Pig-HeadedDecember 04, 2007
In the wake of the British teacher jailed in Sudan for allowing a teddy bear to be named "Muhammad," an American evangelist, Bill Keller, has launched a deliberately offensive attack on Islam. He filmed a video where he named a toy pig after the Muslim leader. In his very low-tech video, he provided the voice for the pig and explained why the toy pig converted from Islam to Christianity. Although I am a fan of parodies, I am afraid that this piece is problematic for a couple of reasons.
First, it is deliberately intended to enrage Muslims, which could hurt missions efforts. As I noted in my book (For God's Sake, Shut Up!), after anti-Muhammad comments by American Christians in the past, Christian missionaries in Muslim nations complained that the inflammatory remarks were hurting their efforts to share the love of Jesus. After one such comment, there were even violent riots that led to the deaths of several people. Hopefully, the video by Keller will not have that impact. When our words lead to the deaths of others, then we should have been more careful with what we said. And when our words lead to the spiritual death of others because it hurt missionary efforts, then we are responsible for keeping people from the love of Jesus. It does not matter if the message is technically right, it is not always right to say it. The Keller case is particularly troubling because he is deliberately attempting to provoke people (while the teacher in Sudan simply made a naive error). Ethics Daily has a piece on this today that points out some of Keller's past controversial statements and actions.
Second, I wonder if his video should also be offensive to Christians. After all, he suggests that a toy pig could convert to Christianity! On a more serious note, it seems that his video points out how far most Christians today have moved from the faith of those in the Old Testament. Back then, they would not even say the name of YHWH out of reverence. The Muslim treatment of the name of Muhammad is keeping with that tradition. So even though I do not agree with Islam, I wonder if we could learn from the reverent attitude of Muslims (without, of course, any violence or forcing of our faith by jailing people). Perhaps we need to recapture the reverence for God that our spiritual ancestors had. After all, we do not just say the name "God," we also sell Jesus bobble-heads and all kinds of other trinkets. How reverent can that be? Maybe before we mock Muslims for trying to honor the name of Muhammad we should take a look at our own problems.