In WORLD's pages we often describe man's desperate need for the saving grace brought by Christ's sacrifice. But theologians also talk about common grace, the grace that, like rain, falls on nonbelievers as well as believers. When the cravenness of some Christians shames us, it's a good time to look for evidence of God's mercy in unlikely places.
Last month's largest cowardice report came from the Netherlands, where a Catholic bishop said that Christian-Muslim animosity could be reduced through one simple measure: "Shouldn't we all say that from now on we will call God Allah?" Sure-and shouldn't we also wear "what would Muhammad do?" bracelets and say the Quran trumps the Bible? For Muslims, peace comes through submission, so if we all submit to Islam terrorism might decrease-but at what price?
The evidence of common grace came from New Haven, where the Yale University Press stood firm when a Muslim organization brought a libel suit against it and one of its authors. Yale made no payment to the plaintiffs. Yale made no changes in the book, Matthew Levitt's Hamas: Politics, Charity, and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad, which shows that Hamas-related social welfare groups support terror.
The group that sued, KinderUSA, is a sweetly named nonprofit group that says it raises money for Palestinian children and families. KinderUSA charged that Levitt's linkage of it to terrorist entities was "false and damaging"; KinderUSA demanded that Yale stop distribution of the book and give it $500,000 in damages. Yale responded by defending the book's accuracy and calling the lawsuit a "classic, meritless challenge to free expression."
When "Yale came at us hard," in the words of a KinderUSA lawyer, the organization withdrew its lawsuit. The result is significant because Yale's stand came soon after the Cambridge University Press had settled a libel case against it by promising to destroy all remaining copies of a book about Islamic terrorism that it had published. One difference in the Yale and Cambridge situations is that British laws do not protect honest authors and publishers against libel charges; thankfully, American laws do.
If a worldwide Muslim offensive against liberty is effective, freedom of speech in the United States will plummet to a level that will leave us yearning for even British laws. Look at the resolution that the UN General Assembly has for two consecutive years passed: "Combating Defamation of Religions" highlights the purportedly "negative projection of Islam in the media" and urges governments to prevent speech or actions that foment discrimination or hostility toward any religion.
The Muslim offensive against liberty in some parts of the world is obvious. Islam maintains its stranglehold on millions in the Middle East and north Africa by not allowing freedom of speech and religion; if the gospel could be openly proclaimed and freely embraced, millions would turn to it, as millions have in most of Africa. Where Muslim-led governments allow some liberty, as in Indonesia and Malaysia, vigilantes persecute dissidents, including Christians.
The offensive of some Muslim groups in the United States is subtler but still effective. Late last month The Washington Post and at least two dozen other newspapers refused to run an installment of the comic strip "Opus" that featured one character appearing in a headscarf and explaining to her boyfriend why she wanted to become a radical Islamist. Post Writers Group comics editor Amy Lago said, "I don't think it's necessarily poking fun [at Islam]. But the question with Muslims is, are they taking it seriously?"
Reportedly, Muslim staffers at the Post did not like the cartoon, which described radical Islam as the "hot new fad on the planet"-and top editors were worried about potential reaction. The trade journal Editor & Publisher quoted a Writers Group executive as saying that some newspapers "won't publish any Muslim-related humor, whether pro or con. 'They just don't want to touch that.'"
Some Christians call for restrictions on free speech when they're bothered by atheistic attacks on religion or secularist critiques of fundamentalism. The challenge of Islam shows us that we need exactly the opposite. We need more free speech, even if we find some utterances obnoxious. Let Christians and Muslims have a peaceful but vigorous debate, no verbal holds barred. The gospel will hold its own in this country and soar in Muslim lands. That's what defenders of Islam fear.