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“Instead of cowering in fear over the imagined threat of an Islamic immigration invasion, the church can play the critical role in loving Muslim immigrants and helping them integrate into a very strange culture,” suggested evangelical writer Alan Noble.

The head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Russell Moore, has defended religious liberty for American Muslims.

“The United States government should fight, and fight hard, against radical Islamic jihadism,” he blogged last year. “But the government should not penalize law-abiding people, especially those who are American citizens, simply for holding their religious convictions, however consistent or inconsistent, true or false, those convictions are.”

Terrorism concerns have impacted Christian outreach to Muslims, as Fuller Theological Seminary professor J. Dudley Woodberry wrote for CT several years ago.

He concluded, “Ultimately, the future of missions to Muslims will be affected less by the flames of 9/11, or even the flames that started the Arab Spring, than by the inner flames that are ignited if we so follow our Lord, who modeled the basin and the towel, that our Muslim friends may echo the words of the disciples in Emmaus: ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’”

Last December, two Muslim college students visited a nondenominational evangelical megachurch in the Rochester, New York, area as part of an assignment to learn about different faiths. The two young men stayed after the service to chat with the congregants. Some of them shared stories and offered hugs. One called Homeland Security.

The rogue report to the federal agency and state police ultimately made national news.

Though the case was an anomaly, it played into stereotypes of evangelicals’ unfamiliarity with Muslims and tendency to conflate Islam with terrorism. And the students’ reception at the church reflects the complicated relationship between white evangelicals and Muslims shown in the surveys and the news.

“Would a Muslim feel the American church is a safe place for them? The answer probably is they would not,” said Cashin. The more evangelicals come out in favor of Trump’s policies, he said, the more they exclusively view Islam as a threat rather than a ministry opportunity.

For Cashin, it’s both—and mission takes priority.

Islamic rule has led to unrest, violence, and spiritual hunger across the Middle East, and Christians should be willing to critique the ideology, he said. At the same time, that doesn’t make Muslims a danger to avoid, but a group for churches to open their doors with welcoming services, community dinners, and English classes.

“This is a moment Christian missionaries to the Muslim world have dreamed about for centuries.”

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