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FIRST-PERSON: The Mohammed cartoons: fear casts out love

EVANSTON, Ill. (BP)–Muslim reaction to the Mohammed cartoons published in the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten has been fearsome –- or would that be fearful? For all the grand talk of restoration of the caliphate, even into Western Europe, for all the alleged cries of righteous indignation at blasphemies, and for all the expressions of disgust at the decadent lifestyle of infidels, there is a strong element of fear and dread in Islam.

To better see it, contrast the behavior of Christians in the West. While regularly exposed to irreverent caricatures of Jesus and church leaders, pastors don’t lead their flocks to torch embassies and threaten journalists. Believers are perfectly content to let Muslims –- and Buddhists and Rastafarians and atheists –- in their midst “evangelize” to their hearts’ content. Christians encourage women to pursue doctorates and train for the Olympics. Even biblically conservative seminaries expose their students to the claims of critics and apostates from Schleiermacher to Bultmann to Spong.

How can Christians be so casual? Don’t they know the power of temptation and the toxicity of false faith? Yes, but they also know the power of the Holy Spirit and the regenerate heart to constrain the behavior of the saints even in the midst of decadence. They know that “the gates of hell will not prevail” against the church. They know the power of the Gospel to transform lives, flooding society with grace and wisdom. Their aim is the reign of Christ in the hearts of men, a reign established by persuasion, not gained or held by the sword.

In contrast, the devout Muslim is terrified at the loss of more prestige and more land. He is afraid to trust himself and others with the sight of exposed women’s faces and arms in the marketplace. He quakes at the prospect of Christian evangelism, which could mean defections from Islam and the growth of an indigenous church. He refuses to listen to criticisms of the Koran, even for the sake of rebuttal. He knows that the Muslim world’s power base, oil, is running out, and that they have to employ “infidel” personnel and technology to extract, transport and process it. He is desperate.

Speaking of fear — Muslims not only have it; they impose it. When Salman Rushdie dared to question the Koran, a deadly fatwa was issued against him. Indeed, Muslims who dare to criticize Islam, or to convert from it, are forced to look over their shoulders. The enforcers, whether in government or vigilante form, may be moving in for the hit. It’s a double-whammy: Muslims must fear to express their gnawing fear that things are awry.

The Bible teaches that perfect love casts out fear. It seems that the opposite is also true, from the homes of Saudi Arabia to the slums of Paris to the desert of Sudan to the streets of Beirut: Perfect fear casts out love.
Mark Coppenger is pastor of Evanston (Ill.) Baptist Church and distinguished professor of apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Reprinted from the Illinois Baptist newsjournal, online at www.ibsa.org/illinoisbaptist.

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  • Mark Coppenger