Editor’s note: This letter was first published in the Wheaton Record. The Post is republishing the letter with permission from the authors — student leaders at the evangelical college Wheaton College, based in the suburbs of Chicago.
An Open Letter to Leaders in the Evangelical Community,
Liberty University’s Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. made public statements on Dec. 4 urging students to protect the campus against possible terrorist threats. In his remarks, he called for students to arm themselves so that they could “end those Muslims before they walked in and killed them,” exhorting the students to “teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.”
While these sorts of remarks epitomize the ever-growing fear and hostility directed toward Muslims, we as evangelical Christians hold that Christ calls us not to react with religious oppression or violence — instead, we have the responsibility to live out fearless love in order to pursue unity.
We therefore reject the ideology espoused by Chancellor Falwell in his recent remarks to the Liberty student body, and we invite you to stand in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters who share our human dignity.
The danger of divisive ideology: When fear leads to religious discrimination
The scriptures invoke a call to fearless love. As 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” In our country and in the evangelical community, fear has become a driving motivator which has led to stigmatization, acts of aggression, and a push for public policy that targets and alienates the Muslim population.
Falwell specifically ostracized those of the Islamic faith through making generalized statements about “those Muslims” with rhetoric that implicitly accused them of enmity and terrorism. Despite his later clarifications — which were only offered after media backlash — a higher standard is expected of leaders in our country and our community, particularly among Christians in leadership.
Therefore, such comments detract from the witness of the gospel and the call to love our neighbors and pursue unity.
The call to pursue unity: Our responsibility as Christian leaders
As Christian leaders representing the name of Jesus Christ in our world, we have an opportunity and responsibility to guard our words and to protect the pillars of unity and love of neighbor which the gospels command us to pursue. Therefore, we desire to stand in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters, supporting the shared principles of justice, well-being and compassion.
Because we believe that perfect love drives out fear, we hope for a world in which religious communities object to discrimination, combat religious animosity, and stand for justice.
Even when our neighbors are violent, we are called to love as Christ did, to the point of death, for Matthew 5:43 says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
We also exhort leaders in evangelical communities to be representatives for religious and social change. We firmly stand against the deprecatory comments made against Muslims at Liberty University in the past week, and yet we hope that this instance can bring to light the pressing need for awareness and a regenerated attitude of love.
Right now, there are two roads that we as evangelical Christians can take. The first is that which prioritizes our own comfort and security, following the reactionary attitudes that stem from divisive fear. This leads to anger and hatred of our neighbor, and to the societal exclusion of those who are not exactly like us. The second road is the one where we actively reject the postures of discrimination and exclusion.
Going down this path, we instead follow the voice of Jesus, calling us to love our neighbor and to pursue peace toward those hostile to us or our faith, and to stand in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters.
Student leaders of Wheaton College
Nathan Heath is a senior at Wheaton College majoring in international relations and music. Ciera Horton is a junior studying English writing and minoring in sociology. They were joined by 20 other Wheaton students.