Pope Benedict XIV made some remarks about Islam recently, apparently quoting an ancient text that depicts its founder as “evil and inhuman.” This assessment stems from the founder’s enthusiastic spread of their faith “by the sword.” Benedict has been under fire from Muslims around the world, figuratively speaking. Others have been under fire literally. Two churches in the West Bank have been torched. A nun and her bodyguard were gunned down outside a hospital in Somalia where she has served faithfully for years. This occurred after a local cleric condemned the pope’s comments.

Benedict has offered his most sincere apologies for any grief his address caused, and this in itself is quite remarkable. While occasionally apologizing for the church’s misgivings in the past, the pope doesn’t usually apologize for what he says personally. This is an interesting development, as the Catholic Church is concerned for the safety and well-being of nuns and priests around the world. Ironically, actions taken by extremist Muslims validate the point of Benedict’s message. Violence is not an acceptable means of propogating a faith. Yet, there are some Muslims who think it’s okay to do anything in the name of Allah.

I’m aware that the church hasn’t had a perfect track record and is open to its own criticism regarding past failures. And that really is the point I am trying to make. Christians are expected to receive criticism and accept it without retaliating. Yet, Muslims are offended whenever their belief system is challenged and respond in violent and threatening ways. Islam appears to be immune to any sort of critique. It’s okay to ridicule Christians in newspaper cartoons, TV, and other media. Just make sure you don’t do that to Muslims.

Rosie O’Donnell drew some criticism when she said that extremist Christians were as dangerous as the terrorists who blow up buildings and people. This is going too far. No Christians are going around as suicide bombers “in the name of Jesus.” A better way of dealing with this topic is to say that extremist behavior in the name of religion can have devastating consequences. I think that was what Benedict was trying to say, but the only part that was heard dealt with Islam’s less than favorable review.

Christians have done terrible things in the name of religion. We have fought our own “holy wars” about what we believe about the Bible, what translation of the Bible is acceptable, who is qualified to serve as ministers, and we even have believers who want to impose Christianity (their brand) on the general public. For example, there was a judge in Alabama who ran for governor on the premise that God has been taken out of the courts. While chief justice of the state supreme court, he rolled in a two ton display of the ten commandments into the rotunda that became a tourist attraction. Folks rallied around that thing and made a tremendous fuss over it. I wonder how many of them actually knew the 10 commandments.

It can be difficult to keep “turning the other cheek” when it comes to criticism, especially when it concerns our faith. We should do all we can to debate, discuss, and persuade others but not attempt to get our way by bullying tactics. We are living in challenging times, and Muslims are making gains on Christians in the convert department. This could make us angry, or it could motivate us to live as authentic disciples of Jesus Christ. No, I’m not thrilled that Islam gets a free pass from the media. I get irked when Jesus is ridiculed. It also bothers me when the church’s own behavior puts a stain on its witness. Remember, Jesus was more critical of the religious right than the “sinners” who were left to wrestle with their weaknesses and sins.

There needs to be honest dialogue about our differences without fear of reprisal. This is not reality, however. Sometimes “speaking the truth in love” carries risks. Let’s just make sure we leave the “love” part in our speaking.