Freedom of religion is guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution regardless of the fact that a copy of it was burned in the streets of London this past Saturday in response to the outlandish plans of Terry Jones and his congregants to torch Korans outside their tiny Florida church. Although Jones cancelled his plans for the Koran burning, these Muslim protesters went ahead with their own acts of destruction. Meanwhile in America a few acted as Jones had planned, with some even leaving a smoking copy of the Koran on the doorstep of their local mosque.
It was not respectful for the Muslims to burn a copy of the sacred document established by our Founding Fathers. Nor was it respectful for those in America to burn Korans. However, burning the Constitution in London last weekend did no more to destroy our freedom of religion than burning the Koran did to destroy Islam. Such demonstrations only destroy respect for those who participate.
Respect for people and respect for a religion are different. Recently, I had the divine appointment to sit next to a devout Muslim man just a few years my junior on an hour long flight. It was during Ramadan, and though I had just purchased a sub sandwich to eat on board the flight, I set it aside and did not take a bite. I did not do this to join him in a fast. I was not respecting his religion or its teachings. I was respecting the physical cravings he surely would have had to endure had I waved my lunch in his face.
Jesus taught, “as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” (Luke 6:31)
From before take-off to after landing, we engaged in civil discourse over our faiths. As schooled as I am in Christian evangelism, he was equally prepared to rally with me from a Muslim viewpoint. But all the while, we attempted to listen to and understand one another. We conversed with respect.
As God would ordain it, the conversation led to his openness to my retrieving my study Bible from my carryon bag and reading to him from both the Old and New Testaments, sharing with him the very words of Jesus. The plane ride did not end with the conversion of either one of us. But it did end with a handshake and a smile, and a mutual promise to continue to pursue an understanding of each other’s religion.
Please know that the glory for such an event lies only with the Lord. I have never been filled with such boldness in my life and attribute this experience to the Almighty God who overcame me in that hour, even guiding my hands to turn in the Scriptures to the words He would have me to share. It was a supernatural experience unlike any I have had.
I dare say that exchanges like ours, rooted in respect for one other as human beings made in the image of God, will generate more light than a thousand smoking Korans could ever ignite.
“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1Peter 3:15).