Friday, May 30, 2008

Proselytizing Fallujah

In recent headlines an investigation is underway after Muslim outrage and allegations that a Marine handed out coins with John 3:16 ("For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son...") written on them in Arabic. Muslims consider this an insult to their religion, their Quran, and their prophet, Muhammad. Many Islamic nations ban Christian proselytization, punishing law-breakers with imprisonment or even death.

Our military has denounced the event and is investigating the situation. Assumably, the Marine in question will be punished. While I think the punishment should be light, I agree that the Marine was out of bounds. As long as he is in uniform, or operating a function in association with the military, he represents our military. Our military is currently helping to create a Muslim government in Iraq. This act was unhelpful and puts the military agenda at risk.

On the other hand, I do believe private citizens should proselytize Muslims, including in Iraq, and that both our government and theirs should support the ability to do so. We Christians, however, need to be sensitive to the indoctrination that many foreign Muslims have received concerning Christians, their cultural heritage, and what their Quran says about us, acting wisely on behalf of our Lord rather than ourselves. The Marine did not act with wisdom, even if his heart was in the right place. This seemingly good and innocuous act may have greater negative repercussions.


Timothy L. Decker said...

I am not sure I agree with your conclusion. But before I form an opinion, it seems this situation is similar to what is found in Philippians 1:15-18 - ..."Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, CHrist is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice" - vs. 18. Now this might be harmful to our mission in Iraq, but is not our mission as ambassadors for Christ much more important? I am not so sure that Christian marines should not take advantage of the opportunity to share the gospel w/ Muslims that will probably never hear of Christ any other way.

I am not sure with this one so far. Interesting!

Ryan said...

Regarding how it affects the military , I'm not sure. But Timothy, remember to put verses into their contexts. In those verses in Phillipians, Paul's refering to tehe motives of preaching the gospel, not the methods. In 1 Corinthians he speaks of the need to proclaim teh gospel in such a way as there being no stumbling block to people accepting the gospel, other than the gospel itself.

Steven Douglas said...

Hey Tim,

Thanks for the response! I really thought long and hard before landing on my position. Did you read the article? There are some things in there that really make what he did inappropriate.

1) The Marine was at a military check-point where all civilians had to travel through. He carries a gun and is perceived (in some ways) as an oppressor. This could be seen as proselytization at the barrel of a gun.

2) He was giving out coins with little to no explanation in a land with a very poor idea of the Gospel and a negative view of Christians.

3) He was wearing his uniform at the time of proselytization, which leads to the assumption on the parts of the Muslim citizens that his actions are sanctioned and supported by our military and government, which they weren't.

4) He was not sensitive to their culture or Koranic teachings concerning Christian proselytizaton, which must be disobeyed, but with wisdom and honor.

5) His actions could potentially lose us important Sunni allies in Fallujah and throughout the Middle-East and cost thousands more American lives as well as our overall mission.

A question: Are a couple of converts (if he even got that through his ill-planned efforts) really worth thousands of lives and the possibility of democracy and future proselytization?

As Jesus said, "be as wise as serpents, but as gentle as doves." Paul said, "be all things to all men." These may be closer verses to the situation than the Philippians verse.

Our mission as ambassadors for Christ is indeed more important than the war. As I said in my post, I am all for prosyletizing there, and I am all for that individual proselytizing; but let him be off the clock and in regular dress, rather than in uniform.

His actions, while well motivated, might not be honoring Christ at all. He took advantage of his post and essentially "abused" unbelievers in Christ's name. His zeal, without wisdom, may have a very tragic ending indeed!

Steven Douglas said...


Thanks for the cogent response!

Timothy L. Decker said...

Like I said, Steven, I am still forming an opinion on this one. The more I think about it, the more deceptive it was and the more I don't like it. I was just throwing a bone out there to see how much it would get chewed up.

You made a good point about the deceptive means to witness. It reminds me of the gospel tracts that is a $5 dollar bill on one side. It is like decieving people into reading it. So, yes, in that way it is not Christ-honoring at all.

Let me have a little fun w/ you now. YOu said, "A question: Are a couple of converts (if he even got that through his ill-planned efforts) really worth thousands of lives and the possibility of democracy and future proselytization?"

If I were a hyper 5-pointer, I would say that it all depends. Are those couple of converts part of the elect and the rest not? Just having a little fun.

Now let me ask a question in all seriousness. If a marine is compelled to witness to the people, then how should he do it? Is he ever really off duty where he can change his clothes and leave his gun (cf. Luke 22:35-36)? How could there be any witnessing done by a soldier at this time? Or should the witnessing wait while more Muslims die?

Again, I am just picking brains and throwing bones. I should mention that I play the role of the devil's advocate quite often. I should have clarified that earlier.

Steven Douglas said...

:) Good questions! I suppose that the couple of "saved" are possibly elect (the only problem with the idea of election is that we can never really know who is elect until we see each other in heaven . . . or hell). Those soldiers dying would be made up of a likely mixed group of elect and unelect.

Witnessing cannot just be about numbers, nor can it be just about saying a few words. It must be about a life that is lived for Christ and obedience to his words (I know you know that - I am just stating). I think that in many of these places there are no resources to help foster this obedient life for Christ. Maybe the Gospel needs a footing first? The Marine in question could possibly spent his extra time working with organizations that could provide these footings and spent time learning about the people and their customs before proselytizing.

That may reduce the Gospel too far into the realm of science or something, but it is not helpful to find lambs just to throw them to the wolves (or to bait the wolves into attacking the shepherds). The wolves will attack in time, but hopefully the shepherds have set up defenses and prepared for attack.