Why Christians can extend the same benefit of the doubt to Muslims after a violent attack

A few years ago, a co-worker asked me a question about my evangelical faith that I’ll never forget: “Are you one of those Christians who supports people who bomb abortion clinics?”

I was floored — and it wasn’t just because the woman didn’t know me well enough to ask something so offensive. I couldn’t believe someone actually thought abortion clinic bombers would receive support from a friendly, mainstream evangelical like me.

A couple of years later, I was talking with a friend who cited, in part, the teachings of TV preachers for his inability to believe in Christian theology. I tried to draw a distinction between name-it-and-claim-it theology and authentic Christianity, but it didn’t go anywhere. He had already made up his mind.

It’s hard representing Christ to people who are jaded and convinced that the outliers are the norm in Christianity. I don’t blame them entirely, though.

People are understandably distracted by the lifestyles of televangelists such as Creflo Dollar, who has successfully bamboozled donors into giving him enough money to purchase a $65 million jet. Then there’s the irresistible catnip in the news about those rotten funeral crashers over at Westboro Baptist Church, who must seem like such a huge deal with all the attention they get (never mind the fact that their cult has only a handful of members). And let’s not get started with all the abortion clinic attackers, philandering preachers and false prophets of doom.

To read the rest of this op-ed, click here, where you can find it at the Washington Post.  Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.


  1. My Two Cents

    Not all who fight abortion are pro-life. Some are just creeps, like those who support and perform abortion.


  2. +Joel Marcus Johnson, Anglican Bishop of The Chesapeake, Ret'd.

    I was with you until your penultimate paragraph. I do, in fact, “think it would be fair to expect Christians to denounce every abortion clinic attacker who claims to believe in Jesus.” It is one thing to morally oppose abortion and to rail against it. But to attack such a facility is an act of terrorism. I am shocked by the increasing numbers of Christians who believe such a Christian act of terrorism is morally acceptable. But then, there really is no such thing as “mainstream” Christianity any longer – ours is an enormously divided religion of some 2,000 sects, most claiming to be the One True Faith.


  3. Thirteen

    I wholeheartedly agree with Bishop Johnson. I, too, was with you on the rational points that your Saturday essay contained until you advocate refusal to denounce those who attack abortion clinics on the name of Jesus. I believe that most American Muslims, not to mention most Muslims world wide are not simply “embarrassed” by Muslim terrorists, but are outraged and to a degree terrified themselves by those killers.


  4. Good points, Joshua, including your statement that it’s unfair “to EXPECT Christians to denounce EVERY abortion clinic attacker who claims to believe in Jesus.” (emphasis added).

    I recognize your point because I often hear the same demand made of individual Muslims. If they don’t publicly denounce every attack each time, then obviously they must either support the attack or at least be ambivalent.

    It is important for our leaders to make clear why attacking clinics doesn’t follow Christ’s teachings. Sometimes, individuals have opportunities to speak out. Even if we don’t, let’s pray that we’re all seeking to model Christ’s love.

    However this expectation that all Christians (or all Muslims) must issue public denunciations is unrealistic. Worse, it would cheapen the statements to nothing more than pro forma ritual. Far better to trust and love the guy in the cubicle next to us regardless of what he says (or doesn’t say), just as we wish to be trusted and loved the same way.


    1. Amen. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Thanks for commenting.



  5. Joshua-

    There is a vast difference between “Christian” acts of violence and Muslim. One cannot point at the teachings of Christ and identify anything he said and did that would support bombing abortion clinics. However, one CAN go to the Koran and see that the teachings and acts of their prophet DO justify the acts of so-called Muslim extremists. These individuals are not extremists really they are Muslim fundamentalists, following the original tenants of their violent, uncompromising and intolerant belief system. Perhaps that is why there are vastly more acts of terrorist violence by Muslims then Christians.

    If it was only a tiny percentage of Muslims that were fundamentalists we could easily give individuals the benefit of the doubt. But with a good likelihood of one “getting – religion” the Muslim kind, it is only common sense to be concerned with the guy in the cubicle at work that goes to prayers in the Mosque during the day.

    Let’s not allow our wishes to overwhelm our intelligence.

    Regards –



    1. I think you’re overstating your case on that, and in doing so, playing into a narrative that terrorists would appreciate. Check this out: http://www.firstthings.com/article/2015/01/challenging-radical-islam


  6. Joshua-

    Saying that someone who opposes Fundamental Islam’s violent behavior is, “playing into the terrorists’ hands,” is counter-intuitive and a common claim by those soft on Fundamental Islam. While there may be much nuance in determining what “proper fundamental” Muslim behavior is, there is no denying that a majority of American Muslims believe they should be judged in Sharia courts. (They do not believe in following our Constitution or laws.) And nearly 20% support violent Jihad. (You can be sure those numbers are much greater in Islamic countries vs Christian countries.) We have a Muslim problem in the US. My case is well supported. Yours seems to be wishful thinking and I hope persons that have come to your position will eventually see the greater wisdom of this opposing opinion. Check this out: https://www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org/2015/06/23/nationwide-poll-of-us-muslims-shows-thousands-support-shariah-jihad/


    1. I would encourage you to also take a look at the Pew Center’s study on Muslims in America. There are some concerning numbers that you’ll see there as well, but not the extremes from the lesser-known group whose study you cite. http://www.people-press.org/2011/08/30/muslim-americans-no-signs-of-growth-in-alienation-or-support-for-extremism/

      Furthermore, the poll numbers you cite aren’t exactly credible. I wouldn’t trust a poll that uses such unreliable methods to explore such complicated questions (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/12/07/donald-trumps-call-to-ban-muslims-from-coming-to-the-u-s-has-a-very-bad-poll-at-its-center/).


  7. Agreed with most of the article. I found it an irritation that you had to include the word SAME in the title. Doing so makes you sound like a writer for Salon or Vox or something. Just be real, not trying to appease everyone. When, when, and how have Muslims created the initial extension of benefit of the doubt to Christians? Please do tell..


    1. By “same,” I mean “the same benefit of the doubt I would like to receive.”



  8. A few problems.

    I have a difficult time believing the set-up remark actually occurred as stated. You express shock that someone would ask that…there is a degree of strained credibility in sharing that nearly perfectly timed and phrased anecdote.

    Of the many comparisons that cross one’s mind when reading this is to consider, how many Christians are truly exercised to the extent that they need reprimand on how they think or and comport with INDIVIDUAL Muslims?

    The post seems to ignore the possibility that a person can be wary of Muslims yet not be wary of A Muslim individual.

    What I will call “The Abortion Clinic Exception” (which accounts for more than just abortion clinic murders….Timothy McVey for example) is over played on many levels. These abortion clinic OKC type attacks are not global nor occurring weekly or daily to the extent that many of them never make a news cycle. When they happen they are the news cycle, with not a small amount of media schadenfreude. Muslim atrocities are occurring daily in places that are not in the news cycle.

    These facts do not address your point so much as form context. There are not large numbers of Christians that require this rebuke, therefore. This rebuke is just another self effacement that Christians (Christian men in particular) seem to love.


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