Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

If you are like me, then I know you will have been appalled and saddened by the scene that unfolded in Martin Place this week. Many of you will have been working close to the scene. I myself alighted from a train at Martin Place just as the attack was taking place, oblivious to it all.

Our prayers must be with the families of those who died, with those who were held hostage – and who must surely be in anguish – and with those police who were directly involved in the rescue action.

But I am also concerned about how we now feel and act towards those of Islamic faith in the Australian community.

At one level, it is clear by now that the murderer was a renegade with no official ties to any Islamic group. This act was more criminal than terrorist. His behaviour was consistently erratic and had been for many years.

But much discussion on Monday and Tuesday focused on Islam and its links to terrorism.

This isn’t a straightforward issue. I admit that one of my first reactions was to feel angry: I wanted to grab the nearest Muslim and shout “why haven’t you done something about this?” There is at the moment in our world a strain of Islamic faith which is associated with, and is being used as the pretext for, the most hideous of evils. And from that evil, we in Australia are not immune. Our peaceful and prosperous way of life seems under threat from this terror.

And let me be clear: I do not think of the Islamic faith as an alternative route to the same God. I do pray for Muslims everywhere to come to know Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

I also do want to call on Australian Islamic leaders to continue to do all in their power to speak against the ideology of ISIS and their ilk.

At the same time, I think our response as a community will say a lot about the nature of our faith. We can be strong against violence and terror, but not label all Muslims as potential terrorists. If we pray for justice and peace, we must be people of justice and peace. If we want to repudiate the barbarity of ISIS and their ilk, we will not do so by becoming barbarians. A civil society – and Christian citizens in a civil society – will find a way to be neighbours even to the Muslim of whom we are afraid.

Our faith is in the Prince of Peace, who came not wielding a sword but as a baby in a manger. He came not as the head of an army to win territory and set up earthly kingdoms, but to establish a kingdom which includes people of every tribe, and tongue, and race. I must resist the feeling I have to retaliate, and instead pursue the most excellent way.

As Christians we can show leadership to our community on this. We can show that returning good for evil, as Paul would have us do, is not weak, or “giving in to terrorism”, but a peculiar and surprising form of strength. We might at this time by our actions win both Muslims and secular Australians for Christ.

That means in practice that we continue to pray for the situation in the Syria and Iraq, repudiating the gross evil that we see being practiced there. It means we continue to pray for those who govern us and those who protect us in their important work. It means we repudiate thuggish behaviour targeting especially Muslim women as they go about their daily business. It means we do not join in or pass on the anti-Muslim jokes (and these usually have a racist tinge to them) that will no doubt circulate in coming days. It means we do not give up on friendships with those we know who have an Islamic faith, and even taking up opportunities for hospitality.

Who knows what our God may do?

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