How to be a witness in a hostile world

By Bruce Sidebotham

See the full version of this condensed article at

Having a public testimony in America is becoming like what I experienced in a Muslim country. Here are some ways.

Among Muslims, the cardinal rule is NEVER insult Mohammed or criticize Islam. Its corollary is don’t do anything to challenge the superiority of Islam. Muslim hegemony is a cancel culture where expressive freedom is highly constrained. Blaspheme against the prophet and you may start a riot and then end up in jail (or dead) for inadvertently inspiring a riot.

To have a testimony in that environment, I accepted that my witness depended more on identity and behavior than on spoken words. Virtue signaling is perfected in the Muslim world. Muslims signal piety through their five pillars: the fast, the pilgrimage, the creed, giving alms and the five daily times for prayer. By avoiding the pillars, going to church, and having a Bible, I signaled I was a Christian. Because society around me was identity-based, whether I was kind or unkind was ascribed to my identity. It was the same for all the other virtues and vices: honesty, patience, self-control, lying, stealing, cheating and so on. Identity-based evangelism must do a lot of heavy lifting to overcome bigotry and stereotypes.

Having a clear identity carries two prices. First, it means actions can help one’s testimony, but it also means they can hurt. Second, identity as a religious minority can bring discrimination. Many Christians among Muslims hide their identities to avoid persecution. But having a testimony, by definition, precludes flying under the radar. Ironically, facing discrimination actually creates opportunity to project Christian virtues. Identifying as a mistreated minority says something about one’s faith and character.

But testimony should also be verbal. Talking about Islam leads into a minefield, but talking about one’s personal experience with Jesus never caused me any trouble. And asking to pray in Jesus’ name with people about their concerns was always accepted. Similarly, challenging progressive social norms is not likely to be well received. But sharing an uplifting personal experience might be, especially in a culture that cannot deny personal experience.

Another lesson I learned was that public space in a Muslim country is Muslim space. Religious freedom for non-Muslims only exists in private. I also learned that symbols are important. Therefore, public symbols and public displays of Christian virtue end up insulting Islam. Sharing my faith or giving a Bible had to be done in the setting of a private personal relationship.

Similarly in America, “separation of church and State” often means “separating religious expression from public space.” Christian symbols on public property have been under attack for years. State schools keep trying to throw Christian groups off their campuses. Leaders in business and government are pressured and threatened to keep Bibles and Bible verses out of public spaces and out of their email signatures. Under these circumstances, Christian testimony ends up becoming more private. Personal relationships become more significant. Impersonal religious symbols in public become inflammatory.

Maintaining good interpersonal relationships preserves opportunities to talk about Jesus. Listening to other people’s problems and praying for them can be a powerful tool through which the Holy Spirit can work. But the relationship piece must be balanced with maintaining a clear identity as an uncompromised Christian. Embracing the majority lifestyle and woke virtue-signaling may get you accepted, but after that, you may have nothing perceptible to offer that’s any different from the unbelievers around you.

So how do Christians handle it when the pronoun and bathroom police demand acceptance of unbiblical sexual expressions? American Christians still have Constitutional protections for sincerely held religious beliefs. Employment laws still support requests for religious accommodation. Many organizations are fighting hard to preserve these workplace protections in America as part of their Christian beliefs.

Standing firm on traditional Christian positions for marriage and sexuality will have costs, even if it does remain Constitutionally protected. Some Christians may feel called to accommodate pronoun and bathroom demands. They will end up compromising some identity to preserve relationship opportunities. Others will be called to resist pronoun and bathroom demands, though they should do so with kindness and gentleness. They will be more persecuted. Both callings are valid. Both groups need grace for each other. It’s bad enough to be persecuted by the majority religion. Christians don’t need to be fighting each other. 

In the majority Muslim world, some churches fortress themselves and avoid reaching out to Muslims in order to protect themselves from violent reprisals. They are islands of socially acceptable private identity in a sea of Islam. Recently, some churches are trying to evangelize their Muslim neighbors and are showing more courage in public spaces. Surprisingly, these outreach-minded Christians often face more hostility from neighboring and fearful Christians than from Muslims. A similar divide has arrived in America. Some Christians are dictating to each other how firm to stand and how much to give in. For good workplace testimony, Christians should not be criticizing each other to unbelieving outsiders. Jesus said that the world will know we are his by our love for one another. Showing that love for other Christians despite disagreement is another important part of Christian testimony.   

This article is submitted by Bruce Sidebotham of Telios Law PLLCTelios Law PLLC is a Missio Nexus member.  Member organizations can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.

Related Articles

Welcoming the Stranger

Presenter: Matthew Soerens, US Director of Church Mobilization, World Relief Description: Refugee and immigration issues have dominated headlines globally recently. While many American Christians view these…


Upcoming Events