Shortly after September 11, 2001, then President George W. Bush spoke directly to Muslims. “We respect your faith,” he said, calling it “good and peaceful.” Terrorists, he added, “are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself.”
Recently, TODAY’s Matt Lauer reminded Bush of his words. “I understood right off the bat, Matt, that this was an ideological conflict—that people who murder the innocent are not religious people,” Bush explained.
Those words epitomize an important, but controversial question: is someone who acts violently in the name of a faith truly a member of that faith? According to recently highlighted data from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI)—which focuses primarily on Christian responses to that yes/no question—potential answers may result in a “double standard.” Christians are more likely to say that other Christians acting violently are not true Christians, while failing to provide the same latitude for Muslims.
But how closely does this represent the reality? When I asked Christian theologians the why behind that simple survey, the answers were—perhaps surprisingly—more complicated and diverse.