Narratives – stories – shape how we see the world. Some narratives are informative and helpful; others are misleading and harmful.
For example, the Bush administration advanced the narrative that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that it supported the 9/11 terrorists. That narrative was used to justify the United States going to war against Iraq.
We now know that narrative was untruthful on many levels – and destructive beyond measure.
A recent example is the Obama administration’s narrative that the anti-Islamic video triggered spontaneous protests that resulted in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and the deaths of U.S. officials.
We now know it was a terrorist attack – and earlier terrorist threats had been made without the United States beefing up security.
A popular narrative within Christianity is that Islam is a violent religion, that Muslims are a violent people.
With convenient myopia, Christians forget what Orthodox Christians did to Muslims in Bosnia.
We forget that U.S. soldiers painted the words “New Testament” on the barrel of a 70-ton M1A1 Abrams tank in Iraq, signaling that a destructive weapon was a Christian weapon.
Within evangelical Christianity is the narrative that Christians are being persecuted, particularly by Muslims. Muslims are targeting Christians in Nigeria, where Christians are innocent victims.
Without question, the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram has bombed churches, killed Christians, and demanded that Christians leave the areas of Nigeria where Islam is the majority religion.
But Boko Haram has also targeted and killed Muslims. And Muslim leaders have condemned Boko Haram.
What is troubling within Christianity is the selectivity of the facts used to feed a pre-existing theological agenda.
One such group is Open Doors USA, which identifies itself as having a ministry to the “persecuted church.”
“According to Open Doors sources, Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group, invaded the off campus hostel of Federal Polytechnic College in northern Nigeria late Monday, allegedly separated Muslim students from Christians and massacred up to 30 Christian students,” read an early October press release.
“Open Doors is calling on Christians in the West to bear this horrific burden with our brothers and sisters in Mubi and Adamawa state… Nigeria is becoming a killing field.” The press release cited its spokesman, Jerry Dykstra.
The release said Nigeria was on its list of one of the worst countries for persecuting Christians.
Based upon accounts of three reporters in Nigeria, Voice of America reported that “at least 25 people were killed,” most of whom were college students.
VOA did not identify all those killed as Christians. VOA did not say that only Christians were killed. VOA underscored that accounts varied on what triggered the killings. Both religion and politics were referenced.
BBC News reported, “Some of the dead in Mubi were Muslim while others were Christian.”
BBC News noted that conflict in Nigeria often stems from religion, ethnicity and national politics.
The Christian Science Monitor reported, “Student leaders … suggested that the killings may have been tied to internal student political campaigns.”
Three credible news sources did not draw the same conclusion as Open Doors’ unnamed “sources” that an Islamic terrorist group targeted and killed Christians.
Spreading Open Doors’ narrative was the rightwing American Family News Network. It said, “Bloodshed continues in Nigeria as a terrorist group continues to wage war on Christians in the northern part of the country.”
The Christian Post picked up on the Open Doors’ press release, claiming that “multiple sources” confirmed that “Christian college students were massacred.”
A few days later, CBN News had a piece that read, “Christian college students in Nigeria were executed this week by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram.”
Not surprisingly within evangelical Christian circles, many believe the narrative that Christians are being persecuted, that Muslims are targeting Christians. Fed by Open Doors and spread by evangelical media sources, one understands why this narrative has so much traction.
Narratives with traction do not necessarily make accurate narratives, however.
If the world is to be at peace, then Christianity and Islam, the world’s largest and second largest faiths, will need to live together peacefully. Peacefulness demands that our narratives be more truthful, more accurate.
Goodwill Christians and Muslims seek common ground for the common good based on an accurate reading of reality. Those who promote false narratives harm their own faith expressions and fuel interfaith conflict.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.
Watch the trailer below for the EthicsDaily.com documentary “Different Books, Common Word: Baptist and Muslims.”