as a light-hearted bridge with my Muslim friends when I tell them that I am a Muslim because I submit to God through Jesus. : )
Are you going all political on us?
I sure hope not. All who know me well know that, when I talk politics, I am always careful not to get partisan. The bottom line for me is that I find both admirable and disheartening things in the agendas of both major parties, and thus I cannot in good conscience promote either party. Furthermore, I never want the way I express my own personal convictions about politics to be a stumbling block that keeps folks from encountering the love of God through me. I believe it is good to express my views on politics (and religion, for that matter), but if I’m following Jesus then I must always do so with a humility that allows me to approach others as if I have plenty to learn.
How can you partner with organizations that don’t share your values?
To provide context, this question came in light of my decision to sign a statement pledging to register as a Muslim (should our country get to that point). The statement was being circulated by a handful of organizations, and some of my Christian friends find those organizations to promote values that are in opposition to their own values. I admit that I’m not always a fan of these organizations, either. But here are two very key principles that have transformed my work and outreach for the better:
- Affirm truth wherever you find it.
- Find common ground with others and begin a relationship/partnership there.
So, I have no problem at all partnering with both people and organizations with whom I have real differences.
Isn’t this Muslim registry about border security?
No, as far as I understand it and as I explained above, this policy would only affect legal immigrants and therefore would do nothing to make our borders more secure.
TRAVELING IN DECEMBER TO A MAJOR MUSLIM COUNTRY
On December 6, I am slated to leave for a whirlwind visit (10 flights in 14 days) to a predominantly Muslim country, where I will be the guest of key Muslim leaders.
As their way of pushing back against extremist ideology, these Muslim leaders regularly invite me to teach in their country in Muslim conferences and even at Islamic universities. Usually, I simply share stories from our Peace Catalyst work throughout the United States, where we challenge Christians to love Muslims well in the way of Jesus by befriending them and advocating for their just and kind treatment. Then I explain to my Muslim audiences that I am compelled to love Muslims well because of Jesus, who said that the greatest thing I can do with my life is to love God by loving all others practically, including and especially those with whom I have real differences.
At these events in this Muslim country, I always deeply encouraged by the response and am moved by the real sense of the love that is shared among all who want peace, whether their exterior label reads Muslim, Christian, or something else.
A couple of years ago, after I shared this message at one Islamic university, a Muslim professor followed my talk with some passionate remarks of his own. Essentially, he said that I was their Christian brother from America and that he was deeply inspired by our work with and on behalf of Muslims in the United States. Then, he challenged the all-Muslim audience with word that went something like this:
Just as Peace Catalyst is advocating for Muslims in the United States (where there are more Christians), we must build real friendship with the Christians in our country. We must sit with them and learn about to their hardships. And then we must advocate for these Christians in our midst, who as a minority group often are mistreated.
The reality, however, is that not all in this Muslim country want peace, just as I am convinced that not all in America want peace. (This is the reason I am not naming the country, as I don’t wish to stir up unnecessary trouble for my hosts or for me.) There is profit and power to be gained from violence and extremism, and this struggle will not end anytime soon. There are plenty of beautiful, kind people (Muslims, Christians, and many others) who are working to undermine the message of extremism, but I can assure you that talk in the U.S. of a Muslim registry severely hinders these peacemaking efforts. To be clear, when leaders in our country engage in this sort of reckless anti-Muslim talk, it reinforces everything extremists are trying to whisper in the ears of young Muslims around the world.
Thus, while I eagerly look forward to a reunion with my beautiful Muslim friends in the lovely country I will visit next month, I’ll be taking an extra glance over my shoulder this time around—thanks to the reckless rhetoric of a Muslim registry, which is akin to handing extremists a loaded gun.
THE WORLD IS WATCHING
When I visit this Muslim country (my destination next month), I am often hosted by one particular Muslim family. These beautiful folks consistently overwhelm me with their kindness and generous hospitality.
A couple of weeks ago, I got a text message from the wife/mother in my host family.
On the other side of the globe, this dear lady had seen the reports of hateful acts and even violence that ensued in the days after our election, and she had real questions and concern. In the course of our exchange of text messages, my friend shared with me a lovely verse from the Qur’an that encourages love for others. This served as a segue into a discussion about the ways and words of Jesus. Ultimately, in summation, my Muslim friend sent me these words: “If you don’t love, you don’t know God. For God is love.” Those of you who know the New Testament will recognize those words. They are verbatim from 1 John 4:8.
I am with my Muslim friend and the author of 1 John. We may rightly hold different convictions about all sorts of things, including politics, but if our perspectives and subsequent actions are not rooted in and driven by love—then we are neither following Jesus nor representing the heart of God in the world.
This is a constant struggle for all of us—me absolutely included. But will you join me in doubling down on love? If we follow Jesus into this sort of putting-others-first way of life, I am convinced God will use us to change the world for the better.